Berkeley Human Rights Q&A #12: Joel Sati

UC Berkeley doctoral student Joel Sati.

The downside of DACA and the hard fight ahead

By Oliver Riskin-Kutz

UC Berkeley’s Joel Sati is a doctoral student in Jurisprudence and Social Policy who is studying undocumented immigrants, a subject that’s close to home. He arrived from Kenya as a young child and much later benefited from DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—a program enabled by former President Obama to offer modest hope to young undocumented immigrants seeking education and security in the United States. Prompted by the DREAMers movement, DACA has helped approximately 665,000 undocumented children to be protected—at least temporarily. Sati and I spoke in December about the treatment of certain immigrant groups and how this has, in turn, provoked the marginalization of others—from criminalization to the intersections of immigrant status and race.  As President Donald Trump announces plans for massive deportations and sparks widespread fear in immigrant communities nationwide, Sati’s perspectives are especially critical.

O-RK: What is the DACA program?

J-S: DACA was an executive order that President Obama released after pressure from a lot of immigrant groups, and it applies to undocumented immigrants who came here as children, don’t have a criminal record, and have graduated from high school. They are able to get prosecutorial suppression for two years, which means they become a really low priority for deportation. In those two years, undocumented immigrants can get work permits and apply for Social Security for work purposes; they may also obtain drivers’ licenses in certain states.

O-RK: Does it apply to any undocumented immigrant who came here as a child?

J-S: There were restrictions that made DACA inaccessible to a majority of people: for example, being younger than 30, and having arrived in the United States before December 15, 2007. In all, I believe it benefited less than 10 percent of the total number of undocumented immigrants.

President Obama also pushed for more deportations as a sort of ‘down-payment on immigration reform’ to try to get agreement from the other side of the aisle; he showed the immigrants’ rights movement that the political establishment can’t be trusted.

O-RK: You are currently benefitting from the DACA program. How did you feel about sending all your information to Washington to apply?

J-S: DACA came out during the 2012 general election and a lot of people decided not to apply to the program because they were worried that if [Mitt] Romney was elected, their information would be compromised. There was a bit of a lull until Obama won the election and people felt safe applying. I applied about a month after the program went live and wasn’t too worried, but then again I was a different person than I am now.

O-RK: How did you become active in the politics around the DACA program?

J-S: I was enrolled in school in Maryland at that time, and spent the summer and fall of 2012 lobbying for the Maryland DREAM Act. This referendum allowed undocumented students who had graduated from high school and spent two years at a Maryland community college to receive in-state tuition at Maryland institutions of higher education. The victory led me to make the move towards working for comprehensive immigration reform.

O-RK: Can you tell me about the bipartisan act currently in Congress to protect DACA?

J-S: On the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin and Lindsay Graham released the BRIDGE Act, which will allow the people who have received deferred status to be protected under a similar model. While it doesn’t grant a path towards legal status and is not renewable, it does protect immigrant students from deportation.

O-RK: You have some reservations about DACA?

J-S: I’ve always been ambivalent about policies like DACA, and now the BRIDGE Act, because I think these policies exceptionalize a certain subgroup of undocumented immigrants while further marginalizing others. Once DACA became policy, it pacified the people who were called DREAMers and let them present themselves as exceptional, making it difficult to push for further reform. President Obama also pushed for more deportations as a sort of ‘down-payment on immigration reform’ to try to get agreement from the other side of the aisle; he showed the immigrants’ rights movement that the political establishment can’t be trusted. Now, we’re trying to look at what our options are, how we develop narratives, and the institutions that we need to call into question. I’m trying to organize in the best way I can—writing and blogging, trying to start conversations at Berkeley through lectures, panels, and symposiums. I also do work in philosophy, political theory, and epistemology, and I’ve been working on papers that look at the deliberative environment in which undocumented immigrants make claims for basic services, residency, and citizenship. By investigating in through this lens, I hope to call out certain assumptions and try to change the debate in a meaningful way.

O-RK: Is there a big community of DACA students at Berkeley, or students organized around the politics of DACA?

J-S: I think there are a few undocumented doctoral students—I only know a handful of them, but I’ll probably get to know more as time goes on. I really want to give a shout-out to an organization called RISE, the immigrants’ rights organizing group here at Berkeley. It’s led by really great undergrads and also by Meng So, the director of the Undocumented Students Center at Cal; there are some people who are organizing around undocumented immigration here at Berkeley, making cross-UC connections, putting pressure on UC President Napolitano. It’s empowering to see because Berkeley as an institution is in a unique position to make waves in terms of undocumented immigrants and immigrants’ rights.

What’s more pernicious is the fact that the idea of “the criminal” is left undefined by President Trump.

