Monday, March 20, 2023

Zolberg Institute webinar on US-UK border asylum policies, March 24


The US and UK have recently announced dramatic new border policies intended to deter the arrival of asylum-seekers. The Biden Administration will, with limited exceptions, deny migrants the opportunity to apply for asylum if they have passed through another country on their way to the US. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's "no small boats" policy would summarily return asylum-seekers to their home country or a designated "safe" third country. Are the proposed measures consistent with international refugee law? Will they accomplish their goals? Are there alternative policies that would both better protect the right to asylum and manage unauthorized flows? Will the new US and UK proposals spur a global "race to the bottom" of hardened borders?

Doris Meissner (Migration Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.) and David Cantor (Refugee Law Initiative, University of London) will discuss the recent asylum policy announcements in a conversation moderated by Zolberg Institute Director Alex Aleinikoff.

This event is co-sponsored by the Global Strategic Litigation Council on Refugee Rights.



March 20, 2023 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three Years of Title 42

The American Immigration Council in "Three Years of Title 42" evaluates the impacts of the Title 42 order.  Beyond the drastic toll on human life and shifting public health policies, one startling constant has persisted throughout the pandemic. For three years now, the United States has turned its back on countless asylum seekers under Title 42—a Trump-era policy invoked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 20, 2020. Read More »

The conclusion:

"We hope that short-sighted political pressures to institute draconian border policies do not overshadow the calls from advocates to do the right thing. Border `solutions' that myopically focus on excluding migrants miss the point. We are supposed to be a nation of laws and have legal and constitutional commitments to offer migrants a fair process to seek protection. Three years after the start of Title 42, it is time to finally return to our promise to restore access to asylum."


March 20, 2023 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Commentary: "Canada is eating our lunch on needed immigration"

Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg

Canadian Flag image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

An opinion piece by the editorial board of the New York Daily News indicts the antiquated U.S. immigration visa system  :and points out that it allows skilled immigrants to go to Canada

"[The current system is something we] no longer afford, as we face shortages of certain types of high-skill labor and an aging population. Congress must streamline and modernize the outdated visa system. It’s already a day late and a Canadian dollar short, but the cost of inaction is only going to compound."


March 20, 2023 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Uniting for Ukraine: Where Do We Go from Here?

Guest blogger:  Katherine Cherubin, law student, University of San Fancisco:

On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in which he ordered his troops into Ukraine with the goal of “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” the country. Shortly after the announcement, the first of many explosions were heard in Ukraine. Over a year later, the war is still being waged and Russian forces have committed numerous unthinkable atrocities—from the Mariupol maternity hospital attack to the horrors in Bucha, to a number of other tragedies, there seems to be no end in sight (“Russian invasion of Ukraine,” n.d). In the first months of the war, many Ukrainians fled their home country— many went to surrounding countries, especially Poland, however, there were those that ventured further. On April 21, 2022, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, announced Uniting for Ukraine, which is a part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to welcome 100,00 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression (“Uniting for Ukraine,” n.d.).

            The program provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens to come to the U.S. and stay temporarily in a two-year period of parole, when paroled they are eligible to apply for employment authorization. Ukrainians seeking to participate in Uniting for Ukraine are required to have a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide financial support for them during the duration of their stay in the U.S. (“Uniting for Ukraine,” n.d.).

            It is also important to note that there were some Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. prior to the implementation of Uniting for Ukraine, many Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. between February 24, 2022 to April 25, 2022 came on humanitarian parole status. Before the Uniting for Ukraine program started, the government used the humanitarian parole program to admit those fleeing Ukraine into the states—the program allows people to enter the U.S. on “an emergency basis due to an urgent humanitarian situation … usually for a finite amount of time, like a year or two years, and must be renewed for people to stay longer” (Santana, 2023). Due to the ongoing state of the war, Biden recently announced that Ukrainians who arrived between the prior dates on humanitarian parole status do not need to file any additional paperwork to extend their stays in the U.S. and will automatically get an extension after their cases are vetted (Santana, 2023).

            Those who fled Ukraine before the announcement of the Uniting for Ukraine program are having more difficulties obtaining work permits and social security cards than their counterparts who were able to utilize the program (Roth, 2023). Further, a number of those displaced due to the war were unaware of the various programs potentially available to them, making the process even more difficult for them—as some Ukrainians entered on tourist visas unaware of the Uniting for Ukraine program or the general humanitarian parole program (Roth, 2023).

