Documenting Support for Human Rights on Both Sides of the California-Mexico Border with Archive-It

July 17th, 2023

by Diane Maher, Head of Archives, Special Collections, and Digital Initiatives at the Copley Library, University of San Diego

The creation of our two human rights web archive collections, Human Rights at the California-Mexico Border and the San Diego Refugee Collection began serendipitously in 2018 when our Processing Archivist noticed Archive-It’s “Pitch a Collection” contest. When considering what we would propose, we knew from the start that we wanted to preserve websites with ties to our local community—preferably ones that involved themes of social justice and especially ones that might easily disappear. Living in the border city of San Diego and working at the University of San Diego which includes The Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies and the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice’s Cross-Border Initiatives, we were mindful of border issues. We were aware of the plight of refugees. The University of San Diego is part of the Linda Vista neighborhood where many Vietnamese refugees settled after the Vietnam War. Indeed, the city of San Diego is known as “The Refugee Capital of the United States” due to its role as the entry point and often the ultimate destination for people fleeing armed conflicts from places as disparate as Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Once we made those decisions, our Processing Archivist pitched both ideas: a web collection that would preserve human rights websites focusing on the border with Baja California and another one that would document support for and settlement of refugees in San Diego County. Little did we imagine that both of our proposals would be accepted!

Screen shot of a woman holding a child in her arms in the middle of a crowd.

Screen shot of the Welcoming San Diego webpage collected on March 17, 2023.

The San Diego Refugee Collection was the first of our website proposals selected by Archive-It in October 2019. We envisioned this collection as a site that would preserve the experiences of refugees residing in the San Diego area and efforts to support them by community organizations. To that end, we chose to archive the websites of nine locally based refugee organizations. Some organizations like the San Diego Refugee Forum and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) San Diego, CA take a broad approach—advocating for refugees regardless of nationality or immigration status—while others, like the Alliance for African Assistance and the Syrian Community Network San Diego are devoted to a particular subset of the refugee population based on ethnicity. Meanwhile the Nile Sisters Development Initiative, a non-profit organization in San Diego, focuses on empowering refugees and immigrant women through education, training, and support. The San Diego Refugee Collection also contains twenty-five news stories selected from the San Diego’s public radio station (KPBS) website that feature radio broadcasts and podcasts about the experiences of refugees in San Diego. These stories include historical overviews such as “How the Fall of Saigon Made San Diego a Refugee Hub” as well as human interest features such as “Burmese Refugees Making San Diego Home” and episodes of the “My First Day” podcast.

Web page with three images, from left to right, first image is of children looking through a chainlink fence, second image is a young girl with pigtails in a crowd of much taller adults, third image is a family of four walking among others on a road with an older child pushing a younger child in a stroller on the left and a mother carrying another younger child on the right.

Screen shot of the Human Rights Watch’s At the Border blog feed collected on February 13, 2019.

To our surprise, we were soon notified by Archive-It that the second subject collection, Human Rights at the California-Mexico Border, that we developed for the contest was also a winner. This collection contains two Mexican and two American websites along with a Human Rights Watch blog post “At the Border” that we selected for their focus on Human Rights in San Diego County and Baja California. On the Mexican side of the border: The Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos-Mexico (CNDH) website documents the national commission of Mexico that promotes human rights recognized by the Mexican Constitution and internationally. The commission also receives complaints with a few exceptions of human rights violations by administrative authorities or federal public servants. The CNDH is also empowered to investigate and resolve these complaints. The second website produced by La Comisión Estatal de los Derechos Humanos de Baja California (CEDHBC) is an independent public organization for Human Rights in Baja California created to promote, protect, and supervise human rights in the State of Baja California. Like the CNDH this commission also receives complaints of human rights violations and makes recommendations for their redress. Crossing over to the American side: The American Friends Service Committee, founded in 1917 by the Religious Society of Friends maintains the U.S.-Mexico Border Program website, which documents their work to advance the human rights of migrant communities by promoting humane immigration policies; educating the public on border issues as well as monitoring and documenting law enforcement abuse of migrants. Human Rights Watch, an international organization that conducts broad-based research and advocacy for human rights, also maintains a website dedicated to Immigration and Border Rights on the southern border of the United States. This website includes reports, videos and news releases documenting the effect of American immigration policies and works to expose abuses against asylum seekers, migrants, and border communities. What unites all these organizations’ websites is their dedication to seeking to resolve human rights violations and to advocate for human rights politically, legally, and personally.

Website with a pair of hands in the background and an image of 6 people lined up at a conference for a group photo between 2 posters.

Screen shot of La Comisión Estatal de los Derechos Humanos de Baja California website collected on February 13, 2019.

We began preserving these websites in 2019 and have already witnessed changes, sometimes significant ones as websites are redesigned by their organizations or as new related issues come to the forefront. In some instances, websites have disappeared without a trace. It is important for future generations to have the history of these organizations preserved along with their work to bring humanitarian as well as legal aid to vulnerable populations. We recognize that the University of San Diego is fortunate to have had the opportunity to create these collections. Thanks to our Processing Archivist’s initiative and her development of the proposals, the Archive-it contest made it all possible!

Website with 2 banner images, the first of a man and a woman with a head scarf on the beach with their four children, the second below it of washing hands, and with a message below that about COVID-19 Response in San Diego for local families and businesses.

Screen shot of the International Rescue Committee, San Diego, CA website collected on April 17, 2021.