This episode’s guest is A. Naomi Paik, author and Associate Professor of Criminology, Law and Justice and Global Asian Studies at University of Illinois, Chicago. In this episode, we are in conversation with Naomi about her book Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary: Understanding U.S. Immigration for the 21st Century (University of California Press, 2020). Naomi discusses the history of immigration bans in the United States, the interconnectedness of social justice issues, and the significance of sanctuary as an abolitionist practice.
Episode Transcription available here
Host: Ry O. Siggelkow
Producer: Adam Pfuhl
Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua
Music: Kavyesh Kaviraj
Episode Recorded on November 21, 2022
In Conversation with A. Naomi Paik
Ry Siggelkow [00:00:00] Hello, everybody. I'm Ry Siggelkow and I direct the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Today, I'm excited to be in conversation with A. Naomi Paik. Naomi is an Associate Professor of Criminology, Law and Justice and Global Asian Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her research and teaching interests include comparative ethnic studies, US imperialism, U.S. militarism, social and cultural approaches to legal studies, transnational and women of color feminisms, carceral spaces and labor, race and migration.
She is the author of Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps Since World War Two and Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary: Understanding U.S. Immigration for the 21st Century recently published with University of California Press in 2020. This book examines the long developing criminalization of foreign born people in the United States and the need for radical abolitionist approaches to sanctuary. Welcome to the podcast, Naomi.
A. Naomi Paik [00:01:20] Thank you so much for having me. I'm really happy to be here.
Ry Siggelkow [00:01:24] In your book, Naomi, Ban, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary, you emphasize that the blatant and explicit forms of xeno-racism, articulated in speeches and enacted in a range of policies during the presidency of Donald Trump, have deep historical roots in policies of exclusion that have attended white settler colonial regimes such as the United States from the very beginning. Your book, however, specifically focuses on the last 50 years or so when, in the wake of the anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles across the globe in the late 1960s, neo-liberalism emerged as a reactionary economic, cultural, social and political force.
I wonder if we could begin our conversation, Naomi, with you sharing a bit about how you understand this slippery term, neoliberalism, and how you think an understanding of the history of neoliberalism informs our understanding of our present moment.
Naomi Paik [00:02:30] Yeah, this is a great question, and we're just diving right in. So neoliberalism definitely is a very slippery term. One of the hard things about it is that it seems to talk about everything, and so it kind of loses some of its coherence and analytical precision. So one of the challenges that I found in trying to talk about neoliberalism, especially with my students, is that a lot of my students kind of sort of know what it is but aren't really clear on what it is or what it means. And so I have to kind of scaffold it up a lot to show them how neoliberalism helps us understand, for example, the rise of prisons and border walls and of growing poverty and wealth inequality.
I think of neoliberalism as a kind of ground floor that connects different kinds of oppression against different kinds of people and groups. And so if it's the ground floor that connects these different kinds of oppression, then it's also a ground floor that can connect different kinds of struggles to get out of that oppression. Different kinds of struggles for migrant justice, for environmental justice, for housing justice, as well as movements against prisons and policing.
I talk about neoliberalism both to my students and in the book, and I talk about it as a historical emergence that came about in the late 1960s and 1970s in response to two kinds of dual crises of the moment. So one was a dire economic crisis that was marked by a major global recession in the early 1970s that marked the end of the golden era of U.S. capitalism. So this is when we start seeing the kind of discourses that this is the last generation that can anticipate doing better than the generation that came before them. Like that's over. So that was one of the crises.
The other crisis was the social upheavals of regular, ordinary people rising up in social movements, not only in the United States, but globally. So we can think about the anti-Vietnam War movement and think about black power, brown power, the feminist movement, the American Indian movement, and Third World movements for liberation from colonialism. All of this stuff was happening kind of in the same historical moment. So neoliberalism steps in as a way to manage and kind of control these crises, right? And to quash the social movements for greater equity and justice.
So I talk about neoliberalism kind of through three braided strands, and all of these strands depend on each other and work together. So the most obvious or clear strand is neoliberalism as a set of economic policies. And these are a set of economic policies that basically lead to the siphoning of wealth upwards towards the 1%, and that really ends up attacking working class people all over the globe. So we can think of some of these policies as tax cuts, especially for rich people and wealthy corporations. And those tax cuts end up depriving the government of funding and resources to redistribute. What also comes with those tax cuts are the gutting of welfare and the shredding of the social safety net. So that's another one.
One of the big goals of neoliberal economic policy is also to create a globalized economy like an integrated world economy through things like free trade, like the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA and other kinds of free trade agreements across the globe. What these free trade agreements do is they try to get capital and goods to move as freely and seamlessly as possible from place to place. But that is also accompanied by a lack of free movement by people. I'll get to that in a minute.
So basically, these economic policies ultimately benefit corporations and the 1% and attack workers. That's the kind of goal of it. So this set of economic policies doesn't just come out of nowhere. It comes out of a well-developed set of ideas and ideologies.