O-RK: You mentioned putting pressure on UC President Janet Napolitano; how have you been interacting with the UC administration?

J-S: I haven’t been personally interacting with the UC administration, but the people at RISE have been. It’s interesting to see some of the policies that Napolitano puts out; she published an op-ed in the New York Times which caught a lot of flak from the immigrants’ rights movement because it continued to exceptionalize undocumented students and really didn’t look at workers or at mixed-status families.

O-RK: Are there any other policy proposals out there now that help all undocumented immigrants, not just the DREAMers?

J-S: There’s some promising policy work coming up but a lot of it is still in its infancy since no one really knows what the administration is planning. I think right now it’s just a matter of protecting all undocumented immigrants and trying to marshal the institutions and people of influence to act as a bulwark.

O-RK: And what specifically are you expecting from this new administration?

J-S: Someone who’s been advising the new administration is Kris Kobach, the current Kansas Secretary of State. He’s a noted anti-immigrant attorney and helped draft Arizona’s SB1070, which is known as the “show-your-papers law,” as well as Alabama’s bill in that same vein. I think that new efforts are going towards criminalizing all undocumented immigrants. In an interview, [Trump] said that he’s looking to deport two to three million criminal immigrants. I’ve always thought of that number as a red herring, since two to three million seems logistically unfeasible. What’s more pernicious is the fact that the idea of “the criminal” is left undefined by President Trump. It’s not just people with criminal records who fall under that umbrella, it’s every undocumented immigrant. So what the political situation and the expansion of criminality will mean for undocumented immigrants is something that gives me great worry.

I’m a Black undocumented immigrant, and so for me and for other Black immigrants, I see the issue of criminality as attached to the status of Blackness and the politics of anti-Blackness.

O-RK: How would you characterize UC Berkeley’s response or the UC’s response to this so far? Is it satisfactory?

J-S: It’s very student-focused, which is predictable, given that this is an institution of higher education. But since they are a premier institution of higher education, it is incumbent that they do more. I’m looking at the idea of expanding the Undocumented Immigrant Center, expanding undocumented student programs, and prompting the UC system to take the lead in protecting all immigrants.

O-RK: The category of “immigrants” is a large one. Can you talk about the intersection of race, immigration, and criminality that complicates this discussion?

J-S: Absolutely. I’m a Black undocumented immigrant, and so for me and for other Black immigrants, I see the issue of criminality as attached to the status of Blackness and the politics of anti-Blackness. The immigrants’ rights movement has received a lot of criticism for the slogan, “Families, not Felonies,” meaning that the undocumented should be seen as persons and not as criminals. But such a claim suggests that anyone with a criminal record isn’t a member of family, and makes no claim to residency and citizenship. Thus, such a slogan can reflect negatively on African-Americans as well as Black immigrants, because of the way they are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, and so it undermines their claims. We talked earlier about Trump’s expanded notion of criminality. Questioning the system that makes people not only undocumented but also ‘illegal,’ and redefines their status as ‘aliens’—which is somehow foreign or inhuman—necessitates an analysis about race, gender, immigration status, queerness, and to other things of that nature.

O-RK: Have you noticed any changes in the attitude of the student body towards the DACA program or towards DACA beneficiaries since the election?

J-S: Yes. Echoing what I said earlier, the idea was that DACA will most likely go in January. So DACA beneficiaries were faced with a choice: do we push to maintain DACA, or do we accept that it’s gone and go back to pushing for everyone? I want to be optimistic and say that it’s the latter position, where DACA is going to go away, creating a golden opportunity to push for comprehensive immigration reform. I think that would be the better choice.

O-RK: Thanks! Any final thoughts?

J-S: It’s important to change narratives on immigration, and it is imperative that we get as many people on our side as possible to make this happen.

Response to the Trump Administration from the Human Rights Center

Many of the Trump Administration’s recent directives and pronouncements pose serious challenges to the enforcement of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley stands with students, academics, journalists, activists, and others worldwide who are resisting these assaults on truth and justice and are working to strengthen the rule of law. We denounce any attempts to breed fear and intolerance. And we will defend those who are targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, national identity, or otherwise.

—Eric Stover, Faculty Director & Alexa Koenig, Executive Director

In Trump era, monkey see, monkey do isn’t child’s play



While my 5-year-old body plummeted from the roof, I started to realize that maybe copying my brother wasn’t always the best strategy. But it was too late. I had already felt the wind in my hair and was about to feel the cold hard ground on my bottom. Like him, I had climbed 50 feet onto our roof. Unlike him, I fell. And as the younger sister, I would probably copy him all over again.

