Q&A: Moises Mendoza, MIA ’16, pursues project on statelessness

Moises Mendoza MIA ’16

Moises Mendoza (MIA ’16) sat down with SIPA News to discuss the limbo facing stateless people in the United States, the upcoming launch of his new multimedia project on statelessness (including the website Stateless Voices), and his transition from a career in journalism to a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

What did you do before coming to SIPA? What are you hoping to get out of your time here? Before I came to SIPA I was a working journalist. I worked for two years at the Houston Chronicle in Texas and then I went abroad on a Fulbright to Germany. I started doing freelance work in Europe and decided I wanted to join the Foreign Service. So I’m here at SIPA making a career change to become a Foreign Service officer. I’m here on a Rangel Scholarship, so at the end of my two years I’ll be a Foreign Service officer.

My concentration is Human Rights [and Humanitarian Affairs] and I’m hoping to gain a deeper understanding of human rights issues involving things like statelessness and other similar issues. I hope when I’m with the State Department that I’ll work on things in that capacity. So this statelessness project I’m working on now is my last big journalism project before I make a career change.

How did your interest in statelessness develop? I’ve always been really interested in statelessness; specifically there was a story in 2012 that I worked on and wrote about that really interested me. There was a stateless man living in the United States and he took a vacation to American Samoa, the little territory in the South Pacific. Because of his stateless status, when he tried to return to the United States, the U.S. government said he had deported himself to American Samoa and he would be permanently stuck there.

So I wrote about him for Global Post, and it became a big deal. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and various other groups got involved and he was eventually allowed to come back to the United States on humanitarian parole. He was born in Azerbaijan and came to the U.S. in the 1990s. He applied for asylum but then his case was rejected and he became stuck here, which is what often happens with stateless people. Again, it’s complicated—but basically U.S. immigration law does not recognize statelessness as a concept and so if you come here and your asylum case is rejected and the U.S. government doesn’t have anywhere to deport you to, then you are permanently stuck here and weird things can happen.

Read the rest of the interview here.