So the second thread that I think about neoliberalism is as an ideology that ultimately drives and also justifies the siphoning of wealth upwards by valorizing the free market as gospel. And the free market is not just gospel for the economy, but also for our politics and also for our society, how we actually relate to each other. So we can think of this distilled in Maggie Thatcher's statement, "There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals and families". So we're just a bunch, we're just a collection of self-interested individuals. And if we just basically organize our lives around what's in it for me, what's best for me then that kind of replaces any kind of notion that we're in this together, that we look out for each other, that we depend on each other for society to exist at all, she says. That's just not what it is.
Some of the other kinds of key neo liberal statements that have come out of Margaret Thatcher's mouth are, "There is no such thing as poverty, right? You only have a personality defect". And so that quote is speaking to the third strand that's braided into this, the way I think about neoliberalism, and that's neoliberalism's cultural project.
Neoliberalism ends up harming most people in the world. Billions and billions of people. And so you need a kind of cultural project to gain the consent of people who are actually being harmed by these policies. So if you think about it, we as individuals, as people, are encouraged to adopt market values as our social values. So we're not here for each other, but you are on your own. So, like, why should I have to go out and earn all this money and work really hard and then pay a bunch of taxes, have it all taken back so that your children can go to school for free and have free lunch. That's not fair to me. You should be able to pay for your kid's education and buy them lunch. It's not fair for you to ask me to pay for your health care. You should be able to take care of yourself. I earned this money. So I should get to keep it and take care of myself. So you should have to do the same. That's the kind of ideology that's at work here. And sometimes I feel seduced by these ideologies as well. I mean, they're very powerful ideologies and a cultural project.
So this cultural project also relies on and actually worsens and intensifies already existing social differences like race, gender, sexuality, citizenship and national origin, all of these things. So think about how we have come to see welfare not as something good for society, that everyone should have some kind of ground for some kind of safety net when things go wrong. No one should be starving or without housing or whatever, just because they're not able to make ends meet. And that has been that welfare is kind of seen as this negative thing. And we end up demonizing people who need these kinds of social safety net services.
But if you think about the kind of shredding of welfare, we can trace it back historically to the ideology, the cultural project around the so-called welfare queen. And how this demonization, particularly of black women, and especially of black mothers, helped to shred the social safety net. Even though most people would probably benefit from having this ground floor, I think most Americans would benefit from having Medicaid for all or a single payer health care system. But it's really hard to make the argument for that. And it's partly because we see welfare as a category that has been increasingly racialized and gendered and attached to figures that are already susceptible to, you know, racist thinking, sexist thinking, patriarchal norms, etc.. And so neoliberalism kind of takes what's already available. These racist discourses harness them to themselves and use it to justify a set of economic policies that end up harming most people and benefiting a very small sector of society.
So all of these three aspects work together, like the economic policies depend on that ideology and all of it. It cannot work. You would have a global revolt if you did not have a cultural project to gain the consent of most people. So all three strands kind of work together and rely on each other.
Another aspect of neoliberalism that I really focus on in the book and that I think is really important to emphasize, is that neoliberalism is built on prison foundations, as Ruthie Gilmore puts it. And so neoliberal policies, as I said, end up harming most people. They displace people by decimating their economic foundations.
In the United States, I think the paradigmatic example in my head is Detroit. So when corporations just picked up and left and were moving production to places where labor wasn't unionized or organized and cost a lot less. And so you just left the entire city just in economic tatters. Those people get displaced from their jobs, from economic survival. And then think about people in poorer nations. Right? Their economic foundations have also been gutted by things like free trade agreements, neoliberal free trade agreements like NAFTA, which ended up massively increasing rural poverty in Mexico and leading 1.3 million agricultural workers to lose their jobs. These two places like rural Mexico and Detroit and other urban centers where neoliberal capital flight has decimated economies.
These are connected to each other, right? Because it doesn't actually work for a car manufacturer to close down an entire factory. Like all of that solid investment into materials, the factory line, all of that. It doesn't make sense for them to close entire factories and rebuild them basically from scratch elsewhere unless the labor costs are so much lower. And how are they so much lower? It's the product of colonialism and imperialism, for sure. But it's also because workers are cheaper elsewhere, because they're held in place by national borders, they're not allowed to move as freely as those factories and the capital and the cars that are coming back to be sold in the United States. So this is a core tenet of neoliberalism that capital goods get to move freely but people do not. And that's a core contradiction that I hope will lead to the undoing of neoliberalism.
Getting back to the present foundations of the neoliberal state. So you've displaced all these people, in the United States, in poorer nations. What does a neoliberal state do with all of these displaced people? It doesn't help them out with welfare, because we've already decided that we're not going to do that anymore. It doesn't invest in job training, free education. In fact, education has become an expensive commodity. So it ends up investing the resources of the state into controlling displaced people, primarily through things like policing, including immigrant policing and detention and prisons. So it's not like there's some kind of conspiracy that we see increased poverty and wealth inequality, as well as an explosion in policing in prisons. That's made the U.S. the world's number one jailer, by far. But all of these aspects work together. And it's really hard to tease out all of these different lines and how they get enmeshed with each other. But if we do, I think it helps us see how different people's struggles are actually connected to each other, even though they seem very distant geographically, over space, different kinds of racism at work, across all of these kinds of differences. They're actually connected.
