In which ways can we map deportation/deportability without rendering the mapped population (more) vulnerable? What are ways in which mapping these topics can benefit affected communities? These questions, which have been occupying my mind for several weeks now, led me to the digital project ICEwatch. Created by the Immigrant Defense Project and Center for Constitutional Rights, ICEwatchmaps ICE raids that have taken place since 2008. While the digital map documents scattered raids all over the United States, the map’s focal point is New York City, where the vast majority of raids have been recorded and visualized. This asymmetrical trend is likely linked to the organizations’ data collection method, which relies on community participation. Only those instances that have been reported directly to IDP, a New York based organization, are displayed on the digital map. The map’s creators are forthcoming about the potential limitations of their data set, explicitly stating “ICEwatch is not meant to be read as a comprehensive report on ICE raid activity or tactics, but as a reflection of the raids and trends seen by IDP”. The data’s visualization from a birds-eye perspective allows the user to explore different layers of information at different scales. When zoomed out, raids are grouped together to illustrate the density of ICE encounters in certain areas. When zoomed in, one can select singular ICE raids, which provide the audience with a brief account of each arrest and the tactics involved. The map itself is accompanied by a brief description of its mission, a key, and a directory of additional resources. A limited number of filters can be applied to the map, such as the time interval or location of raids, as well as varying ICE tactics.
Three elements of ICEwatch deserve further attention: the way in which sensitive information is displayed, the map’s purpose and intended audience, as well as the way in which the map deals with hegemonic logics.
Counter-mapping efforts often focus on rendering “people, places, and networks that are rarely regarded as cartographically significantb” visible (Mattern, 2017). To become visible, however, is not always desirable as “visibility can also mean vulnerability to harm or exploitation” (Mattern, 2017). Demonstrating awareness of the sensitivity of the mapped subject, ICEwatch explicitly states that the displayed ICE raids are geographically inaccurate. The dots on the map do not correspond to people’s home addresses but are based on zip codes or county names. This tactic allows for the visualization of crucial information, patterns and trends, while simultaneously refraining from rendering a population more vulnerable.
Scholars have noted that subversion is another prominent feature in counter-mapping initiatives (see Morris & Voyce, 2015; Crampton & Krygier, 2006). ICEwatch plays with and subverts hegemonic logics in a unique way: it turns state-imposed logics such as “surveillance” and “deportation” on their head by documenting ICE raids, appearances and tactics and thereby producing a counter-surveillance regime. In this map, it is not the “deportable” who are watched, but the “deporters”. The data, as well, is not derived from the state or other hegemonic institutions but is collected through a bottom-up, participatory approach. Paradoxically, the base map is portraying the exact borders and boundaries (nation-state etc.) that it criticizes. It also relies heavily on a “Western” epistemology, displaying information in purely visual terms. A distanced tone and “fact”-based content overshadow potential artistic, affective or experimental map applications. “Yet”, as Morris and Voyce (2015) point out, “like all forms of representation, maps and counter-maps alike rely on established customs, conventions, organizations and power”. There is reason to assume that this map design was chosen for tactical reasons. The intuitive legibility and navigability of the map, and its thematic focus on both ICE raid locations and tactics give reason to believe that affected communities are the targeted audience. The map reads as a resource that both warns and informs about ICE trends in NYC and its vicinity. The map’s implicit message seems to be that what matters is not the form, but the content. The map relies on a shared understanding of space. In fact, it only ensures easy legibility and therefore its “usability” by reproducing the hegemonic “Western” epistemology.
When I think about the purpose and intended audience of the map, most of my points of critique evaporate into thin air. There is no perfect map. Nor can there be. In light of this, ICEwatch is a surprisingly powerful project. It is a valuable and easily legible resource that benefits not those in power but those who currently need it the most.
A (!) Prototype
How can we create maps that do not rely on state-imposed logics? What are ways to represent NYC without making use of the typical NYC base map, which automatically conjures up naturalized ideas of borders and territories? My prototype map has no base map. It doesn’t reproduce omnipresent visualizations of NYC’s grid street system and state-imposed borders are completely absent. Instead, my map is based on one of MTA’s subway lines. The data and terms used on the map are solely derived from the ICEwatch project, thereby using bottom-up data and terminology. There is no singular way of reading this map. It might represent our everyday journeys through the city, which coincide with invisible, but public ICE raids taking place right above our heads (red = subway stations near reported raids). It could be read as a emotion map where the colors correspond to different emotions in relation to ICE raids. The closer one gets towards locations of ICE reports the more angry or anxious one might get (orange, red), the further away, the more easily we forget those instances again (blue). The map could also illustrate how people’s journeys might be affected by the presence of ICE in the city. Are there certain areas, and thus subway stops, that are avoided by vulnerable populations because they are notorious for ICE raids (such as areas around court houses)? The map could thus also be understood in terms of how journeys might be interrupted or prolonged due to avoiding raid-prone areas when navigating the city. Lastly, stations in proximity to ICEraids were renamed in this map to highlight the fact that what might simply be associated with a geographical location for many, might invoke fears of surveillance, arrest, ruse or police brutality for others. It is also an explicit rejection of top-down imposed categories and names. My map certainly has its own shortcomings, and I find it crucial to emphasize that it is not meant to replace ICEwatch. If anything, it would be an extension of the project, using the same data to produce an additional map that incorporates those artsy and subversive methods that it could not incorporate in its original project due to its goal to maintain easy legibility.
Jeremy W. Crampton and John Krygier, “An Introduction to Critical Cartography,” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 4:1 (2006): 11-33.
Shannon Mattern, “Mapping’s Intelligent Agents,” Places Journal (September 2017).
Dee Morris & Stephen Voyce, “William Bunge, the DGEI, & Radical Cartography,” Jacket 2 (March 20, 2015).