[Tendayi Achiume is the Binder Teaching Fellow at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. She received her JD from Yale Law School. Jeffrey Kahn is an Academy Postdoctoral Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. He received his JD from Yale Law School and his PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago. Itamar Mann is the National Security Law Fellow at Georgetown Law Center. He received his LLM from and is a JSD candidate at Yale Law School.]
This past week, a group of scholars, practitioners, and policymakers gathered at Yale Law School to discuss the rise of maritime migrant interdiction as a border-policing paradigm of global significance. Thanks to the generosity of the editors at Opinio Juris, this online symposium will make those discussions available to a wider audience. As the organizers of the conference, it is our great honor to introduce this exciting topic and the insightful posts that follow.
Maritime migrant interdiction is now a key border enforcement tool for the United States, the European Union, and Australia. The U.S. developed the model in the early 1980s as a means of preventing Haitian asylum seekers from reaching U.S. Shores. In 1992, the administration of George H. W. Bush abandoned the past practice of screening Haitians for refugee characteristics and instituted a direct return policy that authorized the repatriation of all interdicted Haitians regardless of whether they would be persecuted in Haiti. In 1993, the United States Supreme Court gave its imprimatur to this new framework with its Sale v. Haitian Centers Council, Inc. decision, holding that the United States was not bound by the U.N. Refugee Convention when processing Haitians interdicted at sea. As scholars have noted, Sale later became a key point of reference for other countries seeking to legitimize their own adoption of U.S.-style maritime migrant interdiction programs.
The history of interdiction since Sale provides a fascinating and troubling example of policy diffusion on a vast scale. The statistics on migration by sea make clear why the highly flexible interdiction framework adopted by the United States would become so appealing to the European Union and Australia in later decades. Unauthorized border crossing into the European Union has reached its highest levels since record-keeping began in 2008, and the majority of these migrants arrive by sea. Approximately 17,000 unauthorized boat migrants arrived in Australia in 2012, a staggering increase from previous years.
Migrant interdiction and migration by sea also triggers its own escalating dynamic. The highly visible tragedies that often result from these dangerous voyages and the bad publicity they spawn spur more intensive policing operations, which, paradoxically, lead to greater risk-taking by those migrants attempting to penetrate intensified maritime border defenses. We were recently reminded of this sad fact when more than three hundred African migrants drowned off of the Italian island of Lampedusa in October and more than thirty Haitian migrants died off of the Bahamas in November of this past year. These terrible events point to the complicated and deadly reality that lies at the intersection of both maritime border policing and maritime border crossing.
Each of us has approached issues of international refugee law, the rise of migrant interdiction, and the implications of the transnational dialectics it creates in our own academic work. Drawing inspiration from our research and advocacy, we set out to structure the conference so that it would provide an opportunity to delve into questions of eroding national sovereignty, debates over the balance between national security concerns and commitments to human rights norms, and struggles over the shifting geographies of judicial constraint and executive power. We hoped to highlight the deeper histories in which migrant interdiction is rooted, the broader international law landscape in which it first emerged and in which it is currently embedded, the ongoing transnational litigation and advocacy approaches various actors have developed to address it, and the vexing questions it raises with regard to issues of human rights and national security. As should become clear from the posts that will follow this introduction, we selected panel themes and chose panelists to facilitate the exploration of these topics.
We are privileged to have posts from many of our distinguished panelists and from our two esteemed keynote speakers, Alexander Aleinikoff, U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, and Harold Koh, the Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School. As you will note from each panelist’s bio, some have been grappling with issues of migrant interdiction since the 1980s while others are newer to the scene, wrestling with the more recent forms of maritime border-policing that have developed in Europe and Australia over the past decade. Each brings a unique perspective to the table, and we hope that you find their contributions as illuminating and provocative as we have.