The Immigration Lab is directed by Dr. Ernesto Castañeda, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology at American University in Washington, DC.

We conduct research on all things migration including forced migration, immigration, emigration, transnationalism, integration, categorical inequality, health disparities, demographics, social mobility, racism and exclusion, social movement and contentious politics, ethnicity, and space. We study the well-being and opportunities offered to immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and minorities.

We are not limited to any geographic area or disciplinary approach or methodology.

The lab works closely with the Master's Program on Social Research and Practice (SORP) at American University.

Founding Director: Ernesto Castañeda, PhD

Deputy Director: Daniel Jenks

Lab Members

SORP MA Students

Carina Cione
Deziree Jackson
Emma Vetter

Jhamiel Prince

Sarah Schech-McCarthy

Jessica Chaikof

SteVon Felton

Isabella Goris

Melvin Saravia

Dora Tovar

Mackenzie Cox

Joshua Dietz
Erin Foley

Bulin Li

Tavia Pappaly

Janko Stevanovic

Kai Wasson

AU Graduate Students

Giovanna Calderon, Ethics, CAS

Mia Hernandez, SPA

Raquel Kubicz, SIS

George Washington University, Graduate Students

Yurdum Cokadar

AU Undergraduate Students

Cristian Mendoza Gomez

Karissa Stanio

Madelyn Hagins

Claire Whitman

Alec Singer

Teddy Everett

Harry Ehlers

Dulce Lara

Capstone in Sociology

Fernanda Perez

Isabella Dorfman

Professor Julia Isaac's Translation Class Interns

Diana Hernandez

Micaela Millo

Sophie Cazares

Caitlin Murphy

Ana Leigh

Sarah Scott

Abigail O'Brien

Afghan Skill Project

Fareha Abid

Upneet Kaur

Sofiya Lyall

Michael Tomitz


Professional Members

Clara Garcia

Alex Nelson

Christian Paoloni

Affiliated Faculty

Lauren Carruth, Associate Professor, School of International Service, American University

Maria De Jesus, Associate Professor, School of International Service, American University

Tazreena Sajjad, Professorial Lecturer at the School of International Service, American University

Mubbashir Rizvi, Professorial Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, American University

Bashir Mobasher, Postdoc, Department of Sociology

Former members

Abby Ferdinando

Socially distanced unpaid internships, service-learning, work-study, capstone, honors options, and independent studies available:

Send your CV and 1-page letter listing your skills, interests, and career goals to ernesto (a t) american  (d o t) e d u

On Twitter at @Immigration_Lab

Some paid RAs are supported by

the Center for Health Risk and Society and the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies

Preview of the event, full recording in the video below. 


Institutional partners

The Immigration Lab is directed by Dr. Ernesto Castañeda, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences at American University in Washington, DC. The Immigration Lab conducts research on all things migration including: immigration (settling in), emigration (leaving), transnationalism, integration, categorical inequality, health disparities, demographics, social mobility, racism and exclusion, exiles and refugees, social movements and contentious politics, race and immigration history, ethnicity and space. We are not limited to any geographic area, disciplinary approach, or methodology. Instead, we seek to engage research across disciplines and in a collaborative process at all levels. We work closely with all the students in American University’s MA program in Sociology Research and Practice (SORP). We actively engage undergraduate and graduate students in research, thus building their research and writing skills. Lab members have co-authored scholarly articles, op-ed pieces, newsletter contributions, blog posts, and more. Several current members of the lab are going on to become fully-funded PhD students at prestigious universities. We are also working on several larger projects that will culminate with books, op-eds, and online panels and webinars to educate the greater public on issues of importance surrounding immigration.

Short summaries of our current projects:

  • We are interested in the Hispanic Health Paradox, where health outcomes among Hispanics seem better than demographically expected based on socio-economic status. We are finishing a book entitled The Hispanic Health Paradox: Social Determinants of Health among Latinos. This book investigates the Hispanic Health Paradox by analyzing existing health disparities among Latinos in the majority Mexican-American city of El Paso, Texas, and draws on data gathered with an NIH grant. We will finish the manuscript in May 2021. We have also published several op-eds and a prescient report about health disparities and how El Paso's Hispanic population was highly at risk of dying from COVID-19.
  • Unaccompanied minors from Central America coming to the border is an increasingly salient topic in the news and media, but little is known about how they fare once they settle in the United States. We are finishing a book entitled Reuniting Families: Central American Minors between Family Separation and Reunification, which catalogs the experiences and narratives of unaccompanied Central American youth settled in the DC area. It follows several individuals from this hard-to-reach population using original data gathered in 2017. We have published op-eds using this data, and we are also working on a book chapter in Spanish on the topic and a journal article on migration and trauma.
  • In our book manuscript, Immigration Myths and Realities, under contract with Columbia University Press, we work on debunking key myths about immigration using our data from El Paso and a comprehensive literature review. This project challenges widely-held narratives about immigration such as “the border is dangerous” or “immigration brings drugs and crime.”
  • Immigration and Health Insights from the DC Area Survey. We will be analyzing the two waves of the D.C. area survey to look at immigrant/non-immigrant perceptions and interactions in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Beyond the ongoing projects above, here are some projects we are looking funding for:

  • Potentializing the Skills of Afghan Refugees in the DC Region.

