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Examining modern international border management with Prof. Beth Simmons

March 04, 2020

In her current research, Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Law, Political Science and Business Ethics Beth Simmons delves into the practical problems of international border management in today’s globalized world, particularly as they relate to governance, human mobility, and economic interdependence.

Simmons’ project aims to consider borders not as merely indicators of sovereign division but rather as institutions of cooperative governance.

“We need to return to a core idea of public international law,” said Simmons. “Borders are conceptually cooperative legal institutions. That they have become intertwined with notions of exclusive territorial jurisdiction has encouraged an outsized emphasis on sovereignty of the border itself.”

Based on this contention, Simmons argues that borders should be governed as cooperative institutions, not by states’ “unilaterally enacting routines and embracing symbols of secure borders.”

Although some states have developed ad hoc agreements for cooperative border management, Simmons notes that “a global inventory of border architecture” shows that states are increasingly employing various “border filtering” technologies, such as biometrics and “equipment that can detect a human heartbeat in an idling semi-trailer truck.”

This focus on border security and states’ assertion of “unilateral rights at their borders in a world of growing interdependence, human mobility, and integration … can collide with relatively new norms relating to international human rights,” according to Simmons.

To address this concern, Simmons’ scholarship will offer “a way to systematize and make explicit the [policy] trade-offs and choices” that must be made to facilitate border governance, agreements for which may be “unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral, and may be more or less militarized.”

A two-time Woodrow Wilson Award winner from the American Political Science Association for the best book published in the United States on government, politics, or international affairs, Simmons teaches courses in international law and international relations at Penn Law.