Migration is always related to some sort of displacement.
Moran: I want to talk about policy-making. In your book, you write, "migrants are detained indefinitely for administrative services and this is how people become illegalized without actually committing a crime." This notion of detention as an administrative service, I think panders to xenophobic rhetoric - something Donald Trump would say to legitimize violence - " When Mexico send its people they're not sending their best....they are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime, they are rapists.." .
But, how do you consolidate the fact that to be completely idealistic and to open borders is also not a solution.
Tings: Yes those are complex issues but I will speak from a Canadian context, which I know best. Most people migrating to the North have various reasons to do so and some people think that some categories are more legitimate than others like, fleeing from war and strife is more legitimate or more worthy than someone who wants to build a better life in a country.
In a larger historical context people have always been migrating and for a myriad of reasons, but most of the time people would rather stay with their communities and families, in their own culture, language, and land. Migration is always related to some sort of displacement.
Right now I am in New Mexico, and in this region we are seeing a huge amount of migration and detention of people form the northern triangle (Guatemala , El Salvador, and Honduras). It is important to recognize the causes of migration and how the US has continuously supported tyrannical governments and military coups, imposed neoliberal trade agreements like NAFTA (North American Fair Trade Agreement), and profited off rampant resource extraction in Central and South America, which has made life unliveable for people in those areas. Yet the myth of generosity is still so prevalent – as if “letting” people come to the U.S. is an act of state benevolence. Often overlooked is the fact that these imperial powers putting up border walls are usually responsible for mass displacement. For example, Toronto, little known to the rest of the world, is home to half of the world’s public mining communities. These companies are actively responsible for the chaos and turmoil in indigenous communities. Resistance by the communities against neo-liberal corporations has been met with extreme violence including the rape and murder of people that are defending their lands against mining. When these displaced communities try migrate upwards to the North, the reception is usually "oh no, we cannot accommodate them,” there isn't any analysis of the responsibility and complicity of the governments and corporations. And some people may argue that migrants need to go through due process, "to queue up, join the line like everyone else" but the reality is that those avenues are not available to everyone, only people from higher classes. For most poor, racialised people from the global South, there is no line.
Currently speaking, Canada has about half a million undocumented people and most of them live in the Toronto area. In most cases, people come in with some sort status and they lose that status if, for instance, they end up overstaying, or they were denied a refugee claim, or they were migrant workers who were terminated from their jobs. What is needed is, permanent immigration status for all undocumented people, migrant workers, and precarious status people. We need to challenge an immigration system that benefits and profits from temporary migration, or “permanent temporariness,” and that keeps people in precarity.
Excerpt from Undocumented the architecture of migrant detention
M: I agree that migration policies have to be rethought because the alternatives that are being fuelled are working to exploit the desperate, an example being the people smuggling industry that is thriving. I think more effort has to be made to build bridges instead of walls.
I am now going to refer to a quote by Rousseau that goes, "the first person that wanted a piece of nature as his or her own exclusive possession, and transformed it into the transcendent form of private property was the one who intended evil. Good, on the contrary, is what is common." In relation to this quote about ownership what do you think of the wall as an architectural element and the competition of the Mexico Border wall.
T: Personally I just don’t see how one can be neutral about such an idea of a border wall competition, as architects or as human beings. The border wall, fuelled by Trump's ridiculousness, to me is not an area for speculation from afar, it’s about people’s lives. So it doesn’t really matter whether it's satirical or a media stunt or a serious competition, it’s pretty irresponsible and offensive. Perhaps some people think that polarisation is useful but these issues are already on the table, we don’t need another snarky “devil’s advocate” voice. There is no “better” border wall. We need to defend the right to migrate, and also acknowledge that the only way to seek asylum in the US is for migrants to plant their feet on US soil. The wall is a complete contravention to the right to migrate, so in every sense the wall is not something to be defended. I also think it’s important to think about the practices of bordering in the context of colonization – the border goes through several indigenous communities, and just as these geo-political borders have been used to expel and contain indigenous communities they have been used to detain and exclude migrants. I am curious, what are your thoughts on the border wall competition.
Competition poster for Mexico Border Wall
M: A fomer colleague wrote something quite interesting about walls in an essay, he has a background in parkour and he said that the practitioners of parkour stop looking at the wall as an element that guides the user but instead as an obstacle to be overcome. Personally, I think the competition is not feasible and the resources put into it will actually manufacture new problems. It seems to me it makes more sense to create bridges of co-dependence instead of barriers that cater to self-interest. Also as you mentioned earlier there hasn't been any consideration towards what the wall is cutting through, the organisers of the competition had not even visited the site. It is like blindly dissecting a body without considering the organs that are being cut.
