Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


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.

GREAT JOURNALISM, SLOW FUNDRAISING

Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

Yet, we just came up pretty short on our first big fundraising campaign since Mother Jones and the Center for Investigative Reporting joined forces.

So, two things:

1) If you value the journalism we do but haven’t pitched in over the last few months, please consider doing so now—we urgently need a lot of help to make up for lost ground.

2) If you’re not ready to donate but you’re interested enough in our work to be reading this, please consider signing up for our free Mother Jones Daily newsletter to get to know us and our reporting better. Maybe once you do, you’ll see it’s something worth supporting.

payment methods

GREAT JOURNALISM, SLOW FUNDRAISING

Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

Yet, we just came up pretty short on our first big fundraising campaign since Mother Jones and the Center for Investigative Reporting joined forces.

So, two things:

1) If you value the journalism we do but haven’t pitched in over the last few months, please consider doing so now—we urgently need a lot of help to make up for lost ground.

2) If you’re not ready to donate but you’re interested enough in our work to be reading this, please consider signing up for our free Mother Jones Daily newsletter to get to know us and our reporting better. Maybe once you do, you’ll see it’s something worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate