Cities of Refuge at the LSA annual conference

The conference venue had a view on the Capitol

By Moritz Baumgärtel

Large conferences are not everyone's cup of tea (and that's certainly true for yours truly). However, if there is one venue that continues to attract the members of the Cities of Refuge team, then it is the annual meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA). Last year in Toronto, we organized a panel on cities and human rights with longstanding partners at Ghent University and the Global City project at the T.M.C. Asser Institute. This panel has been turned into a special issue of the Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, to be published in due course (in fact, you can already access Lisa Roodenburg's article on urban engagement concerning irregular migration in Amsterdam).

This year's LSA annual meeting brought Moritz Baumgärtel, Sara Miellet and Elif Durmuş to the US capital, Washington, D.C. The theme of the conference being - simply but also unequivocally - "Dignity", there was little doubt that there would be a space for us and our project, which has by now been running for almost two years. Given last year's positive experience, we decided to opt for a little experiment and organize not only one but two panels, this time on socio-legal perspectives on local migration law and governance, inspired by the "multiscalar approach" of urban anthropologists Ayşe Çağlar and Nina Glick Schiller. As our open call found a lot of resonance last autumn, it soon became clear that we would be able to convene two fantastic panels bringing together a variety of migration scholars who, for the most part, did not know each other yet.

Our first panel - "Transatlantic Perspectives on Local Migration Governance" - turned into a fascinating discussion on the contexts and rationales underlying the engagement of local authorities in the field of migration governance. Berna Turam (Northeastern University) thus presented the findings of her ethnographic studies in Athens, where local stakeholders are seeking to create limited but real spaces of safety for newcomers. Our own Moritz Baumgärtel and Elif Durmus spoke about transnational city networks and more specifically about the types of cities that are more (and indeed less) present there. Christopher Lasch (University of Denver) questioned why doctrinal debates in the US dealing with sanctuary cities do not feature more substantive exchanges about the values underlying the movement. Last but not least, Graham Hudson from Ryerson University pointed out the specificities of the Canadian discourse regarding local divergence from national policies. Like last year, we were blessed to have our friend Martha Davis (Northeastern University) share her thoughts on these topics, which she has been researching for a long time.

Legal Scales I

The second panel of the day featured not four but five papers. Titled "Relational Approaches to Law and Migration Governance"  and moderated by Jeff Handmaker (ISS The Hague), the contributions here drew attention to a number of other aspects that need to be considered when talking about local migration governance. Our Sara Miellet talked about the contradictions that can emerge within the policies of even one municipality, in this case Utrecht in the Netherlands. Asad Asad from Stanford University spoke about legal visibility as an explanatory factor for noncitizens' risky involvement with public authorities in Dallas, Texas. The normative question of whether immigration law should be local rather than national in orientation was taken on by Daniel Morales (DePaul University). The historical and more specifically colonial roots of multiscalar immigration law were unearthed by Radhika Mongia (York University). Finally, Benjamin Perryman from Yale Law School discussed the fascinating case of a young refugee whose life and deportation case were both heavily influenced by his interaction with Canada's child protection services. The panellists had the opportunity to receive feedback from Judith Resnik of Yale Law School, whose seminal works have been shaping this branch of scholarship for decades. 

Legal Scales II

As a team, we were delighted to see that we had squarely met our goal: to create a space in which scholars working on similar issues but in different jurisdictions and from different angles can exchange their experiences and concepts. Many of the contributors met on Friday evening over dinner to discuss how to continue our collaboration. If all goes well, an edited volume should be on its way. We also hope to see many of you at next year's LSA in Denver, Colorado. We will certainly be there!