Stretch of road in Southwest Alaska village falls into the sea


Port Heiden’s road to the safe harbor and old village was closed in November due to erosion. Photo taken Nov. 22, 2017. (Chasen Cunitz via KDLG)


Port Heiden on the Alaska Peninsula is losing shoreline quickly. Wind and waves have pushed the coast inland by an average of about 30 feet this year. Areas along the road from Port Heiden to the safe harbor and old village site lost roughly 17 feet in November. At the end of the month, the village closed the road because it is no longer safe to drive.

A crucial section of that road winds along a 12-foot bluff above the beach. It is a crust of dry land hemmed in by the bluff edge on one side and Goldfish Lake on the other.

“The road is basically gone. (Erosion)’s cut right half into the road,” said Scott Anderson, the Native Village pf Port Heiden’s tribal environmental director.

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Higher Ground: Protecting Human Rights as the Climate Crisis Forces Coastal Retreat

Human rights are the moral fibers woven throughout humanity and remind us that we each deserve to live lives of dignity. The right to be free from hunger, the right to housing, the right to safe drinking water, and the right to an adequate standard of living constitute the foundation upon which freedom, justice, and peace can flourish.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, is the seminal document that articulates these inalienable rights to which all human beings are entitled. Since 1948, numerous international documents affirm the importance of human rights, including the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Governments do not bestow these rights upon us, but governments are required to promote, protect, and fulfill the human rights principles articulated in these documents. When human rights are violated, a tear occurs in our human tapestry and we must act to ensure that the violation stops and that rights are once again protected.


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Immigration Attorneys Warn Against Using The Term “Climate Refugee”


People walk among debris on the seashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, September 21, 2017. 


With so much destruction from this season’s hurricanes in the Caribbean, there are going to be a lot of people on the move — looking to start their lives in new places. We’ve already seen mass movements of people from areas plagued by drought, floods or storms. Many casually refer to these people as “climate refugees.”


But the problem with the term climate refugee starts with the word “refugee.”


“The term refugee has some very serious legal consequences, and it’s a very rigid legal definition. It’s usually an individual determination based on a person’s fear of persecution,” explains Mara Kimmel, an immigration attorney in Anchorage, Alaska.


The legal definition of refugee goes back to the years following World War II when the United Nations defined a refugee as an individual outside of his or her own country, someone who can’t return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.


“I don’t think that’s necessarily translatable to a situation where whole communities are being forced to flee and to relocate because of climate change,” says Kimmel.


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We Will Protect The Human Rights Of ‘Dreamers’

Ana Lavagnino, center, who said she is a daughter of an immigrant, shows her support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) during a rally in Anchorage on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in the wake of President Trump’s announcement to end protection for hundreds of thousands of “dreamers,” children who were brought to the U.S. and have been living here illegally. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)


President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the program for immigrant youth is devastating for Alaskans.
I work as the executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice. We are the only nonprofit in Alaska dedicated to protecting the human rights of all Alaskans that provides free and low-cost immigration legal services.

Since President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, our office has represented dozens of young people seeking the basic documents that allow them to come out of the shadows of our community.  DACA allowed these youth to acquire temporary permission to be in the United States.

With this immigration process they could, for the first time, get authorization to work, Social Security numbers and drivers licenses. Some are parents, grandchildren, and siblings of United States citizens.

They came to the United States from Israel, Russia, Samoa, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. They are university students, business owners, disabled, hard workers and just wanting the opportunity to pursue their future dreams. They are us.

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Many Native Communities Are Being Forced to Relocate Due to Climate Change

Globally, the twenty-first century has seen 16 of the hottest 17 years on record. In the Pacific Northwest, average air temperatures, which rose only 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit between 1895 and 2014, are expected to increase another 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Heavy rainfall events have increased in frequency, snowfall has decreased, and glaciers have pulled back, retreating deep into Washington’s mountains. The Anderson Glacier, for example, which historically fed the Quinault River, shrank by 90 percent between 1927 and 2009. And as overall precipitation decreases and glaciers shrink, stream flows are also declining.

“One of the critical components to creating this relocation institutional framework is to design a community-based monitoring and assessment tool with state and federal government agencies,” Bronen says.

Such a tool would help ensure that, before disaster strikes, people are able to determine whether relocation is necessary, and when. Bronen expects the model will be replicable in service of communities across the world. That’s a tall order. “We are creating something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, so it’s just really hard,” she says.

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The Alaskan village of Kivalina (image: Shorezone/Flickr)


Displaced By Climate Change – June 6th at Williwaw

Tuesday, June 6th
6:00 p.m. (doors open at 5:30)
Williwaw, 601 F Street, Anchorage
No entry fee, open to the public

Join the Alaska Institute for Justice Research and Policy Institute in welcoming guest speakers Salote Soqo and Patricia Cochran as they address their experiences on the “front lines” of environmental justice and climate action in the South Pacific and Alaska.

