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Anchorage lawyer among 24 'genius' grant winners

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  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published September 24, 2013

Anchorage immigration attorney Margaret Stock was named Wednesday as one of 24 recipients of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, and with the honor comes a five-year stipend which she plans to use to promote her idea that immigration doesn't threaten national security.

Stock, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves who came to Fort Richardson in Anchorage as a military policeman in 1986, has opposed efforts to shut down immigration and deal punitively with immigrants. She spoke against a bill in the Legislature this year by Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, that would have restricted driver's licenses for legal immigrants, forcing the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles to monitor the immigration status of non-citizens.

The MacArthur grant -- $625,000 over five years -- "makes it much easier for me to get the message out," Stock said in an interview Tuesday. "I've been writing for years about the connection between immigration and national security and how, after 9/11, we looked at it the wrong way. We looked at it as, we need to keep people out of the United States to be safe, and what we really needed to do was think about letting the right people in to make us safer."

Stock said people have been viewing security the wrong way.

"We stopped looking at how immigrants contribute to our economic security, how they contribute to our national security, how they contribute to keeping us safe generally, how preserving civil liberties makes us safer," she said.

Stock said she learned several weeks ago from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that she was one of the grant recipients, but the information was embargoed until midnight Tuesday. It was a tough secret to keep, she said. She got calls from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and the Anchorage Daily News, and wouldn't talk unless reporters promised to honor the embargo.

Stock, 51, has worked for several Anchorage law firms but now is the sole Anchorage attorney for the Bellingham, Wash.,-based law firm Cascadia Cross-Border Law. Her husband, Neil O'Donnell, is also an attorney. Both love the outdoors.

Stock went on active duty in 1986, just after she received a bachelor's degree in government from Harvard University.

"They gave me a choice of Korea, Panama or Alaska," she said. "I picked Alaska, that's what got me up here, and then I met a guy, and I'm still here."

After Sept. 11, as politicians asked the nation to take care of those fighting for their country, Stock was getting call after call, hearing things like a soldier begging her to stop immigration officials from deporting his wife to Mexico.

"He's on the tarmac ... about to be deployed and says his wife took a wrong turn into a construction zone, was picked up by immigration, they had her in jail and were trying to deport her." Stock said, "The pain that's being caused right now is tremendous."

To help, Stock created the American Immigration Lawyers Association MAP program, which puts volunteer attorneys across the nation with military families that need help.

The eclectic group of MacArthur grant recipients includes scientists, artists, historians, writers, a lawyer, a statistician and a photographer. They can spend the money however they like, for seeing things others haven't, asking questions others haven't asked and finding new solutions to old problems.

The awards, given annually since 1981, are doled out over a five-year period. This year's class brings the number of recipients to nearly 900, and also will be given the largest amount ever -- $125,000 more than last year. Shrouded in secrecy, the selection process involves anonymous nominators and selectors who make final recommendations to the foundation's Board of Directors.

Jeffrey Brenner, a doctor and founder of the organization that dispatches medical professionals to the doors of the desperately poor residents of Camden, N.J., was named as another of the 24 to receive a grant from the foundation.

"This is an acknowledgment that we are headed in the right direction," Brenner said.

The 44-year-old created the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers as a means to find and track the poorest patients with the most complex medical issues. Those patients are visited wherever they are -- at home, in shelters -- and escorted to doctor's appointments.

"We cut, scan, zap and hospitalize (patients)," said Brenner, whose group is now working with 10 communities to develop similar systems. "But we forget we need to take care of them."

Another recipient had heard a National Public Radio report about the Library of Congress worrying about damaging old recordings just by playing them. The story sparked the imagination of Carl Haber, a 54-year-old experimental physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

He began to think how one could use precision optical measuring techniques employed in particle research to try to pull sounds from fragile or crumbling cylinders as well as discs and tinfoil.

"Using scientific cameras and measurement tools that just use light, we create essentially a picture ... and then write a program where the computer analyzes the image and calculates mathematically how the needle would move rather than use the needle," he said.

The result: Bringing alive the voices of the dead, from Alexander Graham Bell's voice from the 1800s to a Native American language that fell silent with the last of its possessors. The thousands of recordings from bygone eras around the world are of "great value to anthropologists, the study of folklore, national culture," he said.

Recipients of the grants say the money will only aid their work, giving them time to research and time off from figuring out how to pay for it.

For Stock, her thousands of dollars will mean one thing: People will be seeing more of her.

"This is going to let me advocate more," she said.

Reporting by Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News and the Associated Press.

Daily News staff and wire reports

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