Let us know if you are interested in funding any of these projects.

Welcoming and Potentializing the Skills of Refugee Afghans

Human capital, or technical skills, knowledge and experience possessed by an individual, in theory, should provide heightened opportunities for professional and economic advancement (Bagdadli et al. 2021). However, this is often not the case for refugees. Many of them who are doctors, lawyers, engineers or hold many other professional degrees and credentials before coming to the United States. Nevertheless, they are often unable to apply their skills, knowledge, and experience in a work environment once they resettle (Adverserio 2017, Basilio et al. 2017,
Hagan et al. 2011). There are many barriers to applying previously acquired skills when moving abroad. Education credentials have different levels of transferability to a new country despite the aim of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty to validate international credentials through an
apostille process (Hagan et al. 2011). Refugees face a range of obstacles in their new social context that limit their ability to apply their acquired skills to the fullest potential: language learning, cultural barriers, limited access to economic resources, and lack of diverse social networks (Menjivar 1997), to name a few. This has to do with the different levels of social, cultural, and economic capital held by various racial and ethnic groups once they settle in the United States. The political environment and immigrant contexts of reception (Portes and Rumbaud 2014) impact the degree of inclusion or exclusion of specific refugee cohorts by the
receiving communities which can shape the range of opportunities available for accessing jobs or services.
      How the government engages with various foreign-born populations may also affect essential outcomes such as determining their legal status, positioning them for unequal access to quality education, and designing structural policies that encourage gentrification and spatial segregation. Not being able to continue a technical or professional identity after migration may affect belonging, self-esteem, and a sense of autonomy (Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R. M., 2000). Integration is a social, cultural, and economic process (Castañeda 2018). Having a decent-paying job that utilizes their skills can help forced migrants to feel part of a new society. It provides continuity regarding their identity as they move through time and space between who they were and who they are becoming. The adequate labor market insertion creates less disruption and uncertainty while trying to provide for their families and achieve better standards of living.

There is little data on Afghans in the U.S., and how they will be able to utilize their skills. This project will address these questions by investigating the relationship between education and integration outcomes of Afghan refugees in the DC region. An estimated 2,500 Afghan refugees are settling in the DC metropolitan region, mainly in northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs (Olivo 2021, WAMU 2021). The region also has one of the largest settled Afghan populations in
the U.S. It will contribute to scholarly conversations on immigrant and refugee human capital and the larger literature on immigrant inclusion, exclusion, and belonging, as well as economic integration, and research on refugees.
The United States has committed to taking a number of Afghan refugees, many of whom may have worked for the U.S. government during the 20-year tenure in the country or who may be teachers, professors, advocates, doctors, or scientists who feared repercussions from the
Taliban. While those Afghans with less education and fewer resources are less likely to migrate far from Afghanistan, those arriving in the United States will be more likely to have higher levels of education and more valuable work experience. Nonetheless, structurally, the U.S. presents
many obstacles for refugees who try to redeploy their professional credentials and experience in the hope of finding meaningful jobs as they had in their previous home. It is well known that the U.S. is not the ideal place where refugees and immigrants are able to utilize their professional
degrees and work experience, and so, many of them, with high levels of human capital, end up having to work low-paying and frequently low-visibility jobs to make ends meet. On the other hand, overworked public defenders and resettlement organizations trying to help them may have
diminished resources and capacities.
This is not the first time that there have been refugees fleeing Afghanistan due to political repression or consequences. There are large numbers of Afghans throughout the United States and the world who left during the 1979 Soviet invasion, and the Taliban’s initial takeover in 1996. Thus, the demographics of Afghan immigrants in the U.S. allows us to reach out to and analyze outcomes across immigrant cohorts and investigate which contexts may be more or less welcoming to Afghans and why. In other words, the study will interview recent Afghan immigrants with a special visa, as well as earlier cohorts of highly skilled political refugees, like
those who left Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of 1979. This will allow for intragroup comparison. In addition, in future follow-up research, other immigrant groups that can be used as a point of reference and comparison are Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union, the Iranian
refugees fleeing the 1979 revolution, Cuban refugees after the revolution as well as the Pakistanis, Salvadorians, Mexicans, and Haitians often seen as economic migrants and less likely to be treated as refugees or granted asylum.
The team is currently finishing the materials to seek American University’s IRB approval for this project so that in the Spring we can begin conducting in-depth interviews with Afghan refugees, investigating their lives, social connections, and experiences looking for work and
working both prior to arriving and while living in the United States. A draft of the interview guide is already available. With the support of this student-faculty cooperative research grant, we will be able to: 1) outline possible structural barriers to employment in a range of professional
fields relevant to refugees; 2) recommend future potential policies and strategies that are more refugee-centered and conducive to increasing the probability of job acquisition for refugees in their professional field of choice; therefore, 3) improving their chances of
a harmonious integration into American society.
With this student-led pilot study, we are aiming for 30 to 40 interviews, followed by coding and analysis. We aim to produce 2-4 op-eds, a policy brief, and 2 to 4 academic journal manuscript drafts that we will send out for publication when ready.
By the end of Spring 2022, we will provide at least: 1) a public available report of the main findings and 2) two OpEds with additional work over the summer and fall of 2022 to turn this research into 3) a couple of academic papers and presentations. We will also apply for further funding to fully support students intending to conduct a larger version of this project
using the results and success experiences attributed to this pilot study.
This work holds great public importance for the wellbeing and social and economic prosperity of Afghan refugees, immigrants, their families. As well as others who may come in the future, as it will inform the larger public’s conversation on immigrant integration and human capital.

