Immigration Projects Explore Biometrics, Mental Health and Deportation Issues

October 2, 2020

Guatemala team
Members of the Migration and Deportation team meet with two community activists in Guatemala to discuss the local impact of migration. (Photo: Courtesy of Maria Ramirez)

One of the most important issues facing the U.S. and countries around the globe, immigration raises complex questions about identity, culture, economics, social services, health care and security.

In Fall 2019, Duke hosted a two-day Provost’s Forum on Immigration in a Divided World, and Bass Connections issued a special call for projects related to this crucial topic. This call represented the second Bass Connections “pop-up theme” (the first focused on hurricane recovery and resilience, and a third examines the COVID-19 pandemic).

Three new project teams began tackling research related to immigration in January 2020. A fourth team (Immigration, Preaching and Religious Imagination) started in Fall 2020.

Biometrics and Immigration Policy

Building on NIH-funded research in Duke’s Science, Law & Policy Lab, this project team examined how the U.S. collects and uses immigrants’ biometric data, as well as the ethical tensions between national security and the rights of migrants. The team’s findings will inform policy recommendations for best practices for biometric data collection, storage and use.

Team leaders were Nita Farahany (School of Law) and Meredith Van Natta (Science & Society).

Meredith Van Natta“Our team not only weathered the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also leaned into it to think more critically about our topic. The students and faculty brought together a wide range of disciplinary insights to understand the rapidly growing role of biometric technologies in human movement across the globe. Our already timely topic took on new urgency, and we considered the proliferation of emerging biometric technologies during the pandemic. I was so impressed by how the students remained engaged and enthusiastic despite the challenges we faced, and some even collaborated to write and publish an article on thermal facial recognition technology before the semester ended. It was great to see that teamwork in action.”
–Meredith Van Natta, Postdoctoral Associate

Mental Health Outcomes of Latinx Immigrants

Building on an existing Duke study, this project team partnered with Durham nonprofit El Centro Hispano to learn how local Latinx immigrants engage with media and obtain information on federal, state and local immigration-related events. By integrating data from media sources with data on mental health outcomes, the team gained insight into the relationships among, stress, resiliency and health outcomes in immigrants.

This team was led by Irene Felsman and Allison Stafford (School of Nursing) and Gabriela Nagy Carrasquel (School of Medicine).

Allison Stafford.“Our Bass Connections project has allowed our research team to expand our network of interdisciplinary academic and community collaborators, something that is critically needed when working to solve complex issues related to immigration policy. These collaborations are going to lay a strong foundation for the work of our team as we aim to translate what we have learned about the health of Latinx immigrants in the current immigration climate to community and policy settings. It has also been energizing to bring a new group of bright and curious students into our research team.”
–Allison Stafford, Assistant Professor of Nursing

Migration and Deportation among Guatemalans

Governments deport millions of migrants every year. Little is known about the impacts of deportation on migrants, the places they are forced to leave, or the communities where immigration agencies send them.

This project team examined the Guatemalan deportation crisis from the perspective of both recent deportees in Guatemala City and North Carolina’s Guatemalan community. Team leaders were Erica Field and Erik Wibbels (Trinity College of Arts & Sciences), Jay Pearson (Sanford School of Public Policy) and Pamela Lattimore (RTI International).

After analyzing large-scale surveys of deportees in Guatemala City, team members traveled to Guatemala in March 2020 to meet with community organizations and government entities across the country.

Maria Ramirez.“The conversations and site visits were reminders that every policy decision has a human impact as well as a ripple effect beyond its intended outcome. It wasn’t until I was able to speak with migrants, families and migrant-serving professionals that I understood the way in which migration and deportation reaches both deep inwards into the Guatemalan psyche and broadly outwards, touching every element of Guatemalan life.”
–Maria Ramirez, Master of Public Policy ’20

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