Original Painting by Aili Kurtis, 2019. Reproduced with Permission from the Artist.

The Symposium
On October 17, 2019, the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, hosted a symposium featuring six internationally acclaimed scholars in the growing field of border studies. The focus of the event was ‘New Directions at the Border.’ The goal was to explore new approaches to border studies and to engage speakers and audience in a dialogue about current research on borders. The program began at 9am and ended at 5:30pm. At 12:30pm, a special Carleton Migration and Diaspora Studies panel on “Crises at the Border: Is History a Guide?” featured former US diplomat John Caulfield in conversation with Professor Laura Macdonald. A hosted lunch was offered to registrants

Financial support for this symposium was provided by Carleton University through the offices of the Vice President for Research and International, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Dean of the Faculty of Public Affairs. This event is affiliated with the Borders in Globalization project https://biglobalization.org , a SSHRC funded Partnership Grant Program, and co-sponsored by the Migration and Diaspora Studies program at Carleton University, with additional support from the departments of History and Political Science, and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program.

The Program

The (In)Mutability Paradox of Borders
Randy Widdis, Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Regina

Borders are mutable; i.e., they are always in motion, constantly being re-imagined, contested and reconstructed through time and space. Yet while borders are ever-changing in form and function, they are also immutable; i.e. they never go away. Because border mutability and immutability work at all scales (geographical and temporal), our challenge is to develop border policy that reflects this understanding. Not too long ago, this border paradox was increasingly overlooked as we were told that globalization was leading the world in a direction towards greater homogeneity and unified culture, an argument that by its very nature diminishes the relevance of the nation-state and, by implication, the importance of history and geography, and minimizes the significance of borders. During this period of globalization, boundaries indeed evolved into “third spaces” as traditional barriers came tumbling down. Nevertheless, recent history has demonstrated that territories and, therefore, borders, both formal (de jure) and cultural (de facto), still matter; they always have, and they always will.

This presentation reflects upon the mutability and immutability of borders in the face of the history of globalization. It attempts to unravel the entanglements that connect globalization and borders and in doing so, reflects on the strings that connect the past and present and to identify and analyze the roles that such connections play in the ever-changing world of borders, borderlands, and bordering. As such, it focuses on the challenges facing historical research, including the traditional bias against transnationalism and the borderlands approach demonstrated by nation-state history, the difficulties associated with the borderlands approach, the uncertain role of theory in border research, the significant but changeable association between globalization and borderlands, and the conventional ignorance of indigenous borderlands in the field. Arguments are presented that attempt to address each of these issues.

A Caravan/Border Support Network: American Activism, Counterinsurgency and the Geopolitics of Border Security
Guadalupe Correa-Cabreras, Associate Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

The recently formed so-called “migrant caravans” have effectively (and significantly) modified the dynamics of irregular/undocumented migration, the demographic composition of migrant flows and the behavior of human smuggling networks in the Americas (Correa-Cabrera 2019). These phenomena have had a great impact on US and Mexican public opinion with regards to extremely politicized subjects that generate significant polarization today, such as migration controls and US-Mexico border security cooperation (Migration Policy Institute 2019). It is worthwhile noting that today the subjects related to irregular/undocumented migration, US migration policy and the proposal to build a border wall by President Donald Trump are located at the center of the political/electoral debate in the United States. Hence, a more in depth analysis of such phenomena is crucial. In this context, the formation of migrant caravans have also been connected directly to these divisive subjects.

The aim of the present research is to explain the formation of migrant caravans with a special focus on its organizers and the groups they represent. The formation of migrant caravans does not seem to be simply a spontaneous/“organic” phenomenon, that is, a phenomenon that is merely explained by structural forces or traditional “pull” and “push” factors. It is worth noting that a more in depth analysis of these recent phenomena show the presence of external factors that induce these mobilizations. Diverse opinions—both in Mexico and the United States (including those of government authorities in the two countries)—have pointed out the direct involvement of different individuals or groups (such as the organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras), who have directly supported the formation, development and transportation of migrant caravans (Correa-Cabrera and Bersin 2018).