That childlike “monkey see, monkey do” mentality continues to afflict young minds today. Children are often susceptible to the influences around them, modeling observed behaviors—from healthy eating to generosity to strangers to climbing on roofs. Kids know what they’re shown.

This reflection brings me to our current political context. In a time where texts are sent in a split second, articles are published by the minute, and presidents can shake the world with 140 characters or less, we need to be more conscious of what children see. These are the ideologies and behaviors that will grow to shape their own voice—the voice of America’s future. And if we let the ignorant prejudice inflamed by Trump’s presidency perpetuate, that may very well be our future.

Already, days and weeks after the election, high school students in New Jersey chanted “10 feet higher” at the Latino students, referring to the wall that would purportedly be built on the U.S./Mexico border. #whitesonly was scrawled onto the bathroom stalls of Maple Grove high school in Minnesota. Chants of “white power” could be heard down the halls of York Tech High school in Pennsylvania. White students from Ladue High School in Missouri, one armed with a hot glue gun, screamed at Black children to sit at the back of the bus.

These are children who are witnessing the mistreatment of people of color, Muslims, and immigrants by our president-elect and his supporters (perhaps their parents), and emulating it—at an age when they are protected by, but likely ignorant about, the Bill of Rights. Hate speech is not illegal. But hate speech can be a precursor to hate crimes. And hate crimes are illegal. These children are well on their way to creating issues much bigger than how to get out of P.E. class.

Maybe we can’t stop the hate speech and hate crimes that have sharply risen since the election, according to human rights organizations. Maybe we can’t make those who elected Trump accept Mexicans as people, rather than drug smuggling job thieves, or agree to let women decide what they should do with their own bodies. Maybe we can’t stop Grandpa from thinking America needs to be “great” again. But we can stop children from following suit, from climbing on the roof.

My generation—the 18 and older college students from around the country—must be the examples we want to see for those just a few years younger. We must loudly and actively teach children that different isn’t bad and that there are better, alternative ways of thinking. We must monitor the hate crimes and put faces to the names so we can start to acknowledge each other as people instead of stereotypes. We must emphasize facts, not ignorant hate.

I have the opportunity to do so—to help set this example—by working with the Digital Verification Corps (DVC) through UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center. The DVC lab is monitoring and verifying the hate crimes publicized through social media in an attempt to stop the racial prejudice and encourage acceptance by understanding the truth. Technology makes it incredibly easy to spread misinformation, regardless of the political perspective. 

It’s no secret that my generation and the ones that follow walk around glued to our smartphones. With various social media apps always at hand—whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram—we are always connected. We find out information within seconds and spread it even faster. But we need to be smart about what we spread. The DVC lab hopes to find ways to spread truth as opposed to rumors by verifying information and connecting people to the source. We may not be able to dispel opinions, but we can dispel ignorance. And the key to doing that, is by focusing on facts.

Children aren’t born with prejudice, they learn it. We can’t stop them from seeing, but we must stop them from doing. We must teach them the truth.  

Ilaf Esuf is a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Human Rights Investigations Lab and Digital Verification Corps. 

Trump’s Tweet, Free Speech, and American Values

Just before 7am on Tuesday morning, the President-Elect of the United States of America casually threatened to roll back the First Amendment.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

trump-flag-tweetThe first Ten Amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were added on June 8, 1789 — just days before France’s Third Estate overthrew their monarchy, demanding “Rights of Man and the Citizen” — to guarantee various rights and freedoms to the people of the fledgling US. In the centuries since, some Amendments — such as the Third, which prohibits the quartering of soldiers in homes without owners’ consent — seem less pressing than they did in the 18th century; while others, such as the Second — which reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” — have found their way to the center of today’s political discourse.

Yet the First Amendment remains sacrosanct, integral to movements from Black Lives Matter to the so-called “Alt-Right.” Of course, not all parties agree what that free speech should look like: whether it allows for hate speech, anti-Semitic or racist language, or threats of violence, or if such speech infringes on the rights of others and therefore can be curtailed. But the fundamental right to freedom of expression — and in particular, freedom to express dissent or controversial opinions — is widely understood to reside at the core of American values. This can be seen in cases as disparate as quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem at NFL games, and chants at Trump rallies to “Drain the Swamp” — to oust government leaders. Trump himself gained his first political foothold by publicly questioning President Obama’s citizenship — a claim that was as false as it was legal to express. Movements across the political spectrum rely on the right to critique those in power. That right to dissent is a necessary precondition to the right to free speech. And free speech — a right our Founding Fathers saw as so foundational to their vision of the nation that they placed it before the right to bear arms to defend that nation — is a cornerstone of American freedom.

