Anthropology & US Immigration

Update June 2018: See How ICE’s Bogus Science Is Violating Human Rights by Elizabeth A. DiGangi in Sapiens. Di Gangi provides a good example of how studying immigration issues can also be part of a four-field anthropological investigation while speaking out against an unethical use of scientific estimation.

Studying Immigration in the US

In 2013 a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the US Senate. We heard from political hacks masquerading as academics. We heard from ideologues masquerading as law-makers. We could have heard much more from anthropologists studying immigration. The American Anthropological Association issued a well-founded Statement on Immigration. Alisse Waterston included this post in her edited collection World on the Move: Migration Stories as her finale for Open Anthropology.

But instead of comprehensive immigration reform, we got stagnation and impasse. And in 2018 the United States has not only been unable to resolve these issues with legislation but unleashed a horror of deportation and human rights abuses.

As Michele Statz and Lauren Heidbrink put it in Migration as Clickbait (February 2018):

Anthropology has failed to effectively engage in public policy. . . . It is not enough to critique the intended and unintended consequences of public policy; our response must be to harness our experiences and the expertise of the communities with which we work to address or even bypass these consequences. This includes participating in broad national networks and training in engaged public policy and even bringing our work and anthropological understandings into direct public service.

Anthropology combines statistics and big-picture research with ethnography and detailed examination. Here are some anthropologists studying immigration.

Unlike on issues of gun reform, where as Hugh Gusterson points out in Making a Killing there was not much anthropological expertise, anthropologists have been directly studying immigration for many years.

I have been somewhat surprised to not see more of the anthropologists studying immigration in the media. In 2013, the only example I saw was the article on desert migrants. Some anthropologists work more in behind-the-scenes efforts, such as Josiah McC. Heyman’s work with community organizations as well as Jane Henrici with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Teaching & Studying Immigration

This post from 2013 is part of a series on teaching Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology. Other posts in the series include:

Updates on Studying Immigration

Update March 2018: For a well-written update on studying immigration, see Where a River of Life Became a Border of Control by Ellie Lebovits in Sapiens. Lebovits also draws on Jason De León’s work.


To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2013. “Studying Immigration: Anthropology’s Contribution in the US.” Living Anthropologically website, https://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropologists-studying-us-immigration/https://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropologists-studying-us-immigration/. Originally posted 25 May 2013 on the Anthropology Report website, http://anthropologyreport.com/anthropologists-studying-immigration/. Revised 9 June 2018.


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