It is clear that the caravan phenomenon and its effects on current migration flows have also had a fundamental impact on asylum and migration policies in the United States, while influencing, at the same time, the design and implementation of new actions and policies to reinforce border security both in the United States and Mexico (some still under judicial review). These phenomena have also had a crucial effect on the US political/electoral debate and very plausibly will remain as the central topics during the 2020 US presidential campaign. What is less clear, but not implausible, is that the caravan phenomenon and the evolution of related networks and social movements are related to complex matters of geopolitics (Solalinde and Correa-Cabrera 2019).

The US public in the present era seems to be greatly divided in its perceptions and preferences regarding the subjects of undocumented migration and border security (Migration Policy Institute 2017). Such a division seems to be greater than ever in the contemporary history of the United States. There are some reasons to believe that powerful political groups (linked to important economic interests), or even foreign nations, could have been supporting materially and strategically the formation of caravans and other border resistance movements.

Exploring Links between Borders and Ethics: Towards Unbounded Inclusiveness
Jussi Laine, Assistant Professor, Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland

An important characteristic of contemporary border studies is its increasingly prevalent ethical nature. While the field has been engaged with questions of justifiable state borders and the ethical concerns related to their mere existence already for long, the aim here is broaden the discussion by bringing in a more holistic, and hopefully more balanced, perspective on the various, often competing, viewpoints. Paying attention to ethics is of importance not only for the sake of borders per se, but also because it is central to the evaluation of major changes to the global social, political, and economic order. What follows is not meant as the last word the subject of ethics of the borders, but it stands to explore the links between the two concepts and thus provide some sort of a way station on the road towards a richer debate which would, without pre-judgment, seek to bring clarity in the complexity of the topic.

Borders remain vitally important features of our political world. They continue to make divide the surface of the earth into blocks that are easier to manage and mark areas of governance and sovereignty. They amplify the innate human desire to demarcate physical space and protect not just one’s property, but also the sense of freedom. Indeed, most people do not question that countries should have clear borders and the right to control them (cf. Jones 2019). In this sense, national borders have been assigned with a high moral value. However, they undeniably carry considerable moral weight also in determining ethical responsibilities toward migrants, particularly displaced persons. Borders do not only divide physical space, but they used increasingly to sort people according to the degree of their belonging to certain ethnic, cultural, political, and social groups. Who gets to decide the criteria based on which such sorting is made, is the question we need to address, as it is here where the ethical question become the most blatant.

Ethics of and across borders have been extensively theorised, yet it has proven difficult to arrive into any clear consensus about the outcome. In links between borders and ethics. more public debate on the matter, rational assessments and analyses tend to get easily overshadowed by more emotional and passionate standpoints. Different stands are commonly pitted against one another in a simplistic manner (such as in whether border should be open or closed), whereby the complexity of not just border as a construction, yet also of the various processes that transcend it get oversimplified and narrowed down. What has made the debate even more perplexing is that the various, related but different, questions tend to get easily fused into one. While I cannot claim to have the answers to these questions, my aim here is bring clarity and structure to the debate and advocate for a more holistic perspective for exploring the the links between borders and ethics.

My aim not to advocate for a borderless world, but a world that would be more just. For all. A key realisation towards that end is the realisation that a commitment to equal moral worth requires also some sort of basic commitment to equal opportunity (Carens 2014). This does not, however, instinctively mean that borders would be inherently bad and should thus be treated as such. Even if all border would disappear that would not address all of the underlying injustices that make people want to move. Given all of their flaws, border continue to serve a purpose – various purposes, yet perhaps more than ever before these are likely to not be the same for us all. It is this realisation which needs further attention form us scholars.

As much of the recent both public and political debate suggests, high moral value continues to be assigned to national borders and state sovereignty. A respect for the self-determination of accountable states cannot however be detached from the realities of today’s interconnected world. Borders carry considerable moral weight in determining ethical responsibilities towards those who are not considered to belong, and our moral obligation to make border more permeable does not stem only from the merely humanitarian principle, but is also based on the fact that we are no longer simply part of isolated national communities; by virtue of our transnational interactions in today’s networked world, whereby developments even in distant areas may come with multiple bearings.

