Posts tagged with "detention centers":

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How architecture is aiding detention at the U.S.-Mexico border

This article is the first in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States.
So much of what is built on the border is to contain, restrain, detain, constrain, restrict, wall off, fence up. When there is so much natural beauty there—the river, the desert, the mountains to enjoy and celebrate. So many families who want to be together, so many people who just want to be. I wish that we were building more bridges (flat, easier to cross and connect), tearing down the walls that we have; wish that we had immigration and asylum laws that matched our values and our interests so that we weren’t locking so many people up. Wish that there were no more private prison companies so that there wasn’t a profit motive to do that. —Beto O’Rourke, El Paso native, U.S. Representative for Texas's 16th congressional district, and the 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas
Texas, the state with the longest continuous land border with Mexico, has been uniquely formative in the construction of spaces and narratives that define national dialogue in the borderland. The state is home to more ports of entry than any other state. These entry points are legible crucibles of bio-political power, routinely collapsing spaces of speculative commerce, incarceration, and the projection of national identity. Assessments for constructing a new border crossing, connecting Tornillo, Texas, with Guadalupe, Chihuahua, began in 2001. A new bridge, a 2,000-acre industrial park, and 300 acres of "border facilities" were initially meant to bring economic development to the remote area and improve regional health, reducing pollution from idling traffic at congested bridges in El Paso. A presidential permit was issued for the bridge in 2005, but its construction would be stalled, and its purposes changed. In 2008, the Juarez Valley, a remote collection of agricultural communities in Mexico south of Tornillo, saw one of the highest murder rates in the world, gaining it the reputation as the “Valley of Death.” Victims of the violence would increasingly flee to Tornillo to seek asylum. Some speculate that the rampant violence was a scheme sponsored by the Mexican government to evacuate residents in the area in preparation for, and to expedite construction of, the bridge. In 2010, modular detention facilities in nearby Fabens, Texas, built to accommodate the flow, were over capacity. Violence in the valley eventually stabilized and plans for the new crossing were rekindled. The Tornillo-Guadalupe International Bridge opened in 2016 and was hailed as an achievement in cross-border infrastructure. The adjoining U.S. checkpoint exemplifies an architecture designed to manage, block, and process bodies, an outpost at the edge of empire. The architects of the LEED Gold facility describe the materials and performance as specially suited to the site’s desert context, with integrated technologies promoting the efficient monitoring of populations, noting that the design “inspires the spirit of place.” The optimism for the port to rapidly realize a future characterized by collaborative binational security efforts was captured in its christening. It was named for Marcelino Serna, the most decorated U.S. soldier from Texas to serve in WWI, who happened to be an undocumented migrant. The anticipated traffic never came. Less than a year after its opening, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had shut down the only lane dedicated for northbound commercial traffic. Without the economic engine to support the new complex, the overbuilt site quickly found new use in a growing economy of detention. Tornillo opened a temporary overflow center in 2016, typical of an increasingly common ephemeral incarceration infrastructure. These pop-up sites are rapidly installed and disassembled by specialist companies who navigate remote terrain in far-flung locales as easily as their practices navigate the constraints imposed on such facilities by case law. Tornillo continues to be an ideal site for such installations, far from the public eye yet enmeshed in the infrastructure of detention. In June 2018, Tornillo would be home to its most notorious tent city. The Tornillo checkpoint currently holds over 300 minors in tents just south of the bridge. As the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy has separated families across the country, the Tornillo site grows as a center of life for the unwanted, the detained, and the displaced. For a few days, however, a contrasting occupation resisted the isolation, anonymity, and placelessness of the remote facility. On Father’s Day 2018 and the following Sunday, floods of protesters descended upon the border checkpoint, appropriating the isolated node as a center of active resistance. The site joins a growing host of detention sites in the border state, which index nationwide trends in detention. Taken collectively, the sites represent a growing impact of private speculation and profit models impacting the construction of detention facilities, all of which are adapting—and therefore helping to realize—a near future in which the remote, prolonged detention of families and children is commonplace. Since 2006, Texas has been home to the much-maligned T. Don Hutto Residential Facility, which, at the time it was built, was the only privately-run facility used to detain families. The largest detention site in the U.S., the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, can house up to 2,400 women and children. The site is part of a constellation of for-profit, superscaled sites on a stretch of interstate highway between Laredo and San Antonio dubbed "detention alley." A new contract seeks a 1,000-bed center nearby—similar to a 1,000-bed facility built outside of Houston last year—which will be the eighth in the South Texas area. As military advisers advocate for detention centers on military bases to create even more “austere” and “temporary” environments, Texas leads the charge here as well. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio housed migrant children in 2014, repurposing a dormitory once used for recruits. El Paso’s Fort Bliss housed 500 unaccompanied Central American children in 2016. A June announcement revealed that two Texas military installations—Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base—would be among the select sites to continue the trend. Other sites in the state, such as the now infamous former Walmart in Brownsville, signal a shift toward speculative investment in detention trickling down to private properties and actors. At the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, connecting downtown Ciudad Juárez with downtown El Paso, CBP is pushing the edge of U.S. jurisdiction beyond the spatial limits of the bridge. Although due process of asylum claims is guaranteed within the port of entry, agents have ventured onto—and reportedly across—the bridge to deny access to the port. Uniformed border agents ask for documents on the bridge to identify and turn away Central Americans seeking asylum, a few hundred feet from their destination. On June 27, CBP confirmed to El Paso immigration rights advocacy groups that this prescreening and advance rejection has become official policy borderwide. Without access to the legal framework enabled by the ports, many asylum seekers cross in unsanctioned locations. Those caught crossing outside the ports, some with otherwise credible asylum claims, face criminal charges and deportation. By denying a space for lawful entry, the policy artificially amplifies the numbers of illegal crossings and a myth of increased illegitimate entry. The port thus transforms from a site capable of processing identities to an instrument which actively constructs and deconstructs citizenship.
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Why are architecture’s major professional organizations silent on the immigrant detention debate?

