ASU alumna amplifies local efforts to make national impact

By

Alisa Reznick

Immigration policy is at the forefront of national news today. For Arizona State University alumna Susie Haslett, a childhood in Arizona provided an early look at the impact it can have firsthand.

“I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and grew up in Chandler, Arizona — throughout my life, thinking and talking about immigration was just very commonplace because we had family members coming to visit from Mexico, or friends who’d found very limited opportunities there and decided to come north,” she said. “My own mom became the target of immigration crackdowns in the 1990s during the Chandler roundup, so who I am today is very much a product of growing up in Arizona.” 

As a student, Haslett sought to make sense of those experiences by studying the immigration history that shaped the region. She graduated in 2011 with concurrent bachelor’s degrees in political science and transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies from The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesSchool of Politics and Global Studies and School of Transborder Studies.

Haslett continued to engage in community activism and policy work as a professional. She worked as a field organizer for former President Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign in Nevada after graduation, then returned to Arizona to organize with local groups focused on immigration policy reform.  

Now, she’s helping local aid networks around the country as a policy training director at Washington, D.C.-based FWD.us.

She answered questions about the work she does today, her time at ASU and how local efforts can have a national impact. 

Question: Can you talk about FWD.us and what you do there?

Answer: We are a bipartisan nonprofit organization that works on both immigration and criminal justice reform. I am on the immigration side working on policy training both within our organization and with local organizations across the country. Basically, we facilitate a series of trainings to help them create a roadmap for digital organizing they can then use in their own community efforts. I’ve worked with groups in Texas, Nevada, Georgia, Wisconsin, New York and Florida. 

I also aid in providing critical resources to immigrant advocacy and aid groups during a particularly challenging time for that work. Sometimes, that means serving as a communication aid to amplify local efforts or helping to respond to emergency situations.

For example, over the last year, migrants mainly from Central America have come to the border seeking asylum. I was in Arizona helping a network of local organizations book flights for families trying to reach their next destination as they awaited asylum hearings. 

Q: Your work has brought you back to Phoenix and other parts of Arizona in the last few years. What was it like returning to your home state in that context? 

A: Many of my own family members have been impacted by immigration policies in Arizona in the past. Those experiences informed the work I ended up doing years later fighting SB 1070, and it also catapulted my own political involvement in immigration issues. So being able to come back to Phoenix during a moment like the one in 2018, with family reunifications that resulted from the federal government’s zero tolerance policy, was something I was particularly proud of.

Community strength in Arizona also really shines through. Particularly in a state that has seen very unwelcoming policies in the past, there’s a sense of people fighting back.

Q: Your work has often required you to bounce between local and national policy worlds. Do you think your degrees helped prepare you to navigate that?

A: Totally. My degrees offered a unique lens to view not only immigration and global politics in theory, but also see how they work in real time. I’ve continued to use that lens in the work I do today. Being able to tailor my studies as a double major was also really crucial to my future. I was able to take what I learned in the School of Politics and Global Studies and apply it to what I was doing in the School of Transborder Studies.

Q: What were some of the most important things you took away from your time at The College?

A: A lot of faculty — particularly those in the School of Transborder Studies — really made me feel like I’d found my place and academic home in a very large university. I think I’ll always be indebted to them for that. 

One of the best things about The College is that it’s just very interdisciplinary in nature. You can take a course in justice studies right alongside those for your major and still be able to put it into context. That interdisciplinary approach has given a broad foundation for understanding the larger dynamics of migration, not just on a national level, but on a hemispheric one.

My courses helped me move beyond the history of this region on paper and understand how people really interact with their space and their communities. Being able to break down unique nuances between each of the dozens of countries in Latin America and how they inform current immigration dynamics is really important, especially since the topic is at the forefront of people’s minds today.

Q: What advice do you have for students currently going through programs at The College? 

A: There are so many younger people who want to make a difference. I think people should know the importance of making a difference in their own communities and recognizing that those efforts fit into addressing the larger, ongoing questions about immigration, identity, wealth inequality and justice that we as a country continue to grapple with.