IBRU, Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research, has awarded its first annual Raymond Milefsky Award to the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), an El Paso, Texas-based organisation dedicated to fostering human rights along the US-Mexico border.
IBRU’s selection committee noted that the award was in recognition of the ways which BNHR projects like #HugsNotWalls serve to temper the authoritative and divisive nature of the border by bringing forth its potential as a site of community participation and connection; the ways in which BNHR’s advocacy work and its training of citizens in human rights awareness recognises the border as a lived place and not merely an administrative line of division; and the ways in which BNHR’s projects utilise the complex nature of the border and its administration (e.g. the mosaic of governmental agencies, binational commissions, ambiguous ’no man’s lands’, marginal bodies of land and water, etc.) to foster progressive, grassroots opportunities amidst the broader environment of top-down division.
As IBRU Director Professor Philip Steinberg noted, “In each of these respects BNHR’s work resonates with IBRU’s mission of enhancing understanding of border areas, contributing to the peaceful resolution of boundary disputes, and engaging with broader geographic questions concerning the changing nature of sovereignty, territory, citizenship, and the political organisation of space.”
Although the nomination for the award was made prior to the recent controversy over family separation at US-Mexico border crossings, Steinberg noted that increased attention being given to the impacts of the U.S.’ ‘zero-tolerance’ policy directive has made the award particularly timely. “BNHR’s #HugsNotWalls project, which is committed to cross-border family reunification, makes BNHR all the more deserving of the award,” said Steinberg.
In receiving the award, BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia stated, “We are humbled by the recognition given to BNHR’s work to promote human and civil rights at the US/Mexico Border. These are not easy times for our immigrant families that have experienced harsh detention, separation and deportation policies and practices in the US. Every day we are confronted by a reality that criminalize our children and put them in detention camps: A reality that militarizes our border and that treats and considers our immigrant families as the enemy. The Raymond Milefsky Award brings hope and renewed energy to all BNHR community organizers, program staff and members.”
The Milefsky Award is made possible by a bequest from the estate of Raymond Milefsky, a long-time borders expert with the US Department of State who was a frequent tutor at IBRU training workshops.
The award is made annually to an individual or organisation that has advanced boundary-making or cross-border cooperation. Nominations for the 2019 award will open in January 2019.
The annual Award includes a cash prize of £745. Garcia noted, “Be sure that the cash prize given by the Award will be used in its totality to prepare and organize the next edition of #HugsNotWalls, planned for October of this year , where hundreds of separated families will be able to reunite and embrace briefly, sending a strong statement of love, and against inhumane policies that tear those families apart.”