Hosted Lunch and Special Panel – Crises at the Border: Is History a Guide?
John Caulfield, US Department of State (retired) and Laura Macdonald, Political Science, Carleton

As the BGINS specialization in Migration and Diaspora Studies mentions on its website, “we live in a world on the move.” This statement is highly relevant to North America (Canada, the US and Mexico) and the Caribbean, especially Cuba. An increased exodus of Cubans has recently occurred due to the unstable situation in Venezuela, traditionally a strong ally and economic partner of Cuba. The website also references that the program “supports historically informed and forward looking accounts of cultural and social identities, diversity and integration, exile and memory, forced migration and refugee communities.”

As former US diplomat John Caulfield wrote in The Hill on June 17, 2019, “ if history is any indication, this new wave of Cuban immigrants will also be accommodated in the United States. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 allows Cubans to apply for lawful permanent residence after a year of physical presence in the United States. Unlike the Central Americans, these Cuban refugees will have a politically and economically powerful Cuban American community that has always welcomed them in the past.”

In his piece, Mr. Caulfield also notes the changed pattern of migration for Cubans from earlier decades. Due to the current situation, he writes, “rafters will more likely depart western Cuba for the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, rather than cross the Florida Straits directly to the United States.” If they are not allowed to return to Cuba, they will end up on the US/Mexico Border.

Other streams of refugee migration, especially from Central America through Mexico are finding themselves along the US/Mexico border. International NGOs, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and the head of UNICEF have specifically called for an end to the inhumane separation of children from their parents in detention centres, some of which house upwards of 2,000 children in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Observers note that this policy’s implementation violates the 1997 Flores agreement, governing the conditions under which children are housed and that children are to be moved from Border Patrol custody to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours. Neither of these conditions is being met by the Trump Administration.

In this panel, Mr. John Caulfield and Carleton professor Laura Macdonald will provide well-informed, timely and factual commentary on the development of the current situation along the US-Mexico border and the contribution of various policies and country departures to it.

Mr. Caulfield has spent decades in diplomatic service in various Caribbean and Latin American countries, and also served as the State Department’s legislative liaison in 1997. Notable among his achievements are those of having served as senior consular official in some of the largest visa-granting consulates in the world (Ciudad Juárez and Manila) as well as proposing legislation for expediting Latin American migration. Professor Laura Macdonald is an internationally-recognized expert on North and Latin American labour policy and is the author of several scholarly books on this set of issues as well as a recent book on violence in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2018). She is also very active in borderlands studies. Both John and Laura have travelled to witness refugee facilities as part of international NGO efforts over the past six months and can thus fit their eyewitness accounts into their viewpoints gained from the diplomatic and scholarly communities.

The Integration between Border Studies and Public Policy in the Canada-US Context
Laurie Trautman, Director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University

The Border Policy Research Institute is the only institute of its kind; there is no other academically-based research institute in the United States that is solely dedicated to studying the Canadian–U.S. border from a policy perspective. It is also unique in that it is a fully funded institute. BPRI is the exception that proves the rule – that there is a fundamental absence of a structural platform for communication between scholars, practitioners, and policy makers. The absence of this platform shapes a systemic disconnect between border studies and public policy in the North American context. Yet in the last decade in particular, the field of border studies and border research have become increasingly relevant in relation to public debates and public policy, particularly in regards to issues of socioeconomic wellbeing, immigration, security, and identity. At the same time, the acceleration and scale of information sharing is creating a growing need for border studies to engage in the policy arena, which will require the ability to inform public policy in a timely and relevant manner.

This paper examines how border studies can answer questions that are critical to society and inform public policy in an effective and meaningful way. In particular, this paper analyzes the existing and potential integration between border studies and public policy in the context of the Canada – U.S. relationship, with a particular focus on the post- 9/11 environment. It explores the current state of Canada – U.S. border policy, border studies, and the barriers and connections between them. Specific attention is paid to the structural barriers that inhibit border studies from engaging in the policy arena in a deft and effective manner. This paper argues that the gap between border studies and policy is largely a function of the ways border studies are communicated and the networks border scholars are embedded in. While border studies has been effective in analyzing the effects of border policy, more intentional and conservation too in efforts to use spatial and violent strategies to combat the hunting of endangered animals.

