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UC San Diego to Lead Major Project on Immigration

Multi-campus research efforts on quantum materials, ethnography also funded by UC Office of President


Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

If California were its own country, it would have the world’s fourth largest immigrant population. A new research collaboration at five University of California campuses—led by UC San Diego and funded by the UC Office of the President—will help policymakers, non-governmental organizations and the public to better understand the impacts of immigration on California and to plan more effectively for the state’s future.

Sociologist David FitzGerald, co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) at UC San Diego, is principal investigator on the project. Called the California Immigration Research Initiative, the project will assess current policy practices and will also collect fresh data on how newcomers to California affect the state’s educational system, workforce, public health, political environment, culture and more.

“A quarter of us in California were born in another country, and millions more have at least one parent born outside the U.S. If we want to understand the challenges and opportunities California faces in the 21st century, we have to understand immigrants and their experiences,” FitzGerald said.

The project will include collaboration with the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), which is based at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and is administered in seven languages. New questions will be added to the survey of 50,000 respondents, focusing on the integration of diverse groups over multiple immigrant generations. The California Immigration Panel Survey, a separate pilot project, will be conducted in the third year of the effort and will drill down on issues not covered by the CHIS, particularly those related to public policy, politics and attitudes toward immigration. Finally, the research team aims to assess how policymakers and society have responded to the integration of immigrants in California, using qualitative interviews in some cases.

“There’s a real hunger among policymakers to see more in-depth data about immigration and its effects,” said FitzGerald. “It's such a hot topic issue, and the emotional reaction you typically see around immigration means the debate doesn't always take into account what's actually happening on the ground. Our goal is to provide research that people can use for evidence-based policy decisions.”

Researchers hope the project will allow them to provide regular assessments—similar to a medical check-up — on how immigrants are integrating in California, identifying both successes and issues requiring further attention.

“Given the crucial role that immigration plays in the economic, social and political fabric of California, we think it’s critical to understand and regularly assess attitudes and experiences related to immigration,” said John Skrentny, CCIS co-director at UC San Diego.

Although UC researchers have studied immigration and its impacts for many years, this latest project expands on previous efforts and capitalizes on UC’s system-wide resources. The project also complements system-wide efforts of the UC-Mexico Initiative, a partnership between the university and Mexican institutions launched by UC President Janet Napolitano last year. UC San Diego’s Center for Comparative Immigration Studies will collaborate with UCLA’s Program on International Migration, the Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy at UC Irvine, the Center for Latino Policy Research at UC Berkeley, and the Immigration Research Group at UC Riverside. Researchers will include faculty members and graduate students from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, political science, public health, economics, public policy, law, medicine and education.

The multi-campus, interdisciplinary approach to studying immigration is supported by a $525,000 grant over four years from Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI) at UC’s Office of the President.

UC San Diego will lead two other multi-campus projects funded by MRPI: “Tunable Quantum Materials,” with physicist Ivan Schuller as principal investigator, which promises to lead to “scientific/technological revolutions in the fields of electronics, optics, data storage and computation; and the “UC Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design,” headed by Elana Zilberg of the department of communication, which aims to “develop new modes of ethnographic practice adapted to current conditions and pressing matters of public concern.”

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