Programmes to encourage the return of migrants living with irregular status are prominent in many OECD countries. Bearing titles like ‘assisted voluntary return and reintegration’ (AVRR), they are often rationalized as a more humane alternative to forced deportation. Critics question their voluntariness, suggesting they are actually an extension of the deportation apparatus. While broadly sympathetic to these criticisms, this paper offers a novel perspective on AVRR. We argue AVRR is reshaping what we call the political imaginary of deportation. Focusing on the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a leading architect of AVRR, we insist scholars take seriously the visual images and narratives through which voluntary return is discursively constructed. First, we discuss the political imaginary, and clarify what this concept brings to deportation studies. Second, we present a mapping of the political imaginary of deportation as this appears within IOM information campaigns concerning AVRR. We organize this material in terms of three analytics : returnees as activists, return journeys as homecoming, and deportation as self-reinvention. In the eyes of many activists and migrants, deportation has very negative and painful connotations. We show that IOM reimagines the landscape of deportation in a positive light. We call this move the deportation twist.