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A Phoenix architect says there's no 'invasion' at the border ports of entry he designed

Last week, a video went viral showing a group of migrants near El Paso, Texas, forcing their way through a razor wire fence while Border Patrol agents attempted to hold them off. They were stopped just after that when they reached a metal fence and then were processed by Border Patrol.

But the video — and the record numbers of migrants we have seen arriving at our southern border in recent months — only bolster the idea that there is an “invasion” on the border, as it’s being called, and that the border is a place of chaos.

However, Eddie Jones says there’s no "invasion" — at least not at the ports of entry he has designed there for more than a decade. Jones is a longtime Arizona architect and founder of Phoenix-based Jones Studio. His firm has designed multiple land ports of entry along the border with Mexico for the U.S. Border Patrol, and that makes him think about the border differently. They’re designing places that must be highly secure, but that also must be welcoming. 

He wrote more about it in a recent opinion piece for the Arizona Republic and talked to The Show about it.

Conversation highlights

Why did you want to step into the political sphere and write about this?

EDDIE JONES: About a year ago, I was in a meeting down at one of the land ports of entry, working with Customs and Border Protection. And the port director, the head guy, you know, was in the meeting and wonderful, intelligent and compassionate man, very professional as all CBP officers are that I've met. And we were having a lunch break, and we stepped outside and remember, this is a land port of entry, and I couldn't help but feel the peace that was around me.

I could hear birds singing. And everything was operating smoothly as it always does. All this time, all the ports I've been to, it's always peaceful. And I mentioned that to the port director and you know, he said, you know, that should be talked about more often and that was it. We finished our lunch and I went back for the rest of the meeting. ... So it's been rolling around in my head for quite a while, and I decided to sit down and write it all out.

So you, you admit that yes, there are problems with the immigration system. But you're saying here a distortion needs to be made clear — that there is no security crisis at these land ports of entry that you have been designing and building for so many years.

JONES: That is correct. To say that there is demeans the great job that CBP is doing ... Also to the credit of our federal government, they mandate their architects to project a welcoming image. And in the beginning when we first started this kind of work, there was definitely a disparity in goals, you know. CBP who is the user, understandably serious law enforcement. I get that. General Services Administration, they said these are gateways to the United States. We need to, to represent the dignity of our country and the dignity of our citizens and and therefore we will hold you to the highest design standards. Great. Those two things don't necessarily go together — serious law enforcement and welcome to the United States. But that was the challenge. We have found a way to resolve the disparity between those two, what seem to be, just similar goals.

How do you re-envision a port of entry, how it functions in the design that you've created?

JONES: Well, there are several levels of conversation we could have. We could talk about the function of a port. It's very complex. It's, you know, these are giant trucks, you know, masses of humanity in cars. Everyone is subject to inspection. That in itself creates anxiety and and the officers, you know, they're well trained and well equipped, but still the higher the tension, the the more unsafe it becomes. And if, and if the traffic is snarled and, and, and congested, that just adds to the the anxiety. So the, the first thing Jones Studio did is adopt an attitude. And I don't know if you know Arizona's first poet, laureate Alberto Rios, wonderful man. He grew up in Nogales. And he taught me, you know, through his poetry that ... you can look at the border either way as something that separates us or something that connects us. So when we look at it as a connector, it means everything. That one sentence — that border is what connects us — makes all the difference in one's attitude when designing a gateway to the United States.

So you're flipping the rhetoric on its head in the way that you think about this. You're imagining it as something very different than a massive wall.

JONES: I wouldn't — I don't even feel like I'm flipping rhetoric, because it's not rhetoric. For us ... it is truly an ideal that together we're so much better. And obviously, you know, from a business standpoint, now that Mexico is our largest trading partner, that makes a difference, too.

A the ports of entry that you're designing, how does migration, immigration, asylum seekers — how does that interact with what happens at a port of entry?

JONES: Well, the design requirements for land ports are always changing and they, they have, they have evolved since we did our first one back in 2008, Mariposa, which is west of Nogales proper. ... We had violator processing building and holding cells and interview rooms and things like that. As the years have gone by, we're now designing facilities for entire families, you know, to be detained comfortably and with respect. And so the facilities are becoming more and more family-oriented ... I'm not, you know, privy to what goes on behind the closed doors. But I do know that there is a focus on a humane response to these additional requirements.

You've gotten a lot of pushback here. And that this is sort of not your usual realm. You've waded into this political debate and out of the world of architecture a little bit. But do you think that this is a moment where those two things collide?

JONES: As an architect, I've always felt that we have a social responsibility as well as a professional responsibility. ... We want to make our communities better. We are trained for problem solving. We have the pleasure of working with engineering and art and where those two things intersect. And as a result, I think our education produces the most objective minds out there. And all we wanted to do is solve problems. And so what better place to do that than in the public realm? I mean, I love designing buildings. I love visiting great buildings. I, I've done it my whole life but given my knowledge base — of myself as well as my colleagues and, and all my friends that are architects in Phoenix — we are in a great position to be an important resource in the community. Which means that we should not be afraid to get involved in politics because that's where the table is. ... I want architects to have a seat at that table, because I think we can have a very positive influence because we don't have an ax to grind, so to speak. ... And the more complex the problem, the better we like it.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.