            There are good intentions behind the Uniting for Ukraine program, however, sometimes intent does not fully translate to the end result. When many fled Ukraine shortly after the war broke out, they assumed it would be over soon, however, the conflict has been going on for over a year now with no end in sight. There is so much uncertainty that comes with being displaced due to a conflict. Although Ukrainians are being admitted into the United States, there is so much that is unpredictable about their stay—those being paroled are only here for a temporary amount of time, but as the war wages on, extensions are granted—how do you set down roots when you are unsure of your future and the future of your home country? As one Ukrainian national who fled to the United States put it, “[i]t’s very complicated to live here when you don’t know how many years you can live here. Can you go study? Can you buy something like a car?” (Alvarez, 2023). Besides the uncertainty that comes with fleeing Ukraine for the United States, there are some hurdles when it comes to the Uniting for Ukraine program, specifically the requirement of having a supporter already in America—that can be a major roadblock for many and does not necessarily seem fair or just in a time of crisis. Lastly, one other issue surrounding is that those fleeing Russian aggression should be able to more easily find out their options. There is, hopefully, good intent behind the Biden administration’s efforts, however, Ukraine and Ukrainian’s need far more support and stability provided to them.


March 19, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Texas Bill (Border Protection Unit Act) Headed the Direction of Arizona's SB 1070?


News from Texas:  The Republican leadership in the Texas House of Representatives announced this week that passing a bill to make illegal immigration a felony is a top priority.

The Border Protection Unit Act, supported by key leaders of the majority-Republican Texas House of Representatives, would create a border protection police force and make illegal immigration a felony.  Here is the bill.

The bill would allow the state officers to in effect deputize private citizens to assist in immigration enforcement.  Sounds to me like rounding a posse in the old West.

I am not sure how much of the Texas bill would survive the Supreme Court's federal preemption decision in Arizona v. United States (2012), which struck down the bulk of Arizona's SB 1070 and its efforts to criminalize unlawful immigration under state law.


March 19, 2023 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: Refugeehood Reconsidered: the Central American Migration Crisis by Steven Macedo

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Refugeehood Reconsidered: the Central American Migration Crisis by Steven Macedo


“Who is a refugee?” This essay explores the lively debate on this question in ethics, political theory, and international law. The world now has more refugees than any time since World War II, and there may be no area of public policy in advanced Western states more fraught with deep moral and practical dilemmas. Are state persecution and alienage necessary conditions of refugeehood or is mortal peril sufficient, whatever its cause? The essay describes the various moral grounds relevant to claims for refugeehood, including general humanitarian duties, obligations arising from past and ongoing relations and commitments under international law, and the existence of the state system itself. Particular attention is paid to the Central American migration crisis, and the question of reparative obligations on the part of the U.S. arising from climate change and past state policies that have unjustly harmed sending countries. Further complicating the question of what we ought to do, even for progressive policymakers, is the looming threat of right-wing populist backlash.


March 19, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law Review Articles & Essays | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Court Allows Remain in Mexico Lawsuit to Move Forward


News on an important piece of immigration litigation from earlier this week:

"[A] federal court largely denied the Biden administration’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit, Immigrant Defenders Law Center et al. v. Mayorkas,​ brought on behalf of people seeking asylum who were stranded outside the United States as a result of the Trump administration’s unlawful “Remain in Mexico” policy. In its decision the court declared that, if true, the Plaintiffs’ allegations would amount to `acute and sweeping violations' of their `bedrock rights.' The court also granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification . . . . 

`The court got it right. It is baffling that the government would even attempt to defend the grievous harms inflicted by a policy that the administration itself has condemned, citing its ‘unjustifiable human costs,’ said Melissa Crow, Director of Litigation at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). . . . 

Introduced in 2019, the Remain in Mexico policy forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to await their U.S. immigration court dates just south of the border, in some of the most dangerous cities in the world. Trapped in Mexico, few had access to U.S. legal services, and many fell victim to grave violence." 


March 18, 2023 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Her name is on a pub, a boat and an AI platform. But what happened to the Irish teen who arrived at Ellis Island in 1892?

Statue of Annie Moore and her brothers on the quayside in Cobh, Ireland.