Migration and Migration Status: Key Determinants of Health and Well-Being

We invite you to contribute to our Special Issue titled, “Migration and Migration Status: Key Determinants of Health and Well-Being” in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (Impact Factor: 3.39). We are both migration scholars at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C. serving as co-editors on this Special Issue, which will be open access and subsequently published as a book.

Areas of interest for the Special Issue (non-exhaustive list):

  • health and social inequities
  • migrant health
  • forced migration
  • immigration/emigration
  • transnationalism
  • integration and social inclusion
  • identity and political inclusion
  • racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and exclusion
  • asylum seekers and refugees
  • climate change and migration
  • exploitation, trafficking, detention, and deportation
  • poverty and financial insecurity
  • trauma, post-migration stress, post-traumatic stress, and mental health
  • war, violence, and conflict
  • interpersonal violence and migration
  • LGBTQ+ identities and migration
  • social networks, agency/empowerment, resilience, assets, and well-being
  • labor migration
  • migrant youth/unaccompanied minors
  • resettlement and refugees
  • COVID-19 and migration
  • HIV/AIDS, other health outcomes, and migration
  • migration policy and legal status
  • transnational citizenship
  • migrants and social determinants of health
  • transnational families
  • family separation

Papers representing different disciplines and using a variety of research designs and methodologies are welcome. Original empirical research papers, methodological papers, systematic reviews, and case reports are appropriate. All articles will be peer-reviewed.

If interested, please send us a tentative title, list of co-authors (if any), an un/structured abstract (minimum of 200 words, no maximum) to migrationandhealthspecialissue @

Final paper should be a minimum of 3000 words. Deadline to submit papers for review: May 5, 2022 aiming for a publication date by November 2022.

Edited by

Maria De Jesus (School of International Service) and Ernesto Castañeda (Sociology), The Immigration Lab and the Center on Health, Risk, and Society, American University
Figure by Michael Danielson
Free ebook

The Immigration Lab, and Castañeda are part of the "Changing AID" Strategic Research Initiative at American University in Washington, DC. 


AU’s Immigration Lab: Researching “All Things Migration”

Lab established to conduct research, inform policymakers, and correct misperceptions about immigrants and immigration

By Patty Housman | July 21, 2022

The United States is a nation of immigrants. According to the Brookings Institution, no other nation has as large an immigrant population. Except for those descended from Native peoples and enslaved Africans, most people in the US can trace at least part of their ancestry to an immigrant.

“People move in and out everywhere; migration is all around us,” says American University Associate Professor of Sociology Ernesto Castañeda. “Nonetheless, there are many misunderstandings about immigration among the general public, and unfortunately, politicians often create panic around international migration for political gain.”

To set the record straight on immigration and immigrants, Castañeda established AU’s Immigration Lab in 2020 with the mission of conducting rigorous empirical and theoretical research to inform academics, the public, and policymakers to make fact-based decisions.

“Immigrants make great contributions to the economy, the arts, sciences, and popular culture, yet many people wrongly believe that immigrants and refugees depend on welfare and are likely to commit crimes,” says Castañeda. “Many people have framed the situation at the US-Mexico border as a security crisis. They have committed large sums of money to criminalize migration, while ignoring real crises such as affordable housing, the minimum wage, and climate change.” 

