So what did you find in your Ph.D.? And who helped you on the journey?
My sociology dissertation is titled: Paths to Exclusion: Deportations, Housing Instability, and Scams. I analyze current trends in immigration policy across the United States and find:
Deportations are high in places with elevated housing instability and lower claims to justice, and variation in enforcement intensity is far from random.
Implementing paths to inclusion would mean:
ensuring everyone knows their rights as victims of crime and consumers;
lowering the overall volume of deportations and reducing spatial inequality in enforcement outcomes; and
prioritizing due process protections for noncitizens under arrest.
Paths to inclusion such as the safety net and consumer protections bring people into the fold of mainstream institutions and level the playing field for everyone.
My Ph.D. Dissertation Abstract
How have immigrant communities adapted to mass deportations? My dissertation examines the demographic determinants of deportation activity as well as the consequences of mass deportations for noncitizens. I find deportations disrupt residential and territorial membership via worsening housing instability and fewer than expected crime reports. Civil society can buffer noncitizens from the negative consequences of arrests and scams, but collateral damage from deportations can erode networks of social capital. Protection from the harm of deportations also proves weakest precisely in locations – such as new immigrant destinations – which can least afford to absorb the disruptions associated with mass deportations. The long-term consequences of weakened social capital are not contained to noncitizen households. Broader U.S. society suffers when paths to exclusion destabilize households and challenge trust in law enforcement and the legitimacy of public institutions.
Six years ago, I moved to California with my wife, Natasha, and our son, Miguel. Since then, Dominic has joined our family, and he’s now as old (just under two) as Miguel was back in 2012. When we arrived on campus, many challenging milestones awaited me, but so did a network of support that encompasses family, friends, and colleagues – old and new. When I challenged myself while also relying on those around me, I thrived and surprised myself. I credit your support as the reason for my Ford Foundation pre-doctoral and dissertation fellowships. At other moments – too many, in hindsight – I forgot to check in with myself about why I had enrolled in a Ph.D. program. At these times, I also tended to keep new challenges at bay and, to make matters worse, refuse to give thought to what kinds of support I needed at each stage of my graduate career. The more I spoke to Tasha, dear friends, and new colleagues about graduate school, the more I saw that the scripts I found myself reciting were surprisingly common, though they shifted back and forth between helpful and tiresome just enough to teach me new lessons throughout my time on campus. I want to acknowledge the many sources of support responsible for getting my dissertation to the finish line, and the doors they helped open as a result.
My dissertation committee has provided invaluable guidance. Tomás Jiménez welcomed me to the department many years ago and witnessed each step of my progress throughout graduate school. His ability to see how and why immigration research matters to a myriad of critical audiences will, I hope, inform how I try to translate my work to a broad community of engaged scholars. The extent to which my work manages to both describe and explain social problems will also owe much to his example.
Michael Rosenfeld introduced me to a range of methods, literatures, and – most importantly – how to pursue and test connections I see in the social world. He helped me hone an intuition for the promises and limitations of quantitative methods. With his help and alongside our family workshop, I learned how to differentiate between (a) what I could critically assess given the training and experience I have amassed and (b) what I am capable of assessing with additional time, training, and patience.
Aliya Saperstein has had an immeasurable impact on my time at Stanford. When I began my career here, my goal was to make contributions to the social demography of immigration and inequality. Aliya helped me as much as anyone to bridge the evolving vision I had for myself and a career where I get to do what I love. Her high expectations for my work continue to encourage me to reach outside what I think I can do – and to apply lessons learned in her classes and MERN workshop beyond the confines of a single paper. Back in the spring of 2012, when we first met, Aliya’s mentorship set me on a path to the next chapter of my career as a demographer, immigration scholar, and Assistant Professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
At Stanford, I have been lucky to be student at a time when a critical mass of inequality scholars shares the same campus. David Grusky and Beth Mattingly invited me to a community of scholars at the Center on Poverty and Inequality, where I learned the tremendous value of a careful (and, when necessary, skeptical) eye for integrating measurable phenomena alongside difficult and meaningful questions. Robb Willer instilled a complementary appreciation for formalizing how I think social processes unfold. Over the years, I did my best not to stray from the fundamentals Robb taught us but return to his lessons often when I find myself off track. Cristobal Young and Jeremy Freese have also passed along valuable lessons I think of as ‘sociological diagnostics’ – that collection of tools and intuition so essential to being reasonably confident that we have found something of consequence for the real world. As examiner during my dissertation defense, Florencia Torche challenged me to apply many of the lessons I had learned as a graduate student while also imparting invaluable direction for my ongoing work. Your collective lessons will carry forward with me for the rest of my career.
