Appointed As

Global Migration Center


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of California, Davis

PhD Field of Study

PhD Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Dissertation Abstract

"The Boundaries of Safety: The Sanctuary Movement in the Inland Empire”

The Trump administration for many represented drastic ideological shift in American values, and for others he embodied a social threat to their lives. In response, many cities, counties, states, and schools proclaimed themselves Sanctuaries to protect their undocumented immigrant community members. The term evokes images of churches operating as a place of refuge with impenetrable walls. The declaration of Sanctuary provided an illusion of boundaries and a sense of safety. This dissertation interrogates the meanings of sanctuary and how the Inland Empire in Southern California, implemented and created sanctuary. By analyzing the California Values Act and working alongside organizers in the Inland Empire, this research identifies barriers in developing sanctuary in this region. The epicenter of the research and sanctuary organizing is and was Adelanto Detention Facility, the largest for-profit facility on the west coast. Ultimately, the research affirms the need for an abolitionist sanctuary, a movement that is intersectional with Black Lives Matter, end of policing, and the abolition of all forms of incarceration. Without an intersectional movement, justice for immigrants is unattainable because of the immigration systems entanglement with other oppressive systems that marginalize a vast array of social communities in the US.
Building on the literature of migration studies, this research unveils the pervasiveness of the good and criminal immigrant binary in the California Values Act, the process of accessing citizenship while in detention, and even in pro-immigrant organizing. This binary is one of the key narratives that needs to be transformed in order to achieve justice for immigrants. This research builds on theoretical frameworks on citizenship and community-engaged research.
This dissertation answers the research question of the implementation and practice of sanctuary utilizing community-based research methods to investigate sanctuary in the Inland Empire. I worked alongside the leading grassroots organizations that developed, trained, and coordinated sanctuary practices for the region. Through participant-observation, interviews with activists and previously detained individuals, and community projects; I saw first-hand the barriers and resiliency of communities advocating for immigrant rights and walked alongside those directly impacted by detention. The culmination of these methods offered a deep analysis of the existing structures and personal experiences of sanctuary in the region.
From the engaged research, my research partners and I identified the need for the immigrant community to tell their personal stories of migration to challenge anti-immigrant narratives in the region. The project was designed to reinforce belonging and community. With research partners, we organized a 10-week art project with immigrant mothers in Pomona, where they were able to write poetry and make tin-art in developing and processing their stories of migration. This project was an example and practice in developing sanctuary. As the research found, sanctuary in practice, are the ways communities can come together to create spaces where people can be their whole selves.
In conclusion, this dissertation is a snapshot into a tenuous political moment for immigrants created by Trump administration. The research found that sanctuary is created by the grassroots community, and that the California Values Act is limited in its ability to create sanctuary for the vast and dynamic immigrant population living in California. Finally, the greatest barrier in achieving justice for immigrants is the “good vs criminal” binary that is pervasive in legislation and in local organizing. An abolitionist and intersectional social movement is the only resolution to transforming our communities to be comprehensively inclusive for all.