Statue of Annie Moore and her brothers in IrelandCourtesy of Wikimedia Commons

An interesting clo9sing story to St. Patrick's Day from CNN

Annie Moore was the first immigrant who walked through the doors when Ellis Island opened more than 130 years ago. These days, there are statues of her in Ireland and at the historic US site. Her name is on a pub in New York Citya National Park Service boat and even an AI platform that aims to help match refugees with communities where they can resettle.

CNN reports on the story of Annie Moore, her descendants, and a play about her life.  It is a rich and fun story.



March 18, 2023 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Carly Goodman on St. Patrick's Day, in the Washington Post

image from uncpress.orgCarly Goodman, author of "Dreamland: America's Immigration Lottery in an Age of Restriction" (UNC Press), has an excellent essay in Friday's Washington Post 'Made by History' series on St. Patrick's Day and its connection to immigration and the immigrant experience.

As Goodman writes:

But the pageantry and pride on display on St. Patrick’s Day speak to something more than a shared ethnic identity. They are tied to the Irish immigrant experience, which is a crucial part of Irish American culture. Irish Americans have long used St. Patrick’s Day parades to demand opportunities for immigration from their native land, and one of these campaigns even opened doors for immigrants from across the globe. Its success is a reminder that immigration doesn’t need to be a zero sum game, especially because the inclusion of diverse communities of immigrants has long been a boon for the United States.

You can read or listen to the full essay here.


March 18, 2023 in Law Review Articles & Essays | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: Immigration Law and Slavery: Rethinking the Migration or Importation Clause by Geoffrey Heeren

Geoffrey Heeren

Immigration Law and Slavery: Rethinking the Migration or Importation Clause by Geoffrey Heeren, Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2023, No. 4, 2023


The traditional account of the origins of federal immigration law mostly glosses over its deep connection to slavery. An examination of that connection calls the constitutional foundation for immigration law into question, alters the calculus for judicial review of federal immigration action, reframes our understanding of federalism, and lays bare the nation’s exploitative dependence on immigrant labor. This article makes this paradigm shift by focusing on a long-neglected textual source for federal immigration power: the Migration or Importation Clause of Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution. Scholars have almost uniformly discounted the Migration or Importation Clause as a source for federal immigration power because of its connection to slavery. In sharp contrast, this article contends that the Migration or Importation Clause makes sense as a source for the federal immigration power because of its connection to slavery, which was deeply intertwined in the early Republic with immigration.The history of the Constitutional Convention reveals that the framers specifically discussed slavery and immigration together and were aware that their chosen wording for the Migration or Importation Clause would apply to free immigrants. An originalist understanding of the Clause therefore supports a federal immigration power under the Commerce Clause, which was the presumptive basis for regulating the slave trade after the 1808 date set out in the Migration or Importation Clause.The legacy of the Migration or Importation Clause continues to be felt in immigration law. Slavery was an atrocity that inflicted intergenerational harm on blacks; in contrast, immigrants have often enjoyed opportunities and passed on wealth. Nonetheless, the current structure of immigration law perpetuates nineteenth century labor norms for the millions of undocumented workers who under threat of deportation do much of the nation’s most difficult work for lower p ay and with fewer legal protections than documented workers. Reckoning with the ties between immigration law and slavery offers an opportunity to reflect on the failures of this system, and also reveals a redemptive path forward. In the face of an exploitative system, the strategies and logic of abolitionism offer hope for a better immigration future.


March 18, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law Review Articles & Essays | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 17, 2023

Happy St. Patrick's Day

How a Senator from swing state Nevada views immigration


For decades, Congress has discussed immigration reform.  But to no avail.  Congressional action undoubtedly will require compromise.  The views of Democrats from swing states will be important to the final outcome.  NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto from the state of Nevada about immigration reform and her role as the Senate's first Latina.