Two professors made a unique impact on my career at Stanford. John Meyer offered his time, experience, and advice early and often as I acclimated to graduate school. His insights into my own work have been energizing and eye-opening. I marvel at his broad command of theory and empirics. My early drafts always benefited from consulting with John, and the initial sparks of my research on immigration scams and deportation discretion were either born or cultivated in our one-o-one meetings. In Woody Powell’s class and a vibrant workshop on organizations and networks, I also found another intellectual home. As with John, Woody challenged me to bring out and examine the institutional and organizational texture of my immigration policy research questions. My favorite class at Stanford was his classic introduction to foundational organizational theory. In addition to the content, I witnessed what can happen in a class directed and facilitated with care, high expectations, and a dedication to helping each of us master the material in our own way – but not on our own.
I want to specially thank the teaching assistants (TAs) in the methods sequences for ably passing along what they knew. Anna Lunn, Kate Weisshaar, John Muñoz, Bogdan State, Ariela Schachter, and Angela Lu were patient and generous. I went back to my class notes, marked up assignments, and do files often. Thank you for the time capsules of those methods sections. You were especially helpful when you had high expectations and translated back and forth between technical detail and their vernacular equivalent.
The graduate student community at Stanford has been energizing and inspiring. Here is my attempt to capture what the group has taught me. I see these takeaways less as mutually exclusive contributions and more as a collection of snapshots as I see them at the end of my graduate experience. Tristan Ivory paved the way for many of us; a researcher whose impact on the department was made known to me before we even had a chance to meet. He’s been a friend, mentor, and reliable source of wisdom for six years. Koji Chavez and Natassia Rodriguez also welcomed me to the department and relayed timeless advice (i.e., take deep breaths; be bold but don’t underestimate how long it might take to live up to true boldness). Kate Weisshaar, Ariela Schachter, and Bogdan State each instilled in me – directly and indirectly – a respect for priors; messy as they can become when the heavy lifting of testing theory begins. Lorena Castro demonstrated what sustained and attuned scholarship can accomplish. I think about her work often when reflecting on one of my initial purposes for enrolling in a Ph.D. program: making sense of why some people excel despite long odds and what getting there means when you find out you stand shoulder to shoulder with both Ryne Sandberg and Barry Bonds. During the many times I returned to this question, I would usually have the fortune of talking about it with two people who seemed to know exactly what I meant: Priya Fielding-Singh and Andy Isaacson. Much of rest of the time, the burden of deciphering what I was saying fell on my cohort.
My office mate and Miguel’s baking partner, Christof Brandtner, has always been able to pierce through hubris – no matter the source – and wisely replace it with community-building labor. Thank you, Christof, for all that you do. Max Hell, Gabriel Chiu, Jennie Hill, and Jessica Santana reliably joined me in taking things seriously but not too seriously. Leading by example, Devon Magliozzi reminded me to revisit why I care about my research. Sagely, Jared Furuta let me believe I had figured out what sociology was all about, and he would nudge me with a “maybe” or a doubting question to rein back what had morphed from enthusiasm into obscurantism. Last but not least, Aaron Silverman is who I had in mind when thinking about the researcher I wanted to be when I grew up: exacting, reasoned, and allergic to snake oil.
