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NAME:
Claudia Smith
WHAT SHE DOES:
San Diego-based regional counsel for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a migrant rights group assisting documented and undocumented workers
BIGGEST TURNAROUND:
Convinced the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to reduce detention time for the undocumented and try to keep deported families together
FAVORITE TARGET:
The INS; employers who flout labor laws

“Nobody should be exploited.” That’s the bottom line for Claudia Smith, 46, whose job entails moving undocumented farmworkers through the courts, tracking down skinflint employers, and helping workers get medical help and such basic services as water and a bed to sleep on.

Currently, Smith monitors Operation Gatekeeper, the federal program that has beefed up border patrols using heat sensors and high metal fences.

“They’ve given all sorts of thought to high technology, but not to the people,” says Smith, who immigrated from Guatemala 30 years ago. Among the problems she’s found: immigrants detained for days with no water or food; rooms so overcrowded people stand for hours; routine beatings; family members separated and deported at different border crossings.

Last fall, Smith’s report on Gatekeeper’s abuses spurred the INS to make changes. But Smith wants more: She wants nutritional meals for the detainees, cells cleaned on a regular basis, and food stops for deportees traveling long distances. If the INS does not comply, she may file a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States.

Smith maintains that Gatekeeper, California’s Proposition 187, and the like won’t deter immigrants from coming across the border. “The magnet is not public services,” she says.

“People come for jobs. The only nondiscriminatory option is to enforce labor laws–[penalizing] employers who do illegal deductions, flout health and safety standards.” The perception that the undocumented strain the economy, she thinks, masks the real issues. “In terms of taxes immigrants pay through rent, and what they get in services, it’s close to a wash.”

And, she contends, “Anglos are traumatized by the browning of California. Anti-immigrant sentiment doesn’t stop with the undocumented.” Smith wants to make sure such sentiments have nowhere to thrive.

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Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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