The lab researches “all things migration,” including forced migration, immigration, emigration, transnationalism, integration, categorical inequality, health disparities, demographics, social mobility, racism and exclusion, social movement and contentious politics, ethnicity, and space. It also focuses on the well-being and opportunities offered to immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and minorities.

Demand and Importance

The lab’s base is in the College of Arts and Sciences, but it includes members from across American University and other institutions. It’s become a research hub that approaches the subject of immigration from many different angles and areas of expertise.

“We first established the lab to help coordinate collaborative research projects by students in the MA program in Sociology, Research, and Practice (SORP) and other programs,” says Castañeda. “We stuck with it because the lab model created a bit more structure in the chaotic and uncertain process of scientific research and allowed students to mentor and learn from each other outside of class.”

Little by little, project by project, the Immigration Lab has been a way for American University faculty and students to collaborate across disciplines, units, and ranks. 

SORP alumna Jessica Chaikof, who will start the PhD program in Social Policy at Brandeis University this fall, credits the lab with strengthening her research skills. “Prior to working with the Immigration Lab, I had limited knowledge and no interest in studying migration,” she says. “However, one of my major research interests is disability policy and accessibility. Through the Immigration Lab, I co-authored a paper on migration and trauma, and I am now working on a paper that explores disability among Mexican Americans in El Paso. My work with the Immigration Lab helped me become a better researcher and better understand the connections between disability and immigration, especially how one’s status as a disabled person can affect the migration process. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I’ve gained in the lab and in the practicum.”

Publications and Impact

Castañeda, who serves as the founding director of the lab, is a prolific writer and expert on immigration. His analysis has appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, El Paso Times, The Hill, US News & World Report, and NPR. Castañeda is a frequent guest on Telemundo, Univision, and NTN24. He is the author of A Place to Call Home: Immigrant Exclusion and Urban Belonging in New York, Paris, and Barcelona (Stanford University Press 2018), winner of the 2019 LeoGrande Award, Building Walls: Excluding Latin People in the United States (Lexington 2019), and with Charles Tilly and Lesley Wood Social Movements 1768-2018 (Routledge 2020); editor of Immigration and Categorical Inequality: Migration to the City and the Birth of Race and Ethnicity (Routledge 2018); and co-editor with Cathy L. Schneider of Collective Violence, Contentious Politics, and Social Change: A Charles Tilly Reader (Routledge 2017).

Right now, Castañeda is co-authoring several books with members of the lab who began working on the books as undergraduate or master's students. He is finishing one book with Daniel Jenks, deputy director of the Immigration Lab and recent SORP grad, on Central American families in the DC metropolitan region. Immigration Realities, co-authored with Carina Cione (program coordinator for the American University Center for Latin American and Latino Studies) is forthcoming from Columbia University Press. Castañeda also is midway on a book on health disparities co-authored by the entire SORP 2021 cohort.

“Along the way, we have also published peer-reviewed journal articles, op-eds and blog posts,” says Castañeda. “We value open-access journals and popular venues because they can reach a wider audience and correct some of the misinformation around migration.” One current example is a special issue on immigration and health for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, which he is editing with SIS Associate Professor Maria de Jesus.

Training, Teamwork, Scholarship, Advocacy

The lab is working on an ongoing project supported by AU — with SIS Senior Professorial Lecturer Tazreena Sajjad, Department of Anthropology Professorial Lecturer Mubbashir Rizvi, Afghan Exile Scholar Postdoctoral Fellow Bashir Mobasher, and several students — looking at the labor integration of Afghan refugees in the United States. In the fall, with SIS Associate Professor Lauren Carruth, it will start expanding to compare their experiences to those of refugees from Ethiopia and Ukraine now living in the DC region.

Mobasher emphasizes that the lab does more than scholarly studies and research on immigration. It also advocates for the rights of immigrants and provides support and assistance to migrant communities — something he experienced firsthand. “I received my postdoctoral fellowship with the help of Dr. Ernesto Casteñada and became a member of the lab. In response to the urgency of getting assistance to recent Afghan refugees to the DC area, the lab has launched timely research on the experiences of Afghan refugees in 2021, which is still ongoing,” he says. “Our researchers not only interview Afghan participants, but also advise them on how to prepare job applications and secure jobs, in addition to paying them reimbursement for participation in our research project."

Castañeda says that research with vulnerable, hard-to-reach populations requires much training, work, and patience. “Doing it as a part of a team is much better than doing it alone,” he adds. “We see all the work that students do in the lab as hands-on experience doing social science research and preparation for doctoral programs. Indeed, many former members have been accepted into top PhD programs with very competitive stipends and packages and are on the way to becoming professional researchers.” aragraph here.