Ry Siggelkow [00:15:48] You emphasized the need for historical knowledge to inform organizing in the present. I mean, you want to locate and contextualize our current moment within the broader history of colonialism and imperialism. But you also want us to sort of analyze and think about the current conjuncture, right? Our current kind of situation and the ways that it's changed. And so that I take it as why it's so important for you to focus on how neoliberalism functions and how it changes. Actually, the conditions are beginning to change. And so our actions need to change in how we approach these questions. And I know that you mentioned that for you, making connections between forms of exploitation and oppression, identifying their histories and analyzing their interlocking and intersecting structural dimensions is very important and even necessary, particularly when we're dealing with something like neoliberalism, which wants to isolate, which wants to individualize responsibility, which doesn't want to think socially and structurally. You quote Audre Lorde, who once said "there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives". Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone. Why do you think it is important to move away from a single issue viewpoint to an understanding of oppression as interlocking and intersecting? And why is consciousness of the history of our present as Michel Foucault might put it so critical for us today? How might such a consciousness inform deeper and more radical forms of solidarity that are relational, that are connected, that draw connections, to build, hopefully, a more powerful movement?
A. Naomi Paik [00:17:38] Yeah, this is such an important question. And the thing that I always come back to and that lots of people come back to with the Lorde quote is that basically her message is, we are not going to make it. We're not going to make gains if we keep fighting single issues in separate sandboxes. And so the only thing I'm interested in is saving the future. And we cannot do that if we're fighting separate fights, like if we're staying in our own lanes. We might be able to tweak Armageddon but that's obviously not going to be enough to save the future of the planet and the future of our lives. So we have to harness the power of all the billions and I literally mean billions of people who are on the losing end of the systems we have in place now. Like neoliberalism, racial capitalism, imperial forms of resource extraction, labor extraction, etc.. So we have to get all of those people who are on the losing end of these systems and get us working together and moving in a direction towards a sustainable economy that centers the needs of living things, including humans and the environment.
I really just don't think we're going to make it if we end up not talking to each other. That doesn't mean that you can't be focused on a certain kind of aspect of this huge struggle and problem. Some organizers are obviously really focused on migrant justice. Others are really going after environmental justice or houselessness, etc.. All of these fights are important. All of these fights are connected. And so we need to untease these threads. Fighting single issues gets in the way of doing that work because fighting single issues can prevent us from seeing how our struggles actually come from the same shared root causes.
This is kind of what I was talking about just a minute ago. We might end up treating the symptoms in ways that either don't affect those root causes or actually make those root causes worse. So the way that I talk about it in the book is that we end up trimming the branches without extricating the roots, and then those branches just come back again. They end up growing back stronger and the roots end up going down deeper.
There are a lot of examples of this in immigration reform. One that I think about all the time is the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. So that act, which was signed by Ronald Reagan, which is always a sign that something might be off. That act created a path to citizenship for almost 3 million undocumented people in the United States. So obviously, we won that. What we don't want is what the main thing that that bill did, which was massively expand immigration enforcement and border control. So that path to citizenship was really narrow. It was only for a very particular group of people, and it closed pretty quickly. But those funding streams, those resources, that escalation of militarization of the border and of immigration enforcement, they've only gotten worse. They've only grown.
So if we only focus on one issue and are willing to accept a bunch of other stuff that actually isn't going towards our big goal altogether, then we end up making things harder for us in the long run. So that's one thing. Another thing is that fighting single issues can also lead us to fight against each other instead of fighting against those shared root causes. And so we can see this a lot in perceived competition between different kinds of movements. You might see an environmental justice movement and like a houselessness movement kind of butting heads around litter or something like that. Or we see a lot of this perceived competition in terms of migrant justice between migrant workers and citizen workers.
So migrants get talked about a lot. And it's in popular discourse as people who are taking our jobs for lower wages. But the fact of the matter is, the real issue is that employers are seeking to increase their profits. And one way that they've decided to do that is to lay off citizen workers, especially if they're organized or have garnered higher wages and hiring migrant workers instead, many of whom are already susceptible to deportation. And so the fact that they are susceptible to deportation makes them more pliable, makes them easier to discipline if they do end up organizing for better wages, better working conditions. The employer can just call ICE and have them removed. And so, as I mentioned before, the root causes of citizen workers losing their jobs and migrant workers being forced to move hundreds or thousands of miles to survive are the same shared root causes.
So I'm inspired again, going back to Ruthy Gilmore, where she notes that people who are, quote, documented not to work are basically the 65 to 75 million people who have had contact with the prison system and therefore have to check the box. Have you ever been convicted of a crime? They're documented not to work. That's 65 million or more. What if those 65 million or more actually joined forces with the 9 million or more undocumented workers who are not documented to work? If we put those two groups of people together, we could make a huge kind of solid base, power base. Gilmore notes that these people would comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce. That's a lot of people. That's a lot of energy to harness and move in a certain direction. But it's really hard to do that if we're seeing each other as the problem and not these bigger forces that are basically harming both groups simultaneously. And so I think these are just two examples.
