It's personal: ASU alumnus, scholar working to make UK immigration fair
Arizona State University alumnus Thom Brooks has garnered international acclaim for his work on ethics, public policy, law and politics. As an award-winning author, broadcaster and columnist, he focuses his research on immigration rights from firsthand experience.
“I want to improve the British immigration system; make it not only fit for purpose, but show the importance of allowing immigrant voices into shaping how the system works,” he said. “It’s easy to say as immigrants that we’ve come to the scene late. There’s lots of barriers to our voices being heard. There’s lots of excuses to not try, but waiting for someone else to do it is waiting for something to never happen.”
Brooks originally studied music and political science as an undergraduate in his home state of Connecticut. He decided to pursue a master’s degree in political science at ASU because of the university’s faculty and research focused on South Asian studies and political theory as well as a pleasant change of weather from his native Connecticut. Though he’d never visited Arizona before, Brooks said the university’s interesting research into those topics was what made ASU the best option for him.
After completing his doctorate in political science at the University of Sheffield, Brooks taught political and legal thought at Newcastle University. In 2012, he moved to the Durham University Law School, where he has served as the dean since 2016. As dean, he said a major goal of his is to expand Durham’s budding law school to be internationally on par in terms of size with other universities. Toward this goal, he works to attract world-class faculty to the department.
Having been in the UK since initially starting graduate studies at the University of Sheffield in 2001, Brooks went through the British nationalization process in order to become a citizen of the UK. It was his experience taking the citizenship test that led him to write a critical report of it.
“The test I took: Many of the correct answers were factually untrue,” he said. “You’re asked questions about the number of members in parliament, but they didn’t even give the actual answer as a choice. Discovering there were these factual errors on this immigration test – getting it right meant you could have all the rights of citizenship and getting it wrong could mean deportation — struck me as alarming.”
Brooks said the extent of the test’s inaccuracy was widely unknown and much of the exam did not test for information necessary to being a British citizen. In fact, he said many British citizens couldn’t have passed the test. His report of citizenship testing has been mentioned frequently in the UK media. It’s also been cited in The House of Lords, garnering a recommendation for Brooks to lead a revision of the test.
In addition to his academic work, Brooks is active in public engagement. He advises members of parliament and makes frequent media appearances on television. He also writes columns for many prominent newspapers in the UK such as Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Times and Sunday Express among many others.
He said his broadly focused education at ASU gave him the knowledge base to go on to further study.
“It gave me a robust background in political science that I think digs deeper than many other programs,” he said. “I really did have to know about the different subfields of political science to earn my degree. It was important that we all knew things about quantitative research, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences program and so on even if my particular [focus] was in political theory. At the time, things didn’t make as much sense to me as they did now. But now, looking back, it’s been enormously beneficial.”
Brooks was invited back to campus in April as part of the School of Politics and Global Studies Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series. He spoke about his work on the citizenship test and the future of immigration procedures. As this year’s distinguished alumnus, Brooks said he is very proud.
“I feel incredibly honored and really touched to have this bestowed on me,” he said. “It’s the best honor I’ve had in my career. I’ve done a lot of good things, but this really stands out as something special.”