It’s not entirely surprising that the President-Elect would choose as the object of his ire the — literally — incendiary act of burning the American flag. In doing so, he leans on considerable historical precedent. Burning the flag emerged as a form of political protest during the Vietnam War, when critics lit the stars and stripes on fire at anti-war protests in the 1960s. In 1968, Congress passed the Federal Flag Desecration Law, which prohibited anyone from “knowingly mutilat[ing], defac[ing], physically defil[ing], burn[ing], maintain[ing] on the floor or ground, or trampl[ing] upon any flag.”

The U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue in 1989, after Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag outside of the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, and was sentenced to a year in prison — just as Trump proposed in his early morning tweet. Johnson defended his act as “symbolic speech,” protected under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and of the right to petition the government “for a redress of grievances.” Johnson won. Burning the flag, according to the Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling in Texas v. Johnson, is protected speech.

In the, Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged his distaste for the act of flag burning, even as he upheld the right to carry it out.

“The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. […] Our colleagues in dissent [remind] us that among those who will be dismayed by our holding will be some who have had the singular honor of carrying the flag in battle.”

“With all respect to those views,” Kennedy wrote, “[…] symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”

The import of the President-Elect’s tweet has less to do with the specific act he referenced — with the right to burn the flag — than it does with his belief in the right of the people to free speech, in the right to dissent without consequences. In her classic work, The Origins of Totalitiarianism, Hannah Arendt posits that ideology is the intellectual manifestation of terrorism — ideology extinguishes the legitimacy of those who hold different or critical beliefs. A primary difference between democracy and totalitarianism is each regime’s attitude toward dissent: democracy recognizes that is strengthened by dissent — by the freedom to express dissent. In contrast, totalitarianism, Arendt’s word for the authoritarian rule of government such as those of Hitler and Stalin, has no room for dissent — in fact, it fears it.

This week’s tweet is certainly not the first illiberal thing the President-Elect has done or threatened since November 8 — making a show of dropping the threat of a jail sentence against his political opponent (such a prosecution would be outside the purview of the president anyway), maintaining an active role in advancing his foreign business interests while President-Elect, and keeping his children as advisors (which, when he takes office, will be against the law) come to mind — and it will likely not be his last. But because it quietly threatens the soft core of American values — the first freedom protected in our Bill of Rights, and the very right intellectuals, scholars, and journalists will need most to call attention to illiberal acts in the years to come — it is among the most insidious.

It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt. It is also poignant but fundamental that the government — the Constitution and the man who, on January 19, will swear to uphold it — protect those who hold it in contempt. We can only hope the President-Elect will do so, in the White House if not on Twitter.

Peggy O’Donnell is a historian of modern European history, genocide, and human rights. She recently received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and teaches college history in New York. (Her opinions do not reflect the views of her employer.) More information can be found at her website, Peggy tweets at @theAccidentalAc.


Trump’s viral hate and cultures of violence

By Shikha Silliman Bhattacharjee

Less than 48 hours since Donald Trump’s victory, police reports of attacks on Muslim women have begun and social media reports violence, racism, and harassment of people of color. Even before he takes office, Trump’s election is emboldening episodes of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia that have been the hallmarks of the Trump campaign.

Put another way, we have circulated Trump’s violent, discriminatory rhetoric to the point that it has become ordinary rather than exceptional.

Why? We are witnessing the strange fruits of Trump’s violent vitriol, projected as meta-law through unprecedented media circulation and authority conferred by his election to office. If by “law” we refer to the system of rules that America recognizes as regulating the actions of its members, enforced by imposition of penalties—here, meta-law refers to Donald Trump’s normalization of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia and authorization of vigilantism.

As once explained by Lawrence Liang, the real media innovation we are seeing today is the viral circulation of the micro image—in this case, the micro image of Donald Trump. Through viral circulation, Trump’s public displays of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia exit the realm of the outrageous and enter the world of the banal. Put another way, we have circulated Trump’s violent, discriminatory rhetoric to the point that it has become ordinary rather than exceptional.

Trump’s command of the airwaves has left us with a terrifying brand: unmasked white supremacy, misogyny and able-bodied supremacy, charged with a call to vigilante action. For many, Trump’s election has given license and impunity to discrimination and violence. Trump’s election confers vicarious authority and legitimacy upon his public displays of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and homophobia. It is not surprising that within hours, we began to see this violence cross from rhetoric to action.

I do believe that not everyone who voted for Trump endorses the hideous brand of white supremacy, misogyny and able-bodied supremacy he has trumpeted, across the country and the airwaves, as he blazed a trail of destruction to the White House. However, every vote for Trump has functioned to legitimize and authorize discrimination and violence.