Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen
Columnist, Global Justice
New York, NY

Michelle Chen is Colorlines' Global Justice columnist. She is a regular contributor on labor issues at In These Times, as well as a member of the magazine's Board of Editors. Michelle's reporting has appeared in Ms. Magazine, AirAmerica, Alternet, Newsday, the Progressive Media Project, and her old zine, cain. Prior to joining Colorlines, she wrote for the independent news collective The NewStandard. A native New Yorker, she has also conducted ethnographic research as a Fulbright fellow in Shanghai and checked coats at a West Village jazz club. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the City University of New York and co-producing the community radio program Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica's WBAI.

Follow Michelle at @meeshellchen.

On their Own: Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth

by Michelle Chen on August 13 2009, 10:59PM

When 14 year-old Alfredo Lopez Sanchez arrived in Florida from Guatemala in 2001, he put an end to years of brutal abuse at home. But America was no safe harbor. Traumatized and hindered by a language barrier (he spoke…

Topics: Immigration

White Woman’s Burden in Afghanistan?

by Michelle Chen on August 13 2009, 6:07PM

Right now, two women in Afghanistan are running for president. That’s two more female candidates than America’s political mainstream could claim last Fall. But these ladies are up against some horrific odds: in seeking public office, they expose themselves…

Topics: Global Affairs

Time’s Up: Activists Step Up Pressure on Immigration Reform

by Michelle Chen on August 13 2009, 9:30AM

President Obama’s announcement this week that immigration reform would be put on the back burner was met with disappointment tempered by cynicism. The hope that Obama’s election kindled has flickered over the past few months as the White House…

Topics: Immigration

An Overdue Gesture: Birmingham Protesters Pardoned

by Michelle Chen on August 12 2009, 4:59PM

It’s about time. The Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama seeks to put a small stitch in wounds left over from the Civil Rights Movement, by issuing a blanket pardon to activists arrested during demonstrations, sit-ins and marches of the era….

Topics: History, Politics

Out of Wedlock: Queerness, Color and the Politics of Marriage

by Michelle Chen on August 11 2009, 11:47PM

When Washington declared war on “welfare as we know it” in the 1990s, it also embarked on a battle to save an age-old institution. Lawmakers coupled efforts to shrink public assistance with a campaign to promote marriage, in hopes…


School of Hard Knocks: Violent Discipline and Marginalized Youth

by Michelle Chen on August 11 2009, 5:59PM

Punishment is generally supposed to correct bad behavior. So it’s curious, then, that so many kids subjected to the harshest forms of discipline are dealing with problems they have no control over. And often, children targeted for violent punishment…


“All Races Had Injuries”: Riot at Chino

by Michelle Chen on August 10 2009, 11:04PM

The explosion of violence at the California Institution for Men in Chino was an almost too-perfect snapshot of the crisis engulfing California’s prisons. By Sunday morning, hours of rioting had left dozens hospitalized and much of the facility in…

Topics: Criminal Justice

From Brooklyn to the ‘Burbs, Deconstructing Housing Segregation

by Michelle Chen on August 10 2009, 8:03PM

Just beyond the city limits, New York’s cultural pastiche ebbs into a blanket of white suburbia. But a court settlement in a fair housing lawsuit could change the complexion of the five boroughs’ neighbor to the north, Westchester County….


An Early Start for Children of Immigrants

by Michelle Chen on August 7 2009, 10:51PM

The Obama administration wants to ramp up early childhood education, as part of its effort to narrow achievement gaps later in life. But universal preschool may not mean universal access for immigrant families. In an exploratory study, the Urban…

Topics: Immigration, Schools & Youth

More on Unemployment: Discouraging News

by Michelle Chen on August 7 2009, 7:50PM

As Jonathan Yee notes in his analysis of the latest employment figures, the kind-of-less bad jobless numbers are shadowed by record rates of long-term unemployment. Those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more has reached…

Topics: Economy

New Direction for Detention?

by Michelle Chen on August 6 2009, 11:55PM

As the Obama administration pledges to reform the federal government’s vast immigration detention system, advocates might see some hope in ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton’s acknowledgment that “We need a system that is open, transparent and accountable.” But one…

Topics: Immigration

Reading Race in the Death Penalty

by Michelle Chen on August 6 2009, 8:56PM

The power of racial bias has long loomed over the death penalty, yet has seldom been directly confronted in the courts. But in North Carolina, a race analysis of capital punishment is now being written into law. The passage…

Topics: Criminal Justice

Overdue Process: Detained Immigrants Wait Indefinitely for Justice

by Michelle Chen on August 5 2009, 10:24PM

For thousands of immigrants in federal custody, the price of resisting deportation is indefinite incarceration, with no opportunity even to challenge their detention in court. That’s what the ACLU is arguing in a class action lawsuit filed in a…


Crunch Time for California’s Prisons

by Michelle Chen on August 5 2009, 5:35PM

Capping several years of litigation, a federal court on Tuesday ordered California to reduce its prison population by 43,000 inmates within two years, giving the state 45 days to produce a plan to comply with constitutional standards. The ruling…

Topics: Criminal Justice

Do Unto Others: the Moral Slope of Hate Crimes Laws

by Michelle Chen on August 4 2009, 10:07PM

Sometimes, it just feels good to punish someone. That emotional impetus has colored our criminal justice system, and some of the clearest examples are laws that enhance penalties for crimes deemed especially heinous. But the eye-for-an-eye mentality can also…

Topics: Criminal Justice, Politics

Coal Ash Puts Southern Communities Between a Dump and a Hard Place

by Michelle Chen on August 4 2009, 5:15PM

In the Black Belt, one county’s trash is another county’s goldmine. Since a wave of hazardous coal ash washed across a vast stretch of Eastern Tennesee last year, destroying neighborhoods and driving pollution into the Emory River, the Tennessee…

Topics: Environment

Soft Bigotry, 2.0: Schooling Black Kids

by Michelle Chen on August 3 2009, 9:14PM

Why can’t we just get Black kids to recognize the value of an education? At the Root, Cord Jefferson argues that the answer to racial disparities in academic performance is creating “a new way to sell education to young,…

Topics: Schools & Youth

Sizing Up the Surgeon General: Unequal Scales in Health and Racial Privilege

by Michelle Chen on August 3 2009, 4:08PM

The public reaction to Obama’s choice for surgeon general reveals how race and lopsided moralism are insinuating themselves into the health care debate. Many heralded Dr. Regina Benjamin’s nomination as a breakthrough. Her background as an advocate for underserved…

Topics: Health

A Chance to Rework Welfare-to-work

by Michelle Chen on July 31 2009, 11:05PM

A few months ago, we looked at the recession as a potential wake-up call for the political forces that brought us welfare reform during the Clinton Era. Now that epidemic levels of joblessness and homelessness are creeping into the…

Topics: Economy, Politics

New York City Makes the Homeless Disappear

by Michelle Chen on July 31 2009, 5:42PM

New York City has gotten quite a bit of press lately over its program to offer homeless people a “one-way ticket” to a destination of their choice—supposedly a voluntary alternative to staying in the city and using public services….