Why Research Immigration? Recapping Previous Experiences and Moving Forward

What I’m most passionate about is immigration. How do people move? Why do they move? And what can we do to assist immigrant communities? While I’m not an immigrant myself, I’m the child of Chinese immigrants who came at a time when Chinese immigration was almost entirely restricted on a racial basis. When my grandparents came to America, only 105 Chinese immigrants per year were permitted entry into the United States. While I acknowledge that I speak from a position of natural-born citizenship, it is the struggles of modern undocumented immigrants that truly fuel my desire to research this field of policy.

The author’s grandfather came to America on this ship in 1949.

Although the contexts of immigration may be different, I truly sympathize with those who currently face precarious situations similar to those my family faced when they immigrated, especially in the current political climate. Research on immigration policy and immigration stories will help us to understand what can be done to protect immigrant communities in a political climate that is often so hostile to them.

So, to bring this back to the Orange Bubble, I’m writing my thesis about legal protections for child migrants (or the lack thereof, in many countries). Choosing this topic has been a way for me to connect my political, academic, and research interests. My previous independent research here also focused on immigrant communities, and I wanted to continue that for my thesis. Last fall, I wrote my junior paper (JP) about the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) in the Asian community.

What I found in my JP was that eligible Asian undocumented immigrants applied to DACA at a much smaller proportion compared to the eligible Latin American population, despite higher average socioeconomic and educational attainment levels. There was a correlation between the offering of in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants and the presence of Asian community-based organizations with Asian DACA application rates. In contrast, that correlation did not exist for Latin American DACA applicants. While I was not able to make causal claims given the limitations of my data, the correlations I discovered still had interesting policy implications. Clearly there is a huge population of undocumented migrants who aren’t being reached by existing programs designed to help them. So, we need to figure out how we can implement policy solutions to assist those communities.

Building on that research, this past summer, I gained some field experience in immigration by interning with a nonprofit called the Safe Passage Project. They provide free legal representation for undocumented migrant children in New York, a clientele that has unfortunately become more numerous as the Trump administration has taken a hard line stance on immigration. The average age of the Safe Passage Project’s clients is 14, and most of them are from Central America.

I hope to build on my previous research and field experiences as I write my thesis. Although research may sometimes seem like an abstract process, one should be cognizant of the real-world implications of the policies and theories that you’re passionate about. I will never forget sitting down alongside small children whose sole hope of remaining in the United States was the lawyers provided for free by Safe Passage. It’s one thing to be researching this topic from an abstract policy perspective, and something else entirely to be on the front lines of the fight to protect immigrants. It gives you a sense of grounding that no amount of time in a library ever will — and I hope to convey that passion by writing my thesis about child migrants.

— Nicholas Wu, Social Sciences Correspondent