Gretchen Wallacker


March 17, 2023 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: A Lack of Uniformity, Compounded, in Immigration Law by Jill E. Family

Faculty Photo

A Lack of Uniformity, Compounded, in Immigration Law by Jill E. Family, Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 98


The Administrative Procedure Act is known for bringing standardization to federal agency behavior. The APA’s framework for adjudication, however, is lax and incomplete. It provides standards, but only meaningfully for formal adjudication, and Congress rarely requires agencies to follow the APA’s formal adjudication procedures. The APA, therefore, expressly allows for nonuniform adjudication in that it requires little of the informal adjudication that makes up the lion’s share of agency adjudication.This lack of uniformity in adjudication is prominent in immigration law. When federal agencies adjudicate whether to remove (deport) an individual from the United States, those agencies act pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and not the APA. The INA establishes removal adjudication before an immigration judge. The lack of uniformity is compounded in immigration law, however, because most removals are achieved not through the INA’s immigration judge proced ures but rather through various diversions from immigration court. These diversions provide fewer procedural protections and deviate from the supposed standard of a hearing before an immigration judge. In practice, there are no centralized, uniform procedures for removal adjudication. The INA theoretically provides a substitute North Star in place of the APA, but in practice the INA’s immigration court procedures only apply to a minority of cases.This phenomenon in immigration law raises questions about the strength of the APA and the value of uniformity in administrative law. If the APA’s aim was to improve adjudication, it has failed in immigration law. The removal adjudication system is extremely dysfunctional. Removal adjudication does not have the constitutional-like, uniform standards it desperately needs.


March 17, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law Review Articles & Essays | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Reviews of Citizenship History Books



Anna Law reviews for Law and Politics Book Review two books that analyze the evolution of the law of U.S. citizenship:



Law's bottom line:

"On balance, whether one is a specialist in the field of U.S. citizenship and immigration policy and law, or a newcomer hoping to learn more, there is something valuable and new for you. Both books deliver a textured understanding of the unsteady development of American citizenship, and will be fantastic additions to one’s syllabi or works cited pages."



March 16, 2023 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

We Must Do Better At The Border

Guest Blogger: Alondra Saldivar, law student, University of San Francisco:

At the border, the days go by fast and painstakingly slow. Time seems endless. People waiting for asylum feel like the days drag on, but it is easy to lose track of time. The border inspires many emotions in people: in some it's anger, in others sympathy, confusion, understanding – the list goes on.

For the longest time, I fell amongst those that were confused and sympathetic. I was unsure of what exactly went on at the border and had only heard about the difficulties that folks faced when attempting to reach the United States. In December 2018, I visited the border in Nogales, AZ for the first time. I encountered mostly male adults that had been recently deported and dropped off in Nogales, Sonora. Most were folks that had been living in the United States for decades and had been taken from their families. The hope was to petition to return if they had pending cases, go back to their home country, or at the very least find a way to contact their families.

In July 2019, I returned to the border and was met with families with babies and toddlers, seeking asylum to the United States. The “Remain in Mexico” program had started at the beginning of the year, and the effects of the policy were apparent. This policy meant that asylum seekers would be forced to wait for their immigration hearings in Mexico, instead of the United States as was the norm. Homeland Security, Migration Protection Protocols, January 24, 2019, The folks seeking asylum would be given a “Notice to Appear” for a hearing date, and sent back to wait. Id. There was no other information shared; this policy was an unprecedented action with no previous history to fall back on.

In July of 2019, I saw families growing restless. Many were unable to get jobs in Mexico, and had neither a stable place to live nor consistent meals (except from the non profit organization that I was volunteering with, the Kino Border Initiative, that offered two meals a day). There was so much uncertainty about what their situation would lead to, as many would go to the port of entry and petition for asylum only to be turned away. The Kino Border Initiative then began sending families to the port of entry with folks that spoke English so that they could ensure the border officials were understanding what was going on. Eventually, there began a number system where families would receive a number and be told to wait until it was their turn for one of the steps of asylum the - credible fear interview. Once it was the families' turn, they were placed in a closet-sized “room” with a mattress on the floor and a folding table that had a griddle on it for them to use for food. The families could wait in that room anywhere between three nights to a week. After that interview, they were either returned for another waiting period, released into the United States for a hearing, or sent back to their countries of origin.

