© 2015 Taylor & Francis. In the early twentieth century, the United States developed an integrated, continental deportation network based on rail travel. This new state apparatus would enable the restrictionists’ dream of immigration control and speed the elimination of those they deemed unfit for American life. It set a template for mass removal that would expand in the century to come. Scholars of immigrant detention and removal commonly employ Victor Turner’s concept of liminality to understand migrant experiences, but this paper suggests the need for an expanded theorization of the liminal as manifold rather than singular. Drawing on deportee case files and literature from the early twentieth century, this paper explores the complex, variegated and painful liminalities of the deportation journey. It argues that power affected deportees’ experience of space and time across different liminal zones and interprets the embodied catastrophe of deportation for migrant communities. If traumatic experiences reconfigure the meaning of time into a ‘before’ and ‘after’, deportation was an ongoing catastrophe that offered little sense of completion.