By Robert S. Benchley
Valerie King is quickly becoming one of the planet’s brightest thinkers in the field of “crimmigration”—a hot new area of study focusing on the criminalization of immigration.
“Migration is on the rise, and many governments are setting policies that criminalize migration, making various groups vulnerable to detention, imprisonment, and other types of harm,” King says. “Scholars around the world are trying to find the answers, and I hope to be one of them.”
A senior double majoring in honors sociology and global studies with a concentration in politics and economics, King is examining emerging theories of global immigration policies in her thesis.
“Countries are developing deterrent immigration policies, resulting in militarization and heightened security at their borders,” she says. “I am exploring the ways immigration control increasingly resembles crime control, and how the expansion of immigration detention relates to the global prison crisis and mass incarceration.”
King’s scholarly explorations have already garnered quite a bit of attention in the realm of social justice. A paper she wrote as a junior, “Constructing Victims in the International Criminal Court,” was accepted for presentation at two major conferences. At the American Society of Criminology annual meeting, she participated in a roundtable discussion, “International Courts, Prisons and Restorative Justice,” with other university students and faculty members with similar interests. She also received the Division on Critical Criminology Undergraduate Student Paper Award.
King came to her conclusions through a discourse analysis—examining how the ICC uses language and text—which had never been done before.
“I found that the ICC removes victims from participation through processes like determining who qualifies as a victim, and when and how they may participate in the proceedings,” she says. “When victims are excluded, they also become disempowered.”
But King also wants her academic efforts to be more than just an intellectual exercise. “I have to engage with the topic of my research, to be involved with it,” King explains. “But in doing research on social injustice, it is not enough to be engaged, because I wish to take part in ending the injustices that I study. My work requires me to confront the issues that I study and to do all that I can to create solutions.”
You don’t have to look far to find the inspiration for King’s structured style of thinking. Her father and older brother both hold mechanical engineering degrees from UT. Her passion for social justice, however, is greatly influenced by her mother and grandmother, who both “have a keenness for vulnerable people and for helping others,” King says.
Travel has been a large component of King’s thirst for knowledge. She spent a summer in China teaching English and a semester abroad in Switzerland. She interned at New York University, where she pored through English translations of Al-Quaeda texts, seeking linguistic clues to help explain why terrorist organizations harm Western civilians.
She is also the founder and president of the UT campus chapter of Oxfam America, a global organization that works to solve poverty, hunger, and injustice.
It’s all just the beginning of what she hopes will eventually lead to a career in academia or policy consulting. But first, King will continue her studies at the graduate level, taking the next steps on her path to transforming the world.