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


We conduct research on all things migration including: immigration, emigration, transnationalism, integration, categorical inequality, health disparities, demographics, social mobility, racism and exclusion, social movement and contentious politics, ethnicity and space.


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


AU Graduate Students:

Giovanna Calderon


AU Undergraduate Students:

Claire Whitman

Alec Singer

Teddy Everett

Harry Ehlers



Former members:

Abby Ferdinando


Socially distanced unpaid internship available for Spring 2021:

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.

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 for funding for:

  • Hand-in-Hand with Afro-Mexicans: Co-Creating Recognition and Racial Equity. Racial Equity and Racial Healing. W.K. Kellogg Foundation. $20 million. (co-PI). Sub-project Afro-Mexicans in the U.S. Working with a network of researchers throughout Mexico and the United States, this project seeks to catalog and understand the experiences of Afro-Mexicans in Mexico and the U.S. This project will be the first of its kind, as Afro-Mexicans are not often studied simultaneously in the literature about Latin America and migration.
  • Capital Attainment by Immigrant Groups: The economic literature describes a world where one can move up by attaining human capital: knowledge, skills, education, training, and credentials. However, for some immigrants, this is not the case, and they face various extra barriers to applying or attaining human capital that the general population does not struggle with. Many will immigrate to the United States as doctors, professors, or skilled tradespeople and end up working jobs such as taxi drivers, busboys, or other jobs that do not utilize their formal training in the old country. We have applied for grant money from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth to run a pilot study on three distinctive immigrant groups in the D.C. area: Salvadorans, Ethiopians, and Koreans, to better understand their experiences applying or attaining their economic, social, and cultural capital.
  • Where to settle refugees? Refugee resettlement has a long history with varied results. In the last twenty years, gentrification and inequality have skyrocketed throughout the country. How do integration outcomes vary based on where an individual lives? When many think about “refugees”, they think of camps in Africa or outside Syria rather than the unique conflicts that lead to their displacement. However, refugees' experiences deeply vary after they are resettled. Using historical and contemporary examples, we would like to compare and contrast the integration outcomes of different refugees from around the world settled across the United States. Religious organizations have dealt with refugee resettlement for decades, often sponsoring large populations of unique ethnic groups in different places – for instance, Hmong people in La Crosse, WI, Vietnamese in Wichita, KS. When people from large coastal cities think about refugee resettlement, these places or experiences do not often come to mind. We would like to compare these experiences and integration outcomes with their counterparts in larger cities and craft clearer narratives about what works and what does not for refugee resettlement. Additionally, we would like to look at how aging, labor-demand, gentrification, and inequality in different locations affect these outcomes.