But I think these kinds of problems emerge when we focus strictly on things like, I only have this one goal. I can only see this one problem that I'm working on and I'm not seeing it in relation to the larger landscape of the shared problems that we all have and how they're actually connected. If we don't do that, we're going to end up getting into a little bit of a self-defeating strategy. But it doesn't have to be that way. And I think there's a lot of people out there who can see these connections, at least intuitively, and know that things like migrant, environmental, housing justice, etc., worker justice, that all of these things have to move together and have to kind of move in a direction, even though it's really hard and even though there will be conflicts between these groups. That we have more in common in terms of our shared goal of getting a sustainable, equitable economy. And understanding how all of us depend on each other. I think we do have some shared principles, even if we have different ideas of priorities and strategies.
Ry Siggelkow [00:25:24] I think what you're talking about really connects with this challenge of neoliberalism. I mean the radical individualization of struggles as personal matters or the issues that face certain groups as opposed to thinking in terms of our shared experiences of being human and living in the world and how to join up struggles for justice and to act in solidarity with one another. It didn't just come out of nowhere that we are unable these days to find common ground or unable these days to identify those structural root causes that actually are part of the cultural project of neoliberalism. That's intentional and that's constantly being reinforced. So all the more reason, I guess, to try to resist that temptation to individualize and to try to build relationships, to hear one another's stories, right? To connect across lines of difference. Your work highlights the significance of the so-called Muslim ban that was announced early on in Trump's presidency. This is shifting a bit to the chapter you have on bans in the book. You know, Trump spoke of the need to enact a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Of course, this sort of anti-Muslim rhetoric builds on tropes with a very long history going back to the Crusades, really. But it was also clearly in intentional rejuvenation of the post 9/11 Islamophobic hysteria that was so central to the justification of the war on terrorism, which of course resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, in addition to displacing millions more, some of whom are still displaced and on the move. But you highlight how the Muslim ban also hearkens back to earlier enactments of legal bans on movement in the United States, in its history, which targeted specific groups of people almost always articulated through notions of race for exclusion, imprisonment, deportation or expulsion from the territorial boundaries of the United States. I wonder if you could provide us with some background into this history of bans in the U.S. and why now? After nearly 60 years since the legal end of explicitly race based US immigration laws, we are seeing these bans emerge once again.
A. Naomi Paik [00:28:02] Yeah, that's a great question again. And so before I kind of go deep, I'll just say at first that we never really got rid of bans, but the nature and justification of those bans have shifted and become less explicitly racist, but they still render racist effects. This is the way a lot of things have grown, but it definitely holds true for immigration bans. And the other thing that I would say is that you're absolutely correct in that anti-Muslim racism, which is activated and mobilized by the so-called Muslim ban, has super, super deep roots, and that the kind of rejuvenation of anti-Muslim racism that came with the war on terror and following the terrible, tragic attacks of 9/11, that has never really dissipated over the last 20 years. So we're still in the war on terror. It is an endless war so that level of anti-Muslim racism, even though it exploded in 2001, has never gone away. So those are two kind of precursors.
I'm going to go a little deeper here into immigration history. So I trace the Muslim ban back to the very origins of federal immigration policies at all in the late 19th century. So if we think about it, the U.S. actually had relatively open borders for like 100 years. And that's partly because we wanted settlers to come here in order to take the land and settle it and to, frankly, remove the indigenous population and resettle it with new people. So it's part of that settler colonial project of removal. We had really open borders for like 100 years, but we started banning and restricting people in the late 19th century in ways that were openly racist, sexist, classist and ableist.
Our first federal restrictions were the Chinese exclusion acts and these acts targeted Chinese workers who were, again, seen as economic competition and just as a noxious presence. And Chinese women who were presumed to be sex workers. So there's this kind of racialization and gendered thing with Chinese or with Asian women as kind of being lewd and immoral people who should be banned from the United States. But the Chinese Exclusion Act also exempted diplomats, students and most importantly, merchants. So even in the very origins of immigration restrictions and all the way back to the 19th century, we can see how immigration policy worked to put up barriers against the movement of working class people, but still fostering the movement of goods and capital, in this case of the coveted Chinese market. Like the U.S. has always longingly eyed that Chinese market because it's a very big market. So having that line with diplomats and merchants and students was really important to keeping that open. And once we started, once the federal government started banning migrants, starting with Chinese people, it really started rolling downhill.
So in the ensuing years, it continued to ban more and more categories of people. So "convicts", "lunatics" and I'm using scare quotes around all of these categories, but "convicts", "lunatics", "idiots", persons likely to become a public charge, people suffering from diseases like all of these categories of people. So we started off with a racist, classist, sexist ban against Chinese workers and women. And then we started targeting people with disabilities with mental and physical illnesses, as well as impoverished people, as well as those who are convicted of crimes. So criminalization has always been kind of underlying this like a heartbeat of exclusion.