Our newest arriving cohorts have taught me more than they know. I learned that I knew more than I initially believed, and I also learned about the wide range of things I had yet to properly grasp. Neither lesson is dispensable. Emily Carian’s commitment to building community is an inspiration, and I feel lucky to have shared sunny and somber memories about things that are equal parts consequential and minor – like a fixed game of whiffle ball. Priscilla Gutierrez has a magnificent spidey sense: she dispenses with noise and wastes not a word when honing on the why of the matter. Jasmine Hill matches honesty with a willingness to create spaces where we can learn from each other. Amanda Mireles has a rare and welcome ability to lend her time and ear – all the while keeping in perspective what initially brought us to where we stand. Aaron Horvath advises intently, and I listen for my own good. Give their ingenuity, future of the department cannot be in better hands than those of Marlene Orozco, Bethany Nichols, Beka Guluma, Cathy Sirois, Kim Higuera, Isabel Iturrios-Fourzan, Elisa Kim, and Austin van Loon. I will miss research workshops, especially whenever Aliya manages to see our work from the point of view of different audiences or whenever Amanda poses questions that need to be asked. To everyone who took the kid gloves off, had high expectations for me, and gave me valuable feedback during workshop, I hope I returned a fraction of the favor. [see footnote 1]
As a graduate student, I have relied on many corners of campus. El Centro Chicano y Latino has been a second home, and Margaret Sena welcomes me back each time. The CSRE program as well as the EDGE and SPICE communities at VPGE, especially Vanessa Schumsky and Chris Gonzalez Clarke, have invested in my research every step of the way. Peers in education (Naejin Kwak, Cristina Lash, Tamara Gilkes, Brian Holzman, Juan Arias, Nidia Ruedas-Gracia), modern thought and literature (Luz Jimenez Ruvalcaba, Johnathan Leal, Cristopher Vásquez), economics (David Price), political science (Rachel Gillum, Annie Franco), and linguistics (Sebastian Schuster) inspire me to think of ways of collaborating across disciplines so I can learn from them. Over the course of the past year, Caitie Handron has been as reliable and optimistic a presence as anyone; sharing her time, enthusiasm, and an unshakeable faith in our better selves. To you, I owe much; much more than a reminder; nothing less than peace.
My dissertation owes a large debt to research conference communities. First and foremost, researchers gathering for our annual meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA) have provided invaluable insight, guidance, and mentorship. I have learned more than I can say here from Beth Mattingly, Ted Mouw, Sergio Chavez, Emilio Parrado, Julie Park, Krista Perreira, Stephanie Potochnick, Kevin O’Neil, Sarah Bohn, Laura Hill, Hans Johnson, Magnus Lofstrom, Caitlin Patler, Susan K. Brown, Frank Bean, Zoya Gubernskaya, James Bachmeier, Doug Massey, Marta Tienda, Shannon Gleeson, Matt Hall, Luis Sanchez, Fernando Riosmena, Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes, Mao-Mei Liu, Jacqueline Hagan, Mahesh Somashekhar, Carmen Gutierrez, Pia Orrenius, Marc Rosenblum, Madeline Zavodny, Bryan Sykes, Andrew Penner, Margot Jackson, Jeff Passel, John Iceland, and Matt Snipp. Paul Chung especially has been a guiding light and source of seemingly endless insight before, during, and after PAA meetings. For the past six years, I have grown to navigate my role as a demographer at PAA conference panels, poster sessions, hallway conversations, and lively meals. Every year, the conference has been a highlight of my graduate career.
I have also eagerly attended the Law and Society Association (LSA) annual meetings every other year of my graduate career. At the upcoming meeting in Toronto, I am sure to learn from the diverse range of scholars of migration, race, ethnicity, and citizenship. Emily Ryo has been a supportive mentor and an example of the potential of a sociology of immigration policy and the law. I do my best to apply what I have learned from Shannon Gleeson, Els de Graauw, Leisy Abrego, Susan Coutin, Juliet Stumpf, Doris Marie Provine, Monica Varsanyi, Kitty Calavita, Ingrid Eagly, and Arjen Leerkes. Grace Tran is a creative and uncompromising scholar committed as I am to making sense of law across national boundaries of citizenship and identity. Thank you, Grace, for your patience and vivid imagination. As with PAA, LSA participants have improved each chapter of my dissertation.
