This project investigates the experiences of migrants as they journey from one country to another. Prior research indicates that the experience of migrants varies: some migrants describe experiences of harshness and neglect, while others perceive protection and support. But what account for these differences? This project will examine how migrants negotiate the relationships with those who assist in the journeys. How do they work to safeguard themselves, and what conditions do they observe when these safeguards fail? How do these process self-organize when laws are unenforced? And how do social networks facilitate migration? Governments frequently ponder how to lower the risks for migrants. Underlying some governmental policies may also be the assumption that if risks are high, migration will decrease, but current research indicates that many migrants persist in their attempts despite the risks. Identifying what conditions increase the risk of victimization for migrants will inform governmental policies to assist in safe passage for those who choose to migrate.

In order to understand what explains differential experiences of migrants, this project will analyze what conditions the migrants experience and when safety is supported or violated. The project will conduct fieldwork in locales where many migration journeys begin and will rely on semi-structured, qualitative interviews of prospective migrants and returnees, i.e., those migrants who return to countries of origin. The project will stay in contact with prospective migrants through social media apps and re-interview them within a month of their migration attempt. Interview topics include the route migrants chose, who assisted them, the extent to which they relied on their social networks in these decisions, and, finally, whether they experienced support versus harshness or neglect. Returnees will provide data on the various risks they encountered. The project will interview 50 potential migrants and 50 returnees in each of several different locales. Within this group, the interviews will sample for diversity, especially rural versus urban origins, but also socioeconomic, gender and ethnic diversity in order to ensure capture a diverse range of perspectives. The project will use a snowball sampling strategy and gain access to migration-affected communities through partnerships with local service NGOs. The analysis of migrant journeys not only speaks to how humans create institutions to facilitate cooperation, but also how culture, social cleavages, and local context influence these institutional choices. Findings from the project will contribute to sociological theories regarding migration, the law, social networks and global inequality.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Joseph Whitmeyer
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American University
United States
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