Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Joel Sati immigrated to the United States at the age of nine. Early on, Joel's mother worked night and double shifts at a Kennesaw, Georgia gas station to make ends meet. In 2010, after moving to Maryland and as he was applying to colleges, Joel found out that he was undocumented. This meant that though he was accepted to four-year colleges, he had almost no financial aid options.
In January 2012, Joel's mother put money together and recommended that he attend Montgomery College. That summer, President Barack Obama issued Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provided critical protection from deportation for individuals like Joel. That summer, he also participated in activism surrounding Maryland’s DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities. In tandem, these policies allowed Joel to complete his associate’s degree. More importantly, his courses in philosophy provided the language and lens to understand law and immigration and what it means for laws and governments to call individuals “illegal” or “alien.”
Joel then continued his college education, activism, and research at the City College of New York (CCNY). While a student, Joel was a youth organizer for African Communities Together, where he mobilized African youth around immigration issues. He also codesigned and cotaught a black political thought course at CCNY that explored texts such as The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins, The Racial Contract by Charles Mills, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The course is now a permanent offering in CCNY’s Political Science Department.
As a PhD student in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program at UC Berkeley and a JD candidate at the Yale Law School, Joel’s work examines the intersections of law, epistemology, and philosophy as they relate to contemporary issues of noncitizenship and illegality. His work fleshes out a concept he titles “illegalization,” defined as the legal-institutional processes that continuously cast people as less-than-capable knowers in the law.