By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications
UCLA International Institute, June 14, 2021 — Catherine Crooke, a doctoral student in sociology who works closely with the UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration, recently received three separate awards for a research paper, together with a prestigious Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship.
Crooke’s paper, “The Temporal Tensions of Asylum Lawyering,” won the American Sociology Association Student Forum Paper Award, the Law & Social Inquiry Graduate Student Paper Award and the Association for the Study of Nationalities Doctoral Student Paper Award. All of the awards include a cash honorarium, and the Law & Social Inquiry journal will publish her research.
The paper, and Crooke’s research in general, focuses on the experiences of immigration lawyers who provide free legal assistance to people seeking asylum in the United States. Both are rooted in ethnographic fieldwork she began in early 2020 as a volunteer at a Los Angeles–based legal aid organization.
“My ongoing fieldwork enables me to witness up close how asylum lawyers assist their clients to navigate the U.S. immigration system,” she relates. “The first year of my fieldwork occurred during the Trump Administration, which exposed me to the extreme pressures progressive lawyers face under adverse political conditions.
“Time is a valuable resource within the immigration law context and exposes how the state weaponizes time against people seeking protection.
“[The paper] finds that asylum lawyers must significantly reorient their work towards procedural matters related to time to insulate their clients from harm… The state's manipulation of time often pushes them to reconfigure their priorities and redefine their professional objectives.”
From law school to a Ph.D. program and a community of migration scholars
Crooke joined the doctoral program in sociology at UCLA in fall 2019 after completing a J.D. at Yale University and taking the New York State bar exam. Her law degree was preceded by a B.A. in comparative literature at Columbia, an M.Sc. in migration studies at Oxford and a few years of work at the International Refugee Assistance Project in New York.
“I’d considered pursuing a Ph.D. since college, but put it off because I felt torn between academia and a more practice-oriented career path — and because I felt too intimidated to apply!” says Crooke, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York.
“I mentioned my Ph.D. dreams to my undergraduate professors, but never got much signal back, so I thought I wasn’t Ph.D. material. After a few years working in the nonprofit sector after college, I felt pulled to return to academia. But I still felt intimidated by the Ph.D. route and unsure about what discipline to choose — so I opted for law school instead.”
It wasn’t until she met Professor Monica Bell, a sociologist who teaches at Yale Law, that Crooke found a mentor who understood her research interests and recommended that she apply to Ph.D. programs in sociology.
“It hit me like a revelation after years of not knowing where I fit in,” remarks Crooke. “My goal in pursuing the Ph.D. in sociology is to obtain concrete analytical skills that will enable me to examine and write about the law more rigorously.”
The interdisciplinary Center for the Study of International Migration (CSIM) has become a major part of her intellectual life at UCLA, providing intellectual stimulation and support, a stipend, and interaction with graduate students and senior scholars.
“I heard incredible things about CSIM from UCLA graduate students before I’d even officially applied to the sociology program — and they did not oversell it!”
Two of Crooke’s mentors in the sociology department, Professors Cecilia Menjívar and Roger Waldinger, are actively involved in the center (Waldinger is the director). “It is such a pleasure working with Roger and Cecilia — truly one of the highlights of my Ph.D. experience so far!” she says.
“In my opinion, having a rich community of scholars working on adjacent issues is one of the most valuable assets for a graduate student,” she shares. “It makes graduate school much less lonely — it’s affirming to be in dialogue with people who relate directly to what you want to achieve with your work.
“The center gives me oxygen: I get exposure to other perspectives, approaches, methods, geographic focuses and modes of thinking. It’s an incredibly energizing space (even when the space is virtual).”
The CSIM graduate working paper group, of which she is a member, discussed Crooke’s paper in winter quarter 2021. “It’s invaluable to have a diverse set of participants in the working paper series who can engage with your project, help you imagine it in new ways and realize the best version of it,” she says.
Moving fully into doctoral research
Having completed her M.A., Crooke is now focused on her ongoing ethnographic fieldwork. “I hope to explore more broadly how asylum lawyers adapt their practices to account for new state tactics of migration control, including not only temporal tactics (e.g., expedited removal and other accelerated procedures), but also spatial tactics (e.g., extraterritorial border control measures),” she explains.
The Ford Foundation fellowship will alleviate considerable financial pressure on Crooke to teach while she does her fieldwork. Equally important, she says, “it will enable me to build relationships with other scholars who care about promoting access, equity and racial justice in academia.
“Along my journey to UCLA, I benefited from an enormous amount of privilege based on the schools I attended, the support I received from family and other aspects of my identity and experience. All of that notwithstanding, I still confronted barriers when I sought to pursue an academic career,” she reflects.
“Mentorship matters so much for students of color and first-generation students — and it matters to have people who share your life experience walking ahead of you, who can show you the way and affirm that you belong. The fellowship will connect me with other scholars who take that seriously and want to invest themselves in improving how we teach and inspire students.”