A preliminary Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan to house nearly 100,000 detained migrants across California has been shelved.

 According to a draft Navy memo reported by Time late last week, the military base at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego and the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) east of San Francisco were being eyed as potential sites for “temporary and austere” detention facilities that would hold up to 47,000 detained migrants each over coming months. The plans encountered swift and fierce local opposition from residents and City of Concord officials alike, prompting DHS to unofficially reconsider the plan. Aside from local political opposition to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies—especially with regard to the policy of separating migrant families and detaining separated children under inhumane conditions—locals pointed to the CNWS site’s environmental toxicity and the presence of unexploded munitions on the grounds as additional reasons against its use as a detention facility. The dust-up in California comes as the United States government works to expand the number of migrant detention facilities across the country in order to deal with the rapidly growing number of detainees resulting from its hardline stance against incoming migrants and refugees. The memo uncovered by Time estimates the government is projecting to warehouse up to 25,000 detained migrants over the coming months in abandoned airfields across southern Alabama and in the Florida panhandle in addition to the nearly 94,000 detainees planned for California. There is no word regarding where or whether the detention facilities originally slated for California are being relocated to other sites. The new facilities will join what is quickly becoming a sprawling, nation-wide network of private jail facilities, non-profit-operated detention centers, and now, camps and “tent cities” located on military bases aimed at housing detained migrants. Perhaps nothing has brought this more into focus than recent controversy over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation. Although President Trump recently put a temporary halt to the practice through an executive order, nearly 2,500 children have been separated from their families over the past two months and are now being detained in facilities spanning at least 15 states. According to government figures, roughly 12,000 migrant children overall are currently being held in over 100 facilities across the country, many of which are at or exceed their designated capacities, and some of which are facing allegations of abuse and misconduct, not to mention ill-equipped to handle the mental health, welfare, and legal hurdles these children face. As a result, the nation’s sprawling—and expanding—carceral archipelago has now become a major source of  political, ethical, and moral debate. 