Since attending my first migration conference in 2009 (“Undocumented Hispanic Migration” at Connecticut College), I have met some of the most influential researchers on my research at a host of other conferences and presentations: Angela García, Shannon Gleeson, Amada Armenta, Els de Graauw, Alexis Silver, Edward Vargas, Francisco Pedraza, Gabriel Sanchez, Gary Segura, Matt Barreto, Lourdes Gouveia, Roberto Gonzales, Michele Waslin, Jorge Chávez, Felicia Arriaga, Tanya Golash-Boza, Zulema Valdez, Irene Vega, Caitlin Patler, Mary Romero, Mat Coleman, Maria-Elena Young, Katie Dingeman-Cerda, Simon Weffer, Veronica Terriquez, Adrián Félix, Steve McKay, Maya Barak, Shirley Leyro, Dan Stageman, and Leo Chavez. I am also grateful for the opportunity to share my research during the winter of 2017-2018 at the University of Carolina, Chapel Hill Public Policy Department. Ted Mouw, Jeremy Moulton, Ashu Handa, Candis Smith, Rebecca Kreitzer, Steven Hemelt, Doug Lauen, and Dan Gitterman provided valuable feedback on my immigration scams paper. University of California, Berkeley faculty and graduate students in the Demography and Sociology Departments also helped improve my deportation discretion paper. Will Dow, Josh Goldstein, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, Irene Bloemraad, Cybelle Fox, Paul Chung, Robert Pickett, Dennis Feehan, Dan Schneider, Carl Mason, Ron Lee, Ken Wachter, and participants at the Berkeley Demography Brown Bag Talks devoted their time and attention to improving my work. I will forever be grateful to David Murphy at Berkeley for helping make my visit a highlight of my Stanford career. Faculty and staff at the University of California, Santa Cruz welcomed me to campus for what would become a life-changing chapter in my career. Jessica Lawrence steered the ship, and Julie Bettie and Hiroshi Fukurai helped make my transition from graduate student to faculty member as seamless as possible. Joining us in stimulating exchanges of ideas were Veronica Terriquez, Rebecca London, Steve McCay, Ben Crow, Lindsey Dillon, Miriam Greenberg, and James Doucet‑Battle. Veronica and Rebecca generously offered their time during and after my visit and are role models for my next chapter.
The Urban Institute was my research and intellectual home from 2007 through my transition to graduate school. I owe the opportunity in large part to Calros Manjarrez. A close group of colleagues and friends supported me during my time there and continued providing tremendous advice, assistance, and indispensable tips throughout my graduate career. For their patience and lasting insights, I want to especially thank Colleen Owens, Heidi Johnson, Molly Scott, Michel Grosz, Alex Stanczyk, Katie Vinopal, Molly Hawkins, Anna Danziger, Kate Chambers Prickett, Mitch Downey, Heather Sandstrom, Sara Debus-Sherrill, Meagan Cahill, Tracey Lloyd, and Rob Santillano. Everett Henderson has also been there for me as a friend and colleague; both while we lived in DC and as a graduate student with conference opportunities taking me to visit him in New Orleans. When I relocated to the Bay Area, I was thrilled to be able to stay in close touch with Jessica Compton, Joanna Parnes, Katie Mathews, and Sarah Ting: thanks for letting me join your journey (back) out west. My Urban Institute supervisors taught me much of what I know about public policy: Ajay Chaudry hired and trusted me with complex, challenging projects; Randy Capps introduced me the intersection of immigration policy and social demography (which, not coincidentally, has become my research identity); and Robin Koralek, Demetra Nightingale, and Maragret Simms advocated on my behalf and cared as much as anyone about my professional and personal growth. Krista Perreira and Rob Santos lit the way for me; variously opening doors and helped train me to conduct rigorous research. Melissa Faverault and Caterine Roman were role models since my first week as a research associate at 2100 M Street. Carola Suárez-Orozco inspired and advised me on my path through policy research and on my way back to graduate school.
My time at DePauw University and Indiana University, Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs introduced me to a group of people who have had the most impact on the direction of my life. Tasha is the first person I met in college, nearly 19 years ago. We met, debated, fought, shared, fell in love, married, and have gotten used to moving our growing family every few years now. She made me feel at home right away and continues to do so today. Daniel Eslava is gone too soon, but he left indelible impressions on me; as have lifelong friends Erin Goss, Erin Livingston, Jennifer Jansen, Peter and Marisa Bernstein, Carrie Mark, Sandra O’Neil, Nick Myers, Varinia Arceo, Laura Stevens, G. Mike Schmidt, Stuart Schussler, and Anne Schaufele. In addition to doing ground-breaking work as an immigration lawyer, Anne was instrumental in the evolution of my paper on immigration scams by affording me access to the request for data to the Federal Trade Commission. The history department shaped my engrossing passion for research and data collection, especially my senior thesis committee: Glen Kuecker, David Gellman, Barbara Steinson, and John Schlotterbeck. Glen also shaped my vision of praxis and helped me channel a commitment to peace and justice, alongside Jake Gross, Russell Compton, and my Compton Center allies. Tom Hall introduced me to sociology, and I am trying to follow his example. Meryl Altman, Keith Nightenhelser, Jeannette Johnson-Licon, Cindy Babington, and Neal Abraham supported me at each stage of my DePauw career. Kerry Pannel helped and inspired me during my transition to Stanford. Jason Wallach and Arun Prabhakaran helped bridge my campus activism to the broader world through the Mexico Solidarity Network and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. I still learn from their example to this day. At Bloomington, Bob Agranoff, David Good, Andre Guzman, Edward Vargas, Chris Langford, Leigh Ann Haydon, Mike Cox, Dave Fuente, and Jeremy Rothgerber have all motivated me to reach as far as I want.