Since then, the policies that dictate what occurs at the border have only gotten more complicated and unclear. Title 42 showed up in March 2020, and “Remain in Mexico” went in and out of commission; there is overlap in how both policies make the legal opportunity to apply for asylum a problematic notion for folks that are in dire need of it. Tile 42, established as an emergency public health regulation to stop the spread of COVID-19, stated that refugees and those applying for asylum at the border could not be admitted to the United States. American Immigration Council, A Guide to Title 42 Expulsions at the Border, May 25, 2022, Title 42 gave border officials wide berth to expel folks, with almost no explanation. Id. These folks do not receive deportation orders, but their fingerprints are taken- how this information will be used in the future has yet to be seen. Id. Most recently, there is talk of a new policy that will effectively be an asylum ban. Reuters, Biden Administration Unveils Broad Asylum Restrictions at U.S-Mexico Border, February 22, 2023, If a migrant does not schedule an appointment at the point of entry, use a humanitarian visa, or seek and be denied application in countries they pass, they would be ineligible for asylum. Id. All of these policies pointedly ignore the folks that are actually living at the border, stuck there, with hardly any resources for making a living. The policies are making a mess of an already messy immigration system. There has been an ongoing conversation of comprehensive immigration reform, and crisis after crisis screams for it. The border crisis is just another symptom of a larger issue; there is no point in adding bandaids to an issue that needs to be fixed at its root. All these policies cause injury to people who are rightfully asking for asylum as stated in our laws. The more we deviate from laws in our books, the more court cases, injunctions, and reversals take place (as with “Remain in Mexico” and Title 42) the messier the issue gets.

It is time for policymakers, immigrant advocates, and the general public to once again start having difficult conversations of compromise, and work on setting about a comprehensive immigration reform - one that is centered on the humanity of all, informed by the reasons why people choose to migrate in the first place, and focused on creating a helpful and effective solution. Much of the language within the “Remain in Mexico” policy from DHS cited the idea that folks were faking asylum claims, purposefully not showing up to hearings, or not going through with applying for asylum. Homeland Security, Migration Protection Protocols, January 24, 2019, I believe the real issue is an overall lack of information; folks at the border, and the general public need to be educated.

The United States still clings tightly to its claim of being the “land of the free,” but if it wants this to remain the case then something needs to change. We must do better.


March 16, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (1)

From The Bookshelves: Does Skill Make Us Human?


Natasha N. Iskander, Professor of Urban Planning and Public Service at NYU's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, is the author of Does Skill Make Us Human?: Migrant Workers in 21st-Century Qatar and Beyond (2021). Here's the overview:

Skill—specifically the distinction between the “skilled” and “unskilled”—is generally defined as a measure of ability and training, but Does Skill Make Us Human? shows instead that skill distinctions are used to limit freedom, narrow political rights, and even deny access to imagination and desire. Natasha Iskander takes readers into Qatar’s booming construction industry in the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup, and through her unprecedented look at the experiences of migrant workers, she reveals that skill functions as a marker of social difference powerful enough to structure all aspects of social and economic life.

Through unique access to construction sites in Doha, in-depth research, and interviews, Iskander explores how migrants are recruited, trained, and used. Despite their acquisition of advanced technical skills, workers are commonly described as unskilled and disparaged as “unproductive,” “poor quality,” or simply “bodies.” She demonstrates that skill categories adjudicate personhood, creating hierarchies that shape working conditions, labor recruitment, migration policy, the design of urban spaces, and the reach of global industries. Iskander also discusses how skill distinctions define industry responses to global warming, with employers recruiting migrants from climate-damaged places at lower wages and exposing these workers to Qatar’s extreme heat. She considers how the dehumanizing politics of skill might be undone through tactical solidarity and creative practices.

With implications for immigrant rights and migrant working conditions throughout the world, Does Skill Make Us Human? examines the factors that justify and amplify inequality.


March 16, 2023 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: The End of California’s Anti-Asian Alien Land Law: A Case Study in Reparations and Transitional Justice by Jack Chin and Anna Ratner

Gabriel Jack Chin

The End of California’s Anti-Asian Alien Land Law: A Case Study in Reparations and Transitional Justice by Jack Chin and Anna Ratner, 20 Asian American Law Journal 17 (2022)


