Borders, Detention and xBorder in Australia

Angela Mitrapoulos, interviewed by Matthew Kiem, on borders, detention, and her involvement with xBorder.
“As to how the border control systems have changed in recent years, they involve the circulation of shared feelings—feelings of filial, racial bonding—as much as techniques of control, and are increasingly a matter of seemingly abstract codes and formulations, not least of which is the codification of risk. Border controls, irrespective of their paranoid reliance on imaginary threats to racial coherence, are responsive systems. Migration is adaptation and therefore adjustive and tactical. It goes around obstacles and transforms them in doing so. It was along those lines that I wrote “Borders 2.0” to describe current changes as an attempt by border control systems to mime and model the adaptive character of migration, to pre-empt but also convert those movements into a form of value.
This has involved a spatial but also temporal reorganisation of the border. It is no longer the fixed point but a moving filter between timezones, an extra-territorial (or “offshored”) system composed of hubs and switches, but also mobile techniques of control that adhere to bodies in motion (eg, the behavioural “Code of Conduct” recently introduced in Australia for asylum seekers who will be obliged to undertake a form of indentured labour). European governments have repeatedly tried to introduce a version of Australia’s system of “offshore” detention camps, initially in Libya and now with efforts to strike a “third country” agreement with Turkey to detain and “process” asylum seekers there before they reach “Europe proper.” In “Archipelago of Risk,” I argued that the salient mechanisms of this conversion are less those which Foucault described under the heading of the “carceral archipelago” (with their reliance on statistical probabilities, capacity, and docility) than risk analytics (including among other things: pre-emption, preparedness, non-linear or stochastic modellings of movement and desire). This is perhaps a longer discussion.
In the main, I think it is no longer plausible—if it ever was—to describe let alone theorise the state’s borders as either geographically fixed or the state as distinguishable from capital or “markets.” The way in which states actively create markets in, say, the “people-smuggling” that politicians denounce, and do so by dint of legislation and criminalisation, is but one example. Another is that border control is a kind of “public-private partnership” between states, corporations and NGOs.
So I strongly disagree with those who say the problem with immigration detention is its privatized and secretive character. Privatization alters how we understand and oppose that system. But nostalgia for state-run detention is an impediment to doing both of those things, not least because it involves an appeal to nationalism. It is untrue that “we” do not know or see what happens in detention, or that if the people (the figural audience) did see, then “bad things” would stop happening. Whose gaze is being assumed here? The compulsion to visibility, a voyeuristic obsession with the visualisation of “exotic” trauma or of people of color suffering and victimised, ignores the extent of surveillance that detainees and undocumented migrants are subjected to, undermines the clandestinity and privacy that (undocumented) migrants often require so as to survive, and is often simply the occupational impulse of those whose income is derived from “making the scandalous visible” for a figurative, liberal (and white) gaze. In any case, nostalgia for state-run prisons and detention camps functions as a way to re-assemble nationalist, citizen-based political constituencies. It is not a project that shares the abolitionist, anti-racist premises and aims of, say, long-standing theorists of the prison-industrial complex such as Angela Davis. It is not a project that xBorder supports any more than we would place our faith in the ICC or agencies such as the UN’s International Organization for Migration.”

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