Interdisciplinary Immigration Project Receives Research Award

January 9, 2019

An interdisciplinary immigration-data-collection project proposed by Professor Linus Chan and Jack DeWaard, professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, has received a faculty research award.

The title of the newly funded project is “Promoting Transparency and Engagement in U.S. Immigration Court by Ensuring the Quality and Utility of Data Collected by Volunteer Observers.” The University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Initiative approved $47,087 in funding for the 2019 calendar year.

The project is an outgrowth of a previous initiative where approximately 150 volunteers were observing immigration proceedings and collecting data. At first the volunteers only collected hard data, such as how many cases were being processed, but later the collection effort was refined to include soft data, such as the observers’ impressions of the fairness of the proceedings.

Chan said that whereas much of the hard data is generally available from the government through Freedom of Information Act requests, soft data can only be derived from first-hand observation, taking full advantage of the observers’ presence.

“Much of what we know about the legal process depends upon people’s perceptions of whether a proceeding is fair and just,” Chan said in explaining the shift in approach. “However, there have been no systemized ways to get that kind of data.”

With the research award, Chan and DeWaard hope to remedy that situation. The two professors plan to develop criteria to help standardize the subjective input that they receive and train volunteers using those techniques. The funding will chiefly be used to hire a graduate assistant to assist in recruitment, training, and data compilation.

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