So these kinds of efforts, we keep on banning and restricting people, but it really came to a head in the 1920s when we passed this thing called the Johnson Reed Act. This act was considered the legislative achievement of the eugenics movement. And it was the most restrictive immigration bill in our history. It made our restrictions global and targeted even Europeans like southern and Eastern Europeans who are presumed to be Catholic or Jewish and kind of low class, not quite white. Not white in the same way that northern and western Europeans were. And so, in fact, when I show my students this quote, a lot of them are kind of taken aback. But, you know, Hitler praised the U.S. for passing the Johnson Reed Act because he said that this bill made the U.S. a leader in preserving racial purity through immigration policy. So he was like, they don't even have to deal with the Jewish problem because they just don't let them in. You know, so we should model our kind of policies after what they're doing. So, you know, it's not like the U.S. being kind of a model for fascists is a new thing. It goes back quite some time.
These restrictions more or less held until, as you said, 1965 when we passed a big immigration reform bill. It's considered the civil rights bill of immigration. It got rid of these discriminatory national quotas by giving every sending country the same quota. So it seems like this liberalization. But at the same time, it also subjected Latin American countries to quotas for the first time ever. Including Mexico. Even though the U.S. and Mexico had long histories of labor, migration, of people just flowing back and forth across the border fluidly.
And so this is where we see how the quintessential, quote unquote, "illegal alien" comes to be identified as a Latinx person, especially a Mexican person. Because for years, generations, we would see hundreds of thousands of Mexican people again coming across the border, back and forth. But once we passed this law saying only 20,000 can come over, all of those people who would just kind of fluidly flow across, were now considered unauthorized migrants or quote unquote, "illegal aliens”. And so this is where we see the criminalization of Mexican people for doing the exact same thing that their generations have been doing for so long. That's kind of what I mean, when I was saying before that immigration bans never really went away, but they kind of shifted strategy from being based in explicitly racist, patriarchal, ableist justifications because those are no longer acceptable in the wake of the civil rights movement and the dogged work of many organizers to get some kind of formal equality in the law. But we're still performing those other logics of exclusion and criminalization is one of those leading edges of exclusion.
Getting back to the Muslim ban, national security is another one of those exclusions. So we exclude- we don't exclude, for example, black people or Mexicans because that would be racist and that would be un-American. But we will exclude criminals and we will exclude terrorists as if these are racially neutral categories when they never happen. So we call Trump's executive order the Muslim ban, because it's so obvious that is rooted in anti-Muslim racism. But its actual original title is Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. So it didn't say anything about Muslims. It's, of course, about banning Muslims, but is justified under national security and a terrorist ban. And there's such a robust foundation, as you were saying, going back hundreds of years, linking terrorism to Muslims and to Islam. Not just from the war on terror, but going back much, much further.
And this kind of linkage, this considering Muslims, as always, terrorists, it stands in the face of actual evidence. So even the DHS, which is no friend to Muslims, obviously, has released reports saying that the biggest terrorist threat to national security comes from white nationalists not from Muslim terrorists. But that doesn't make a difference here. And so another point that I try to bring out in the book really hard is that, of course, the Muslim ban was a terrible act of racist exclusion, and that was bad. But the Supreme Court case affirming the Muslim ban as fully constitutional is actually much, much worse because that has kind of instated a new interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court basically consecrated racist migrant exclusion, as long as there's any other justification you could possibly purport to support that racist exclusion. And so in this case, and in many cases, the logic of national security is always there for you. You can just say, this isn't about being racist. We just want to protect the nation. And then you get basically carte blanche. You know, you get a free pass.
And so it's interesting because in the Hawaii Trump decision that affirmed the Muslim ban, they actually repealed the Korematsu decision that legitimized the World War Two incarceration of Japanese-Americans. And they were like this is not who we are. But they actually created another loaded gun that any future president, whether it's like or whoever, hopefully not. But DeSantis or Trump or somebody, whoever is coming down the pike, God forbid. But if a white nationalist becomes president, they'll have this loaded gun ready to to aim and shoot down another targeted group. So I think what this history of bans shows us is that our struggles of differently targeted people are actually, again, connected to each other and that is why we can't fight for justice in separate sandboxes.
Ry Siggelkow [00:38:34] In addition to bans you talk about the building of walls and of course, the building of the wall at the US-Mexico border was central to the Trump campaign and his administration's policy agenda. And we know that walls have proliferated across the globe over the last decade or two. Walls are, of course, physical barriers to movement and visible symbols of nationalism and exclusion. But we also know that walls have a much wider reach beyond what we think of as the borderlands. Their scope extends far into the territory of the United States. The Border Patrol was present here in Minneapolis as part of the repression of protest activity in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. And many of us have heard about the violent raids of ICE throughout the United States. I wonder if you could share a bit about the ways in which the U.S. border regime exerts its power, not only in the borderlands, but through mechanisms of surveillance and raids and deportations today across the United States. I know that Obama deported more people than his predecessors, and, you know, Trump deported many people, too. But where are we at now? Have raids and deportations slowed down at all since Biden became president? Is there anything to be hopeful about moving forward?
