That’s it until July 22. I won’t be in my office for more than two months, unless I’ve forgotten something.

I won’t be around to see the little orchid in my office bloom, as it’s about to do.

I’m off to Medellín tomorrow morning for an academic conference about migration. I return Saturday. And on Monday, my two-month sabbatical begins.

WOLA gives us a sabbatical every five years: a time to reflect and work on other projects. My last one was in the fall of 2015. Between the pandemic and my procrastination on the “sabbatical proposal,” it’s taken me eight and a half years to start a new one.

I’m lucky to have it. This is a much different period of my life than last time.

  • Last time, I’d been doing this work for 20 years and was solidly mid-career; now, I’m entering my mid-50s and thinking about what may be my final 20 (25? 30?) years of doing this work.
  • Last time, I was raising a 6th grader; now, she has just finished sophomore year of college.
  • Last time, I did not travel. This time, I’m going to be in Medellín now, Bogotá in June, and El Paso for three weeks in June and July. The first two are conferences. The border visit is just me hanging out.

My work plan for 2024 called for focusing on communications. (How could it be otherwise: I work on borders and migration during the 2024 election year. There’s a lot to communicate.) If you follow this site, you’ve seen that reflected in daily and weekly border updates, other written and quantitative work, lots of social media, and perhaps some regular-media appearances.

That work has been going well: I think it’s been the right strategic choice. But this late spring-early summer interlude is very welcome.

Lately, a typical week has included at least a dozen interviews, a few coalition meetings, a few internal meetings, and 20-25 email and text replies per day, on top of the writing and updates. Work that requires deeper thought has been falling behind.

So I’m ready to at least log out of WhatsApp and miss some of those meetings. The border updates will be infrequent, too, though I don’t plan to shut them down entirely. (I’m still reading the news.)

Now that there’s a chance, though, there’s a lot to think about.

  • Instead of “rapid response,” engaging in more “slow response”: taking the time to explain what a better security and border policy would look like. That means exploring both the “I have a magic wand” version and the “most we can do within existing law” versions. Of course, we already try to articulate that in a lot of our work at WOLA, but in my view it’s often rushed (tight word limits) or shoved into “recommendations” sections that hardly anyone reads. We’re not doing enough to paint a picture for people, whether of “selling a dream” or just “pursuing the least bad option.”
  • Preparing—both big-picture strategy and day-to-day survival tactics—for the strong possibility that Americans elect an administration that stands against most of what I care about, and that will seek to use its power against us.
  • Addressing an adverse funding environment for this work lately. I don’t cost much, but we need to keep the lights on. (This ties in with “paint a picture for people” above.)
  • Figuring out how to catch up, or abandon, parts of the work that are chronically behind.
  • Giving a hard look at the whole “border numbers and regular updates” approach that has characterized so much that I’ve posted on this site this year. It’s been regular, it opens the door to key audiences like reporters, legislative staff, and partner organizations. It’s certainly an example of “doing the work.” But is it creative? Is it helping those partners and audiences in the best way? I don’t intend to run a news aggregation service: is there a danger of falling into a rut?
  • Anticipating how this work will change because of climate change. I fear that this may be a historic summer for the planet, and it’s going to affect nearly everyone’s work. What we saw in Porto Alegre last week could just be a preview. And if I’m wrong, just wait until next summer.
  • Taking advantage of being in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez for a while without a fixed agenda. Mexico’s crackdown on migration can’t hold for too much longer, and things are already quite bad there. And the State of Texas is making the situation far worse.

In addition to all these things to think about, I’ve got projects that I’m eager to pursue, but haven’t had the time.

  • During my last sabbatical, I learned a lot of coding (PHP, MySQL, and the now-antiquated jQuery javascript framework) and built a personal research database, parts of which I still use every day. This time, I’ll be fixing some bugs and features there.
  • But I really want to build a new tool. This one will ease some of WOLA’s legislative work by keeping track of congressional offices and how we’ve worked with them. Years ago, I made a really primitive, bug-ridden version of that; I’ll be starting over from scratch and sharing it on GitHub as I go.
  • I also have a report on migration in Colombia that is nearly done: 16,000 words (which is too much), hundreds of footnotes. It needs some updating, and it will probably undergo a lot of internal edits and revisions before it goes public. It’s really good, though, and I look forward to releasing it.
  • I’m writing a chapter for a colleague’s book about drug policy. I’ve got the research in hand, so this won’t take too long.
  • I also want to get our “Border Oversight” database of CBP and Border Patrol human rights challenges back up to date.
  • I want to get my own archives and notes in order, with more of them visible to the public in a new subdomain at this site (something similar—though less ambitious—to those “digital gardens” that a few smart people have been creating). Keeping that together will ease my posting of more content at this site and elsewhere.
  • Here at this site, I hope to post more thoughts more often. My “sabbatical reflecting” will be much richer with a journal to record thoughts and observations. That would also help me to recall this period later, when I’m back in the day-to-day fray. (I didn’t do that during my last sabbatical, and my memories, sadly, are a blur.) This long-winded post is an effort to do that.

I know this is a lot. I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t do all of these things, and I certainly don’t want to finish the sabbatical more tired than I started it. But if I spend this time well, I’ll emerge able to contribute more, and more creatively, for many years.

Finally, all of this means that you should not take it personally if I don’t answer your email right away, or if I end up ghosting your WhatsApp message or missing your DM. This is why I’m in “slow response” mode, and I’ll be back soon enough.