Nov. 6, 2012

From Nepali asylum seekers to Thai construction workers, immigration research wins support

From research on traditional healing practices in China's cities to undocumented dairy workers in New York, graduate student scholarship is being supported by Cornell's Institute for the Social Sciences (ISS).

Five graduate students each won $1,000 grants for their research on immigration through a recent competition held by the ISS's theme project Immigration: Settlement, Integration and Membership. The project brings together scholars from across campus to collaborate on research related to immigration.

Awardees must be enrolled full time in a Ph.D. program in the social sciences or history and have a grade point average of 3.5 or higher.

The award winners and their fields of study are Ting Hui Lau, anthropology; Katie Rainwater and Kathleen Sexsmith, development sociology; Tina Shrestha, socio-cultural anthropology; and Lingwen Zheng, economics.

Lau's study focuses on how ethnic minorities from rural China adapt traditional healing techniques to cope with the mental and physical health problems they experience in the cities to which they have moved.

Rainwater will use the funds to travel to Singapore next summer and interview 40 to 50 Thai and Bangladeshi migrant construction workers. Her research is examining why first-time Thai migrants working in Singapore earn a daily starting wage of $23 compared to only $18 for their Bangladeshi counterparts.

Working closer to Cornell, Sexsmith is visiting dairy farms dependent on undocumented workers from Guatemala and Mexico to meet their labor needs in New York's $8.9 billion dairy production and processing industry. She's examining what she calls the "invisible moral ties" that bond employers and employees together, and why the bonds sometimes break down under recently increased federal immigration enforcement efforts.

Shrestha's research in New York City explores the different facets of Nepali migrants' experiences as they seek asylum. Through her ethnographic project, based in Queens, N.Y., she will travel to asylum offices, courtrooms, law firms and human rights organizations to witness firsthand the asylum process and how it shapes migrants' attitudes.

Zheng is updating research on trends in U.S. immigrant earnings in recent decades. In particular, she is focused on the integration and assimilation of Asian and Hispanic immigrants and the differences in their earning trajectories.

Lori Sonken is event coordinator for the Institute for the Social Sciences.