For nearly a century, California law embodied a rabid anti-Asian policy, which included school segregation, discriminatory law enforcement, a prohibition on marriage with Whites, denial of voting rights, and imposition of many other hardships. The Alien Land Law was a California innovation, copied in over a dozen other states. The Alien Land Law, targeting Japanese but applying to Chinese, Koreans, South Asians, and others, denied the right to own land to noncitizens who were racially ineligible to naturalize, that is, who were not White or Black. After World War II, California’s policy abruptly reversed. Years before Brown v. Board of Education, California courts became leaders in ending Jim Crow. In 1951, the California legislature voluntarily voted to pay reparations to people whose land had been escheated under the Alien Land Law. This article describes the enactment and effect of the reparations laws. It also describes the surprisingly benevolent treatment by courts of lawsuit s undoing the secret trusts and other arrangements for land ownership intended to evade the Alien Land Law. But ultimately, the Alien Land Law precedent may be melancholy. California has not paid reparations to other groups who also have conclusive claims of mistreatment. Reparations in part were driven by geopolitical concerns arising from the Cold War and the hot war in Korea. In addition, anti-Asian immigration policy had succeeded in halting Japanese and other Asian immigration to the United States. Accordingly, one explanation for this remarkable act was that there was room for generosity to a handful of landowners with no concern that the overall racial arrangement might be compromised.


March 16, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law Review Articles & Essays | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stream a Lecture by Tom Saenz, President and CEO of MALDEF: Status Report on Latino Civil Rights after 20 Years as Nation’s Largest Minority Group

Thomas Saenz


March 16, 2023 in Conferences and Call for Papers, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Pájaro Valley: Neglect as a Policy Decision

Guest blogger: Sequoyah Hilton, Masters in Migration Studies Student, University of San Francisco:

My mother is the vice principal of Pájaro Valley Middle School in Monterey County, California. This school, located in the valley of the same name, is predominantly attended by students from farmworker families in the nearby strawberry fields. Over the weekend, an atmospheric river with heavy rainfall hit the valley, causing the levee to breach and flood the entire area. My mother called me on Saturday, saying her school was going to be closed for the next two weeks, but realistically they were planning for a closure lasting through the school year. Through the weekend, she and the other office staff were working frantically to quickly find another place for her students to fit in the school district. This is not the first time this year the school has been issued closures due to storm flooding, but the levee breaching has made the damage significantly worse. When I asked, she made it clear remote learning is not an option being considered by administrators. “The national guard has completely cordoned off the area”, she said, and many students evacuated from their homes are living in shelters. Having a place to go for the day would be important for keeping a semblance of stability while the national guard and other first responding agencies tried to deal with the damage. As I write this on Wednesday, March 15, it is the first day that the students are merging with Lakeview Middle School, and because of the damage, average twenty minute commutes  are turning into two-hour drives. . Many students have lost everything in the flooding, leading staff to try to at least source them school uniforms and backpacks. 

In this piece, I reflect on the current flooding affecting Pájaro Valley in rural California, and how this current situation and levee breaching is the result of a federal choice of neglect. This is not the first instance of how a great environmental risk was known by local and federal government agencies and not acted upon. Extensive research was conducted on the levee and its dire need of repairs in the past. However, the safety and infrastructural needs of this largely undocumented migrant working community was ignored, which is currently proving to come at great cost to their stability and livelihoods. 

This flooding has made national headlines. The New York times article on the disaster writes about it narratively– giving the event a novel air of dramatic unknowing on an unsuspecting community:

It began as a trickle, seeping through a 74-year old earthen levee in Northern California, dribs and drabs of the Pajaro River, swollen with rain yet again on Friday night. Then pools bubble up beyond the levee walls, spreading toward darkened fields of strawberries and lettuce. Four miles downstream, the farmworker community of Pajaro slept (Arango & Hubler 2023).

Despite attempts by local flood management to sandbag the levee, it breached anyway, and hundreds of residents are living in the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville (which is already at maximum capacity) (Arango & Hubler, 2023). Many climate specialists and state officials acknowledge the widespread outdatedness of flood management infrastructure. Jeffery Mount, a researcher for the Public Policy Institute of California, claimed the majority of this infrastructure is over a half a century old, and claims that as much attention needs to be given to flood preparation as drought preparedness (Arango & Hubler, 2023). The lack of infrastructural maintenance is infamous and passively known in any part of the United States, but with the massive environmental devastation facing all of California this winter, its consequences are revealing themselves violently. 