As with the vast for-profit prison system, there are many questions about the ethical and moral implications of designing and constructing these facilities. So far, however, the architectural profession is staying mostly out of the fray, with a few exceptions. Last week, The Architecture Lobby (TAL) and Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) issued a joint statement rejecting the role of architects in designing such detention facilities, stating, “The Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on architects, designers, planners and allied professionals to refuse to participate in the design of any immigration enforcement infrastructure, including but not limited to walls, checkpoints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, processing centers, or juvenile holding centers. We encourage owners, partners and employees who find themselves in practices that engage in this work to organize, and deny their labor to these projects.” The statement came as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held its annual convention in New York City, an event that was marked with a heavy emphasis on the profession’s attempts to overcome the diversity and inclusion hurdles currently faced by the white- and male-dominated profession. It was not long ago that the association drew the ire of its members following the 2016 national election, when AIA CEO Robert Ivy declared that AIA members “stand ready to work” with Trump toward shared goals like infrastructure investments. During last week’s conference, ADPSR attempted to get AIA leadership to endorse its rejection of detention center projects, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful, though the group is still working to convince the AIA to adpot its position. Raphael Sperry, president of ADPSR, told The Architect’s Newspaper, “People should recognize that immigrants, including currently undocumented people in the United States, contribute greatly to architecture, and always have. There are immigrant and undocumented architects, builders, carpenters, plumbers, welders. We must recognize and respect the contributions of everyone who shapes the built environment, and ensure that our profession and our broader industry respect human rights for everyone.” When reached for comment on the question of whether architects should take on these commissions, Carl Elefante, AIA president, referred AN to the AIA press team. When contacted, a representative of the AIA simply asked, “Why do you think architects are working on these projects?” without providing further comment. Even a casual observer would note that architects are likely fundamental to the development of not only the increasingly ubiquitous detention centers being built across the country, but also, as ADPSR points out, the myriad supportive facilities necessary for DHS to carry out its ongoing efforts to fight so-called “illegal immigration.” Most notoriously, a 200,000-square-foot former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas came under scrutiny in recent weeks as a detention center with a unique claim to fame—the largest detention center for migrant and refugee children. Operated by the privately-run Southwest Key Programs organization, the big-box detention center was converted from a retail store to its current use in 2016 as a result of corporate downsizing and currently holds roughly 1,500 separated children. The conversion likely required building permits, construction drawings, and the like—services that often require architects. It is safe to assume that local jurisdictions would require basic planning approval and permitting for these projects, so it seems natural that architects would somehow be involved in the propagation of these facilities. The silence from professional organizations on the matter is troubling to say the least; as the government ramps up efforts to build more facilities under increasingly hostile terms, it would benefit practitioners and contractors to understand the ethical implications of their work. Furthermore, other professional architectural organizations, like the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), have pushed to have architects and designers engage with migrant and refugee detention centers through design in the past. Last year, ACSA issued a controversial call for its annual steel construction competition, asking participants to design a “Humanitarian Refugee (Detention) Center.” The proposal drew ire from the architectural community as well, prompting the group to shut down the competition in exchange for a different brief issued earlier this year. In a statement announcing the end of the competition, ACSA remarked that it had received “justified​ criticism” over the prompt and that it regretted its decision to publish the competition. When reached for comment this week regarding the current debate surrounding migrant detention centers, a representative said, “ACSA does not have a comment on that issue. We do not take positions on the work that architects choose to take on.” The reticence that professional groups like the AIA and ACSA have toward speaking out against what many consider to be plainly unethical facilities speaks to the profession’s ongoing struggles with racial and ethnic diversity along with human rights concerns. Because detained migrants are being distributed among a network that runs the gamut of structures, from private prisons to improvised tent cities in remote desert sites, the implications of the expanding detention network extends beyond the realm of individual projects and firm-specific business decisions to encompass profession-wide ethical and human rights concerns. The racialized dimension of the immigration debate alongside the architectural profession’s continued lack of diversity present particular challenges for professional organizations and individual firms as they attempt to respond. At stake is whether—or how—the architectural profession will engage with the American immigration debate, and more broadly, with a global refugee crisis that is only due to keep growing in scope and severity as the effects of climate change and resource-driven conflicts spread globally. If AIA and ACSA will not provide leadership during these trying times, who will?