While a resident of California, I have relied on my friends in the south bay and the east bay more than they know. I trust and respect them as I do my family. When I fall short in optimism, gratitude, and perspective, I rely on Joanna Parnes, Alex Klein, Julia Silbergeld, Michel Grosz, Alex Stanczyk, Katie Mathews, and Matt Struhar to remind me anew what matters in life. Sarah Ting and Jessica Compton have counseled me in their example, and I cannot repay the debt. Paul Chung has single-handedly invited me to blast Ryan Adams from his speakers more than everyone else combined: that’s what I call trust. When we moved to San Jose, we were also immediately welcomed into a circle of friends revolving around the Santa Clara University and Stanford University communities. I am grateful for the support we have received from Eric Do, Jimmy and Meghan Shoven, Michael Perez, and our extended partners in book club, karaoke, camping, sports, and Leeroy Jenkins / Boom Beach gaming shenanigans. Our neighbors the Keeneys and Moras have offered their friendship, alliance, and support. We feel lucky to have shared our time in San Jose with February, Shyla, Oscar, and your amazing families.
I want to acknowledge whiffle ball at the Stanford oval as well as yoga at Stanford and in Japantown for helping me reclaim space and peace. And, of course, my favorite recording artist of all time – Ryan Adams – has provided a soundtrack for every occasion since 2002. Over the past 16 years, your music has allowed me to express ideas as confidently as my first attempts. Rewriting your tracks has been cathartic, even as I run the risk of ruining Cold Roses. Thank you. “I’d like to say that I tried.”
My parents, Juan Manuel and Maria del Socorro Pedroza, gave up everything when we moved to the United States almost 30 years ago. I think about the distance my sisters, Maria and Gaby, and my brother, Pedro, have traveled since then, and I know our accomplishments are a direct extension of their high expectations. From my papá, I learned my skepticism and patience. From my mamá, I learned to listen intently and to prepare twice as much as I think is necessary. From Maria, I learned the limitless potential of the mind. From Pedro, I learned how to see things from multiple points of view at the same time. From Gaby, I learned about the meaning of life. From them, I learned unconditional love. I am honored to stand on my grandparents’ shoulders. And I am blessed to have a family in Amanda and Joey Hedden, their boys, and their parents.
Miguel and Dominic have kept me on track and offered their perspective and help every single day. I could not have finished my dissertation without their inspiration and laughter. Miguel is a rock and manages to surprise me all the time.
My wife, Tasha, has been the single most important pillar of support in my life since we met in August of 1999. Over the past six years, she has been my yogi, my light, and my loudest and proudest cheerleader. Not once has she under-estimated me or allowed me to lose sight of who I am as a researcher, husband, father. As long as I have known her, Tasha has been most at home when surrounded by buoyancy and life. Trees and plants reflect her spirit back in the natural world for us to enjoy and steward; her pulse can be measured by our traveling circus of pets (first Rockstar, then Roadie, briefly Emma, and now Tyrion); and now we return to what must have been her ancestral home: the beaches of NorCal’s ocean coast. She has rescued me from a fate of never looking up as I walk; taught me new meanings of the concept of home; woven together fabric from disparate materials; and raised the two happiest boys on the planet. I can’t wait to start a new chapter, always looking up at the stars – raising Miguel Ravi and Dominic “Nico” Xavier to investigate whether they are, in fact, the happiest kids in the known universe.
I dedicate this dissertation to Daniel Eslava (1981-2015).
 An unrepresentative but essential sample of mine (Immigrants Denouncing Fraud: Where do immigrants file complaints about what went wrong on the way to applying to stay in the country?):
“If you want to come to this country, get in line. If you didn’t get here legally and want to stay, you have to go to the back of the line.” Does a line exist? Confronted by labyrinths of institutions and imperfect information, we can understand the appeal of a common refrain – there is no line! – without also forgetting how sometimes, in some places, for at least some unknown periods of time; lines appear. Little amnesties for select nations, for tailored circumstances. Big amnesties whose implementation