This inaction -- this selective blindness to glaring infrastructural needs on a statewide level -- is not merely an accidental forgetting, a simple absence of a choice, or even a case of mistaken priorities. This neglect of policy and funding is a violent decision, and due to the reality it has created for the community of Pajaro Valley should be treated as a policy choice. In this way, accountability can be more justly applied to the policymakers and agencies responsible for the outcomes we see today. As time passes from the initial levee breaching, more critical information is being released about governmental organizations and their knowledge about the Pajaro levees inadequacy. A local paper, Lookout Santa Cruz, published an article claiming that “officials had known for decades that the Pajaro River levee [built in 1949]…was vulnerable but never prioritized repairs…because they believed it did not make financial sense to protect the low-income areas” as found in interviews and official reports from the US Army Corps of Engineers as early as the 1960s (Rust, 2023). Essentially, the implicated groups, including federal Congress, the federal government Corps of Engineers and others concluded that repairs were not worth benefit-cost ratios in ‘lower-income areas’. The lack of upkeep and the inadequacy of the levee to handle the rainfall can thus be designated as intentional. This assessment of worthwhileness was a determining factor in the severity of the disaster we see today. So much of the displacement and loss was directly linked to a decision by government researchers not to act, not to fund, and to leave the community neglected in the face of known danger. 

Additionally, given the vulnerable status of many families as being undocumented, many are being denied the typical avenues of disaster aid and relief. Cal Matters writes about the unequal access to emergency aid, stressing that “undocumented workers…are, by law, ineligible for federally funded programs such as unemployment or aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency” (Hepler et al, 2023). With many of these marginalized residents losing their jobs and losing their homes, they deserve the help from the state whose economy runs on their labor. This is especially vital as March is the time of year they typically harvest strawberries, raspberries and other crops. Mutual aid funds by farmworker justice organizations, such as Campesina Womb Justice, seem to be the primary drivers of aid and assistance to these communities in the immediate aftermath (@Campesinawombjustice, Instagram ). Aware of the government’s demonstrable failures to the residents of Pajaro, many of these grassroot organizations are taking it upon themselves to fundraise and gather supplies needed in the area right now. At the state level, Los Angeles Assemblymember Miguel Santiago is cosponsoring a Senate Bill to provide unemployment benefits to undocumented Californians (Hepler et. al, 2023). In the future this will be absolutely necessary, but for now, there is a lack of official aid that is available to the majority of the affected population. 

Despite the nation’s utter dependence on the fruits of these families' labors, they are still disadvantaged in the face of disaster that could have been prevented, or at least significantly reduced if prior government action had been taken. Even though this information about the neglect and its impact is only gaining attention in the face of environmental and community devastation, I hope we all share a collective outrage over what has happened in the PajaroValley and the effect on its residents, and that they are provided the reparative government action they deserve.

Works Cited

Arango, Time & Hubler, Shawn. (2023, March 14). “California Levee Failures Mount as Storms Continue Relentless Drive” New York Times.

CampesinaWombJustice. (2023). @Campesinawombjustice, instagram.

Hepler, Lauren, Foy, Nicole & Fry, Wendy. (2023, March 15).As emergency aid flows to flooded-out Californians, will thousands be left out?, CalMatters,

Rust, Susanna. (2023, March 13). “Before disastrous flood, officials knew Pajaro River levee could fail but took no action”. Santa Cruz Lookout,


March 15, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Border Patrol: Where horses are treated better than Children

Guest blogger: Duun O'Hara, Masters in Migration Studies Student, University of San Francisco:

It was a sunny, chilly morning in Tucson, Arizona as we drove an hour south to Nogales. Road-trip music was playing, we put our sunglasses on, and felt a mixture of emotions as we got closer to the US-Mexico Border. Many things crossed our minds as we pulled up to one of the guards at the security checkpoint.

When we first pulled into Border Patrol in Nogales, I was not sure what to expect considering it was my first-time seeing Border Patrol officers, trucks, vans, and barbed wire fences. Seeing the militarism up close was something I can only describe as other-worldly.

We parked the car in the “Visitors Parking Lot,” and got out of the car, not sure what we were going to encounter. Officer Walen escorted us to their conference room, and told us to all take a seat. I immediately broke out into a full sweat, and felt immediate discomfort.

When I looked around the room, there were ladders pinned up against the wall as some sort of decoration, along with a van’s windshield that looked like it was cracked from some debris. Mounted on the wall, was also what looked like a rusted bear trap, with the American flag. As my eyes continued to scan the room, there was a presentation that the officers wanted to show us. This was when my stomach began to turn.