A. Naomi Paik [00:39:58] That is such a hard question. Let me walk back just for a minute before I get there. And first of all, thank you for raising the point that CBP or the Border Patrol used its drones to surveil and its manpower and violent resources to police Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis following the lynching of George Floyd. I think that is incredibly important to remember. And we also know that it's not an isolated case. That ICE used the transportation of detained migrants in order to transport ICE agents from one location to another, again, to put federal resources, federal policing resources behind the policing of Black Lives Matter protesters. So that happened, for example, in Washington, D.C., when Trump I don't know, he waved a Bible around a church and they cleared the area. Now it was ICE that helped clear the area. And some of those ICE officers had to travel there. And so they moved detainees in order to justify those police movements anyways. So one of the things that I hope people take away from the book is that the targeting and criminalization of migrants does not stay focused on migrants alone. It spreads out.
And so what we see through the history of these different kinds of criminalizing bills, that it might be justified against a particular group like Haitians. Or the Muslim terrorist or whatever. But what it ends up doing is that it enables the state to harness massive powers and resources for the purposes specifically of social control against that particular group, often coded in a time of crisis. But what happens is that once they have those massive powers and those funding and resources, those powers don't stay locked on their original targets. They end up spreading out to police and control and remove all kinds of people. So we can see a lot of the post 9/11 moves to target dangerous migrants or “terrorist” migrants. Those have now become just a standard part of the operating procedures of immigration enforcement against anyone.
Those of us who are even citizens who are interested in migrant justice, we need to understand that fighting against funding increases to CBP and ICE isn't just about protecting migrants, right? It's about stopping the state from intensifying its ability to enact violence on anybody. Starting with migrants. But it could be like with the Black Lives Matter protests. They're coming for you. They have the capacity. Once they have the capacity, they're just not going to let it go idle. They're going to use it. And so, again, this is why intersecting struggles are so crucial to our future. So another thing that the CBP's presence in Minneapolis shows is that the border really is everywhere. It's not those lines on the map that demarcate the shape of U.S. territory.
Some examples are that CBP, the Border Patrol's jurisdiction, doesn't and isn't just at those edges. It includes 100 miles of all territory with it, like all territory within 100 miles of any border, including the coast. So this is an area where most people live. So we're talking about two thirds of all U.S. residents. In this jurisdiction, you have truncated constitutional rights, especially Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure. They can- CBP can search for your person, your property without certain kinds of constitutional protections or there's fewer constitutional protections. That's a huge area to have a lack of constitutional protections.
Furthermore, because ICE's jurisdiction is literally nationwide, we can think of border enforcement as reaching throughout the U.S. So when there's an ICE raid in the middle of the country, that's not within CBP's jurisdiction. We still have immigration enforcement, which we can think of as border enforcement on the inside of the country. Because the problem with border enforcement is that it doesn't work. It never has. As soon as we start banning people, it's not like those people are like, okay, I'll stop coming, you know? So you create an endemic problem where you're always going to have people who you are saying shouldn't be there who are there. And so this is why deportation becomes kind of like from the states point of view, like a second line defense to get those people who should have stayed out at the border out. But furthermore, we can see that the border basically spreads all the way inward. And it covers all U.S. territory.
The other really disturbing thing is that the border spreads outward. It goes into other nations territory. It goes out into international waters. We kind of innovated this. Yeah, we innovated this against Haitian migrants specifically in the seventies and eighties. We started this program where we authorized the Coast Guard to intercept small boats full of black migrants and push them back. And the Coast Guard wasn't just in U.S. territorial waters. It was going out into international waters and basically making all those hundreds of miles between the U.S. and Haiti, U.S. territory, U.S. border territory. Because that's where it's jurisdiction was or it was purporting to have jurisdiction to push migrants back that way. That has become more normalized not only in the U.S. but also in other places like Australia. So you can see their border regime network is modeled off our border regime network against Haitian migrants. And so their navy and military forces also intercept small boats and send them away from Australia to other small islands.
But also in the United States, we have essentially deputized Mexico to be our southern border. So, you know, there have been quotes from DHS officials saying that it's really the Mexico southern border that is our southern border. And so Mexico at this point deports more people on our behalf than we do, than we deport from the U.S.. And Mexico also detains people on our behalf, but their immigration system deports them more quickly than ours. And so we've basically made an entire other country do our border work for us. So I think this expansion of the border is a very disturbing trend and it's going global. Same with Fortress Europe, you know, deputizing places like Turkey and Syria. We have all kinds of camps in Syria to do some of this work for us. So it is thinking about the border, not as a line, not as a territory, but as an enforcement regulation against migrants, I think is the key kind of move. So the border follows the migrant wherever he or she or they are.