Salote Soqo is Senior Program Leader of Environmental Justice & Climate Action with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) focused on advancing and protecting the rights of peoples displaced by climate change. Salote is a native of Fiji, an island in the South Pacific that is experiencing forced displacement of coastal and rural communities as a result of rising seas, natural disasters and increased temperatures. Her program focuses on lifting the voices of communities that are most at risk to this issue by providing them with resources and tools to empower and protect communities and to defend their inalienable human rights and human dignities. UUSC’s program targets to serve indigenous communities in the South Pacific and in Alaska. Salote emphasizes the urgency of this crisis, “These are indigenous communities and what they are experiencing is directly impinging on their basic human rights and their values as indigenous people. Governments must urgently respond to this crisis to protect the rights and dignities of their communities.”

Patricia Cochran is an Inupiat Eskimo born and raised in Nome, Alaska. She serves as Executive Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission (ANSC), a public, not-for-profit corporation. The ANSC provides a linkage for creating partnerships and communication between science and research and Alaska Native communities. Ms. Cochran previously served as Administrator of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage; Executive Director of the Alaska Community Development Corporation; Local Government Program Director with the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and Director of Employment and Training for the North Pacific Rim Native Corporation (Chugachmiut). She also served as Chair of the 2009 Indigenous Peoples’ Global Network on Climate Change and former Chaire of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, an international organization representing 155,000 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Greenland.

Alaska is at the forefront of one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of the 21st century. As the Arctic disproportionately bears the consequences of a rapidly changing climate, Alaska Native communities are facing an urgent need to relocate. Join us to discuss this critical issue!

Displaced By Climate Change Flyer June 6

Facebook event page is at:

Carla Timpone Award for Activism Awarded to Kari Robinson

Congratulations to Kari Robinson, AIJ Deputy Director, for garnering the 2017 Carla Timpone Award for Activism. The award, from the Alaska Women’s Lobby, honors hard work, dedication, and leadership in Juneau. Thank you, Kari, for your advocacy and work on behalf of Alaskan women, children and families!

More info at:

Stand Up for Refugees, Immigrants

Author: Robin Bronen

President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive orders exploded like a bomb across the world, wreaking havoc, causing injury and placing thousands of people in danger. Sadly, this targeting of immigrants, refugees and Muslims, which inspires hateful words and actions, is not new.

I have worked with Alaska’s immigrant, refugee and Muslim communities for more than 20 years as the first Alaska state refugee coordinator in 2003 and as the executive director and co-founder of the Alaska Institute for Justice, the only nonprofit in Alaska that provides free and low-cost immigration legal services. Advocating for justice and human rights in our community, I have been the recipient of hateful rhetoric, which has been painful and scary. Several years ago, I received a death threat just prior to speaking about comprehensive immigration reform at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council, requiring the FBI and Anchorage Police Department to also be present to ensure everyone’s safety. Now this hateful rhetoric has intensified inside and outside of Alaska.

The policies being crafted by President Trump are being built on top of a long legacy of federal government actions that have harmed immigrants, refugees and Muslims. In 2002, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was implemented during President Bush’s presidency to use immigration enforcement to target the Muslim community. NSEERS singled out immigrant men and boys over the age of 16 from 24 Muslim-majority countries plus North Korea. They were required to register with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) offices, the predecessor agency to the Department of Homeland Security. Immigration officials fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed 85,000 Muslim and Arab non-citizens from November 2002 to May 2003 under the program. In Southern California, between 500 and 700 men and boys from Middle Eastern countries were detained and disappeared for weeks by federal immigration officials when they complied with orders to appear at INS offices for the program.

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Robin Bronen is the founder and executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice, which provides free and low-cost legal services for immigrants. She has worked and advocated on behalf of refugees, immigrants and the Muslim community in Alaska for more than 20 years.


Fleeing Climate Change

November 8, 2016 | Editor’s Pick

By Liz Mineo, Harvard Staff Writer
In one of the most dreaded science-fiction scenarios, entire communities are forced to abandon their homes because rising sea levels, droughts, and storm surges, driven by climate change, endanger their lives. It’s already happening in Alaska, where warmer temperatures are melting permafrost, eroding the state’s northern coastline and causing severe and rapid loss of Arctic sea ice, which leaves villages unprotected from forces of nature. To explore climate change and population displacement in Alaska, the Gazette interviewed Robin Bronen, a human rights attorney, senior research scientist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and co-founder and executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice. Bronen came to Harvard for a conference on climate change displacement sponsored by the International Human Rights Clinic, the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic.   To see full article go to



Statement from the American Immigration Council on the End of NSEERS

For Immediate Release

December 22, 2016

Washington D.C. – Today, the Department of Homeland Security officially ended a Bush-era registry created after 9/11 to track noncitizen men from predominantly Muslim countries. The registry, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), was shown to be ineffective and had not been used for years.  Nonetheless, the NSEERS structure remained intact. NSEERS will be dismantled through a published regulation in the Federal Register called a final rule. Ending NSEERS cannot prevent the Trump Administration from following through on its threats to create a religious registry; however, it does stop the next Administration from using the NSEERS framework without publishing a new regulation.

The following is a quote from Royce Murray, Policy Director at the American Immigration Council:

“Painting entire communities with a broad brush of suspicion is wholly inconsistent with our nation’s values. While we can all agree that national security must be a priority, the NSEERS registration program was widely regarded as an ineffective and obsolete counterterrorism tool. The next administration should not repeat the mistakes of the past and institute any discriminatory registry.”


For more information, contact Wendy Feliz at or 202-507-7524.