On the front slide, there was a scenic photo of an officer facing the mountainous Arizona/Mexico desert. Officer Walen began the presentation, and said, “Here is what my office looks like every day. I am so lucky to be able to work outside in the great outdoors rather than at a desk all day.” As if millions of people have not gone missing, died and risked their lives in that exact space where he called his “office.”

He then proceeded to explain the technology they use to catch migrants crossing the border. Helicopters, camera towers, search towers with officers, cameras that are heat sensitive that can pick up migrant movement in the desert. The list seemed to go on forever.

At that moment, all I could do was keep staring at the loaded gun and taser on each Border Patrol officer in the room. Was that necessary? To have a loaded gun on you in a conference room with a bunch of Master’s students? No one felt safe in their presence.

As the officer continued to speak, I thought “wow, things could not get any worse,” and then Officer Walen invited five more fully armed agents into the room with us. I began to shift in my seat, and realized I sweat through my whole shirt. But when I looked up, I couldn’t help but gasp a little as I looked closely at the officers to enter the room.

These Border Patrol officers were a part of the MMP, the Missing Migrant Program. All five of them were Latino. Their motto, on the front page of the presentation, was “Prevent - Locate - Identify - Reunite.” As I read this over and over again, this made me sicker to my stomach. All of these statements in the motto are contradictory to the things they actually practice.

The head officer began by explaining their program and their jobs. They spoke about themselves as if they were heroes. The officers explained to us that it is not their job to search not rescue migrants. They will only rescue if the migrant calls Border Patrol to turn themselves in.

The MMP works directly with Aguilas del Desierto, the NGO we conducted a search and rescue with early the next day. This relationship put us in a very delicate position as we all sat quietly and respectfully in that conference room that day.

At the end of the presentation, the officers decided to show a video of a dead person they found in the desert. I could not stomach watching the video, so I quickly turned my face away as they forced us to sit through the video of this person dying. The most grotesque part of this, was that I believe they showed this video as a warning to say to us, “this is what happens when you do not follow the law, and wait your turn.”

 It is at this point that I felt the fire through my toes ignite. I felt my face turn red and hot, and I could no longer even look at the officers in the face or I might say something out of anger.

The officers of the MMP made us go around and ask them questions. To them, migrants were only crossing for economic reasons. For some reason, they could not understand as to why these people would cross the desert, endure so much pain, for “just” economic reasons.

The head Latino Border Patrol agent shared his own ex-wife was deported right in front of him, and still looked us all in the face, and said, “90% of these asylum seekers fabricate their situations.” It was at this point that I felt my body fully shut down. I lost feeling in my feet, and the only thing I could focus on was not losing my self-control. This particular officer continued to repeat, “they are all crossing the border illegally, and just claiming asylum even though it is only for economic reasons.”

When it was my turn to ask a question, all I could muster up was to say, “I am all set, I have no questions.” I knew at this moment, we should have never met with Border Patrol. There was never going to be an understanding of our side. Because I realized, there are no sides to take in this. There is only one side, and it is humanity. It is human rights.

Border Patrol produces this propaganda to convince themselves that they are “protecting America.” In this mission, they are committing mass human rights violations and committing war crimes at the border. It is one thing to study and research Border Patrol, but it is a whole other beast to confront it.

To commit to the job, there is this narrative that they are heroes, protecting the country from drugs, drug mules and trafficking. This was the sort of brainwashing they continued to repeat to us in their slideshow, and their tour of the facility.

— “Protect and Serve” —

To end the tour, we ended by the horses in pens outside, overlooking the man-made border between US-Mexico. They explained that these stallions are used to traverse areas of the desert in which they cannot via vans, four wheelers, or on foot. The officers explained that these stallions eat up to 5 times a day, and are well taken care of so they can be in great shape.

The image of these horses alongside the image in my head of the babies and children in el hielera, who were detained just 12 hours before our visit still haunt me to this day. The contrast in my head, of domesticated animals being treated better than human beings, then children, replays in my head as I search for an explanation as to what higher being could ever allow this to be reality. Like a scene from a dystopian novel, this clip replays vividly throughout my mind. The combination of the horses, the officers, the conference rooms with Chipotle was all quite ironic, considering the officers want to eat Mexican food, but their job is to commit war crimes against Mexican and Central Americans trying to seek asylum. 


March 15, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)