Ry Siggelkow [00:47:43] That's really fascinating. And I appreciate you also bringing attention to Fortress Europe, as you call it. I mean, I think it's important to recognize that while the U.S. immigration regime, in the ways that it deputizes, as you say, other countries to do work, in the ways that it extends out into other territories, other nation states. It's not the only power that's interested in bans, walls, deportations. It's not the only regime. And I guess the importance of seeing even that connected, right. The kind of international regimes, international forms of national nationalisms that have certain kinds of shared interests as well. I mean, I know there's information that's shared by different nation states too. Whether that's in terms of technology, new forms of weapons or surveillance or other forms of knowledge and finances, of course, as well. So I think I appreciate your analysis of this.
I want us to transition a bit now, though, because your book has these four words, bans, walls, raids, sanctuary, and the first three are pretty heavy. They're difficult to learn about. I mean, they're so important to analyze and I really appreciate your work of identifying where the issues are at a policy level. But it's also important, as we know, to emphasize and to highlight and you do this very well, resistance to the border regime. And the work that ordinary people do to organize against the violence of the border. You speak specifically of the historical and contemporary significance of sanctuary, and you join the practice of sanctuary with contemporary movements that lift up the need for a politics of abolition. I wonder if you could share with us about the history of sanctuary movements, their ongoing relevance today, and how people of faith might practically begin to join the resistance to the border regime through practices of sanctuary. What does sanctuary as a practice look like to you and why do you think it is so critical in our current moment to embody this abolitionist sanctuary politics?
A. Naomi Paik [00:50:17] This is the part that gives me kind of some hope, considering how dire things are. I really do think we have the numbers. We don't have the resources in terms of financial resources, like they have the nukes in the loop. But we have the people, we have the numbers. But it's harder to mobilize billions of people who have very different interests and are located all across the globe than a 1% that's pretty unified in their interests of making more theirs, you know.
Ry Siggelkow [00:50:49] We have the love.
A. Naomi Paik [00:50:50] Yes, we have the love and we have the numbers. But sometimes being in a relationship with each other isn't always about love. Sometimes it's about frustration and conflict and things like that. And those are things we have to work through and that takes work. It's not all just like Kumbaya all the time. We have to work through contradictions and that's part of the work.
I came up with this term abolitionist sanctuary to bring together these two kinds of genealogical threads. So one is abolition,riffing off of prison and police abolition. So basically what has been driving the Black Lives Matter movement, which is based on decades of work against the prison industrial complex or mass incarceration. There's different terms for what they're going after, but it's basically the whole network of forms of social control that have made the prison and policing so central to our society, politics and economy. So they want to dismantle that.
But the more important part about abolition isn't just about dismantling harmful systems. It is more centrally and most importantly, about building up the world that we want. So building up “life affirming institutions”. And so you can't just get rid of all the police and prisons and say everything's great now. You actually have to rebuild society and you have to rebuild relationships with each other. We have to re-envision our economy to one that doesn't depend on inequality, as does capitalism, right? So it really requires a full reckoning with the long history that has brought us to this precipitous or this precipice that we're standing over. So it's about really building and changing and working together to build that change. So that's one kind of genealogical thread.
And then the other genealogical thread is sanctuary. And one of the reasons I kind of landed on sanctuary was thinking about in the wake of the Trump election, you see this proliferation of churches and congregations declaring sanctuary. And then the idea kind of rippling out to other kinds of spaces like schools, universities, houses, restaurants, things like this. So I'm like, what is it about sanctuary that is so compelling to people, right? As a way of welcoming the stranger, about treating the stranger as your neighbor, etc.. And so that's what I started kind of looking at. And when I was kind of looking at the genealogy of Sanctuary, it really was out of the European and kind of Judeo Christian context. It really is about welcoming anybody who's in dire straits, right? Who's in a kind of crisis moment and giving them protection until you can mediate some kind of resolution. And it was open. Sanctuary churches, sanctuary spaces would open their doors to people who even did really bad things like murder people. But still, it's like we want to shield you from the rough punishment or from a death penalty or something like that until we can mediate some other kinds of resolution. And I think it's that radical openness that we're not going to give you a litmus test or judge you on whether you're deserving or undeserving of protection. Everyone deserves protection.
That's the part of sanctuary that I really wanted to hang on to and put into conversation with abolition, because it is an abolitionist principle to never leave anyone behind and to not sector off like the “good” part of this group from the “bad” part of this group, which is what U.S. immigration policy is about. It's like we uplift the good, hardworking, family oriented immigrant who has no criminal record, and then the rest of them will do whatever we can to criminalize and deport and detain them. So abolition and sanctuary both reject that kind of dividing people off from each other.
The other thing is, I do think sanctuary as a concept is, you know, a lot of the kind of history behind it, around sanctuary churches does come out of this Judeo-Christian kind of genealogy. But sanctuary is a conception of welcoming the stranger and of helping others in deed and understanding our interdependence on each other is not limited to Judeo-Christian philosophies or traditions. So it is a very capacious concept that kind of runs through many religious and spiritual ideas and traditions including indigenous ones. And I think it's really important to emphasize that what I'm not saying is that we need to have some kind of new kind of colonial construct of sanctuary rooted in a European or Judeo-Christian faith based kind of way. But it really is like an expansive and capacious concept.
