I am an assistant professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the New College at Arizona State University. Through my scholarship and work with organizations, I seek to make the innovative policy work led by organizations at the state and local levels more visible and centered in scholarly and popular understandings of American political development, immigration and racial justice. I work closely with today's leading immigrant rights organizations like the California Immigrant Policy Center and New York Immigrant Coalition, helping them strategically build state-wide capacity and design policy blueprints that expand the rights of undocumented immigrants.
As a scholar, I cross disciplinary boundaries to explain how American political institutions and social movements operate and intersect in a federated context. The two most important contributions my scholarship makes are: 1) establishing a new understanding of the origin and development of rights and American citizenship by accounting for the role of state and local activism and policy; 2) challenging racializing and dehumanizing notions that shape our popular debates, particularly that of the "illegal" immigrant, by connecting America's different periods of resistance to unjust federal laws and enforcement regimes through sanctuary.
My co-authored book, "Citizenship Reimagined: A New Framework for State Rights in the United States," comes out shortly with Cambridge University Press (on October 22, 2020). The notion of citizenship as the monopoly of national governments, and deriving exclusively from legal status, does not match the reality of how citizenship rights operate today. We show that “state citizenship” in the United States makes sense in a federalist framework, operating as a parallel concept to national citizenship. It does not refer to state secession by another name, nor is it meant to highlight states’ rights as in the context of the American Civil War. We argue that federalism has lasting consequences for citizenship, which we define quite simply as the provision of rights by a political jurisdiction to its members. Through our rights-based multi-dimensional and federated conceptual framework, Citizenship Reimagined traces and explains three types of state citizenship that have developed throughout American history: regressive state citizenship, where states erode rights that granted to individuals at the federal level; reinforcing state citizenship, where states enforce federal limitations on rights to particular types of individuals; and progressive state citizenship, where states exceed the rights granted to particular types of individuals at the federal level.
Receiving Russell Sage Foundation’s Presidential Award for 2018-2021, I am currently completing my single-authored book manuscript, "Today’s Runaway Slaves: Unauthorized Immigrants in a Federalist Framework." With a decade of archival, legal and secondary research, this project provides the most comprehensive dataset to date tracking sanctuary policies throughout American history. The book is featured in my recent TEDxASUWest Talk, We Have Been Here Before. I argue that federated political institutions (constitutions, courts, parties) and social movements intersect to create periods of resistance against unjust federal laws that racialize and dehumanize Blacks and immigrants as "illegal." A core argument I make is that, more important than creating a resistance to federal law, sanctuary humanizes Blacks and immigrants as members of our community and as deserving of rights. I show in the book how sanctuary both transform(ed) and protect(ed) Black and immigrant rights at the state and local levels and in the absence of federal rights. I also combine process tracing, comparative and time series analysis to identify and explain the factors essential to the timing, sequencing and spread of sanctuary laws in three separate periods of American history: runaway slaves (1780-1860), Central American asylum seekers (1980-1996) and undocumented immigrants (1997-2020).
In addition to my two books, I have a chapter on California's leadership in immigration policy in the forthcoming edited volume Immigrant California: Understanding the Past, Present, and Future of U.S. Policy, and I have published in New Political Science, Fordham Urban Law Review, Policy Matters, and in popular sources like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
Outside the academy, I am an ultra trail distance runner. I completed the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Old Goat 50 Miler and the San Diego 50 Miler. My lovely wife, Shima Kalaei, is a practicing attorney. We have two beautiful kids. Maya is 4 years old, and Kilian is our newest member at just 4 months old.