The paper also highlights new directions for bridging the gap between border studies and policy in the context of the evolving policy landscape of the Canada – U.S. relationship. It identifies both the structural and functional aspects of border studies that limit the transferability of border studies to the production and implementation of public policy goals. At the same time, current successes and emerging opportunities for greater integration are examined. Increasing the influence of border studies on policy and society will require pursuing new ways of communicating at different time scales and forging stronger, more dynamic relationships across academia, government, and industry. Although focused on the Canada – U.S. context, this analysis has broad relevance for the future of border studies and new directions for strengthening the impact of border studies on society.

Energizing Borders, Belts and Roads: Tracing the Evolution of Yunnan Province—Southwest China’s “Radiation Center”—through Transregional Energy Development
Thomas Ptak, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Idaho

This presentation will illuminate how China has strategically leveraged historical relationships, energy development and international borders to transform the Southwest province of Yunnan from a peripheral ‘backwater’ to an area now central for contemporary geo-economic and geopolitical objectives. Formative sections will detail basic demographic, geographic and historical context to provide a broad overview of the province and situate some of its ongoing challenges. Then, the presentation will turn to Yunnan’s energy landscape, including both the biophysical resources and various policies which have been created to shape their exploitation and development.

Following the introductory and formative sections, a series of distinct time periods will be investigated in order to illustrate how energy development, international borders and national policies have intersected to catalyze and sustain the dramatic transformation of Yunnan. The concluding section will focus on analyzing the role Yunnan has played in advancing China’s contemporary global venture—the Belt and Road Initiative, while outlining how ongoing challenges could disrupt or derail its current trajectory.
Those attending this presentation should develop a deeper and more nuanced understanding of China, particularly the ways provinces with strategic assets (such as energy resources and borders), have been utilized to advance contemporary geo-economic and geopolitical goals. This presentation will draw on and synergize data in addition to empirical insights gained from ten years of ongoing research in and around the borders and border regions of Yunnan province.

Unsustainable Borders? Climate Geopolitics in a Warming World
Simon Dalby, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University

Contrasting Greta Thunberg’s appeals to pay attention to the science of climate change and the dangers of the trajectory the world is on towards a climate disrupted world with Donald Trump’s insistence that the future is for patriots, not globalists, draws a stark contrast between those concerned about keeping the world within the planetary boundaries of contemporary earth system analysis, and those who insist on a bordered world in which political spaces can be reproduced as separate ones without obligations or responsibilities beyond their borders. Political thinking, even of the globalist persuasion remains substantially trapped in territorial formulations.

These are increasingly anachronistic in the face of climate disruptions which are ushering in a condition of non-stationarity where past ranges of environmental matters are an increasingly unreliable indication of what is happening. The implications of non-stationarity include the simple point that ecological conditions are not geographically stable and migration challenges assumptions of conservation within bordered spaces. Long distance tele-connections are now key to both economic and ecological changes and the vulnerabilities of human systems are related to the long-distance and indirect connections between such things as fossil fuel burning and increased storm intensity.

Maritime boundaries and the shorelines from which they are demarcated are also in motion as coastal inundation in Florida and elsewhere emphasizes. People too are mobile and thinking in terms of mobility as the human condition challenges the assumptions of stable territorially bounded spaces as the given context for governance. Migration is the most basic mode of adaptation and if this is seen as a problem to be thwarted by enhanced border enforcement the insecurities of human and other species are aggravated not ameliorated. On the smaller scale this is a matter now often seen in militarized conservation too in efforts to use spatial and violent strategies to combat the hunting of endangered animals.

Looking at the borders that run through attempts to govern environmental change focuses on the necessity of thinking about cosmopolitan thinking, but in novel modes that don’t replicate the worst imperial practices of the past that operate on invocations of universal humanity. They also need to engage the mutual enmeshments of humanity, the increasingly artificial contexts of the technosphere in the earth system as well as the reconstituted biosphere, in ways that facilitiate ecological flourishing rather than continued domination and extraction related to enclosures and engineered exclusions in the new spaces of climate adaptation.
Focusing on matters of production as key to the future of the earth system suggests that many attempts at bordering may be producing empty institutions focused on out of date notions of environmental protection rather than the dynamics of making future ecologies, something that the Anthropocene discussion suggests are the priority for the future.