So I also look to the more specific and recent history of sanctuary movements in the United States, which have been oriented around migrant justice. Thinking about the sanctuary movement in the 1980s, which did emerge from social justice churches. It was definitely a way of not only providing immediate material relief to migrants who were fleeing the dirty wars in Central America but it was also a way of pointing to the root causes of why there were so many thousands of migrants coming from Central America at the time. So it was pointing a finger at the United States government for our support of dictatorial authoritarian regimes that were targeting hundreds of thousands actually of indigenous and leftist opposition movements in places like El Salvador and Guatemala. I mean, we're talking about I think more than 200,000 Salvadorans were murdered by their own government. And so it was a way of connecting the root causes of those migrations to a demand that if we're going to cause these people, if we're forcing these people to move in the first place, then we are accountable for taking care of them when they flee. And we have to hold ourselves accountable for addressing those root causes. In the meantime, we are going to give material relief to these people who we have driven away from their homes. And I think it's that kind of dual action, like the anti-imperialist root cause, this kind of action, as well as the migrant justice action that made the Sanctuary movement so compelling. And so I'm looking to those kinds of models and examples to think through how we can think about abolition and sanctuary together. So I feel like I'm straying from your question a little bit now.
Ry Siggelkow [00:57:51] That's great. And I think I was just going to add that I think it's also that sanctuary work is also a rejection of the border and bordered ways of thinking and thinking of us and them. So it's not we as citizens, the United States, and them as citizens of Guatemala, it's us together.
A. Naomi Paik [00:58:08] Right.
Ry Siggelkow [00:58:09] And so it's a really practical way of embodying a sort of no borders politics, as Bridget Anderson talks about and Nandita Sharma talks about it. I think the work of sanctuary, of course, doesn't solve all the problems, but it does bear witness to a different kind of world. And I suppose that's what I was saying when I spoke of love. Of the abolition of borders, because borders draw up lines and exclude people and cut people out. And so to embody a no borders politics at a practical level, while not changing the whole world does bear witness to a different kind of imagination. I think it's through those practices, right? That we get a glimpse into that and we can work toward that. And I know for me at least have been very affected by people and communities who refuse that distinction between us and them and seek after a togetherness, a kind of shared reality. A shared human reality that ignores the bordering.
A. Naomi Paik [00:59:22] Yeah. And I think what abolition helps me see as almost not a correction but a good supplement to sanctuary is that abolition is not about charity. It refuses charity because the model and I'm riffing off of Dean Spade here just to be super transparent. The model of charity is about a more empowered person helping out a less empowered person without actually changing the relationships and the conditions for why I am more empowered than the other person. It's about not only giving material relief right now, but it's also about asking ourselves really deep questions about why do I have more than you? Why are you in a position where you don't have what you need? What do we need to do together to change the situation? And that means that I am accountable for my part in having more than what I need that other people don't have what they need at all.
And so it really is about thinking about those relationships of interdependency, right? Thinking about relationships of accountability. That these are reciprocal relationships. It's not about a one way directional I give you something and then you go away, right? And now you're fine or you need to work it out on your own. Right? It's a rejection of that. So it really is about building bonds of relationships with each other. Again, those bonds are not always going to be nothing but love. They're going to be fraught and there's going to be conflict.
And when I talk about this to students, I'm like, think about all the long relationships in your life with your parents or family members, with your best friends, whatever. Have they always been about just loving each other and being really happy with each other? Of course not. You always have conflicts, but you stay together because you're committed to each other and you want that person ultimately in your life and you ultimately know that you need each other. And that's why you work through those really hard fights and problems. Anybody who's married, anybody who has a child knows you're going to run up to some really difficult problems. But it's the commitment to seeing them through. That's the point that matters, right? But I think Abolitionist Sanctuary is really about everyone. If abolition means changing everything the way Ruthie says, then that means we have to change too. And it's our responsibility to take that on as well. And I think that working in solidarity with each other is part of this. And I think we're still seeing, you know, really excellent models everywhere, like No More Deaths that's doing all the work on the Arizona border, right? That is about providing material relief immediately. But it's also about questioning why we have created a border regime that subjects thousands of people to dying horrible deaths in the desert. Why is that the case at all? And I am going to break the law in order to help people survive this journey that we have placed them in. So that's me trying to show some accountability to this terrible situation that is being created in my name, right?
Ry Siggelkow [01:02:56] Yeah. Well, Naomi, I'm so grateful for your time today and for being in conversation with me about these issues. I find your work very challenging, especially the part at the end when you're telling us that we have to change. You know, this is really a challenge for us to grow into this different way of living and acting in the world. And I really appreciate your work for how it helps to inform our common struggle for a more just and human world. For a world in which, as Paulo Ferreire once put it, it's a world in which it's easier for us to love. And so, yes, thanks so much again for taking the time and take good care.
A. Naomi Paik [01:03:40] Thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure getting to talk to you.