T: Perhaps there is a trend towards more of a social practice, but in general, architecture is depoliticised – don’t question the program or the policy, and just do the job, which goes back to the question of neutrality. Not only concerning borders but also in terms of labour. An example of architectural neutrality was the whole debacle with building the Qatar 2022 World Cup stadium designed by Zaha Hadid. In 2014 where there were already 800-900 recorded deaths (not including all the unrecorded deaths) in building something that's not going to be realised until 2022. When questioned about that, Zaha infamously said, “I don’t have anything to with the workers.” So how do we think about architecture and labour practices, and the people who build our architecture?
M: I think that's a very valid point, which pushes us to the next question. I read a quote from Negri that goes "good and evil only enter through the subject" I sometimes think that an architect is only as good as the society they practice in. Given that sometimes violence is transcendent as Bernard Tschumi puts it “a kitchen is a space of cooking and eating yet it can also be a space of sleeping and making love” this, he calls, programmatic violence so then how can Architects design ethically in a “violent” society?
T: that question makes me think about Manfredo Tafuri, a leftist architect who proclaimed that you cannot have socialist architecture without socialism, or as he put it there isn't class architecture only a class critique of architecture. This isn’t necessarily a paralysing realization to arrive at, because as much as we can't solve the world’s problems through buildings alone, architects and architecture must be part of a larger movement against capitalism, imperialism, and the destruction of communities and the environment.
One thing I have learnt from organising is that abolitionism is a refusal to wait, we actively create alternative institutions to empower the disenfranchised and challenge unfair institutions. So in terms of architecture it's important to realise that it has pre-figurative potential in envisioning alternatives but it's not a one for one, it's not like if not capitalism then here is the alternative solution, we know that those type of top down alternatives do not work.
I have an example of a model-of how architects can work with and take direction from social movements. This is something I witnessed from the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil. I was organising with MST whilst representing No One is Illegal through their political education training. The MST mobilises peasant workers and then occupies the land of wealthy landowners, which hasn’t been cultivated for some time. Hundreds of families then stay in temporary encampments, often for many years, until they win the title to the land and a permanent settlement gets built. One architecture firm, USINA, works with the communities to design and build the permanent settlement.
In the end, though, border walls and oppressive policies are not going to stop people from migrating.
M: That's super interesting, to close of I have this quote from the book Empire by Michael Hardt and Antoni Negri, A spectre haunts the world and it is the spectre of migration. All the powers of the old world are allied in a merciless operation against it, but the movement is irresistible. Along with the flight from the so-called Third World there are flows of political refugees and transfers of intellectual labour power......The legal and documented movements are dwarfed by clandestine migrations: the borders of national sovereignty are sieves, and every attempt at complete regulation runs up against violent pressure.
I have thought a lot about this quote and I personally feel that as we build more networks be it physical or virtual we will experience more clandestine or illegal migration, this is a reality and I am not making a moral judgement on whether it is good bad. It is something that is happening and it will continue to happen. People will move whether it is legal or illegal. So, in the near future I speculate what will arise is a new narrative of subversion, and what we are witnessing now are just the nascent stages.
T: Last year there were 60 million displaced people both internally displaced and refugees. Referring back to the clandestine movements, there is this idea that people have always moved as a celebration of resilience. But, as I mentioned earlier there isn't a queue for most people to join so the people smuggling isn't anything new it is historical, people have always relied on other people for passage. Like in Canada we celebrate Harriet Tubman, who was essentially a people smuggler (and let’s also not forget that there was also slavery in Canada). In the end, though, border walls and oppressive policies are not going to stop people from migrating, but it means that more people are going to die along the way and this is what we are witnessing whether in detention centres across the global north, in the Mediterranean, and along the U.S.-Mexico border. For example, Canada right now has warships in the Mediterranean to prevent the migrant boats from arriving to Europe. Why? This goes back to capitalist and imperialist motivation of limitless flow of capital and goods at while stopping flows of certain undesirable bodies.
M: Yes it seems the neoliberal narrative is the blocking of certain bodies but allowing the free flow of capital, concerning capital I wanted to know your thoughts about the use of regulatory systems such as earning threshold in the UK to prevent non EU workers from settling there.
T: I think it's just another way of scapegoating migrants by suggesting that they are pushing down wages, instead of trying to improve the living and working conditions of all workers regardless of status. So policies like this tend to divide workers in the same class who in reality all want better conditions. So instead of banding together to demand better conditions and fight against austerity, which is to blame for worsening conditions and stripping away of workers’ rights, blame is thrown on one group of workers – migrants. It’s a classic divide and conquer strategy to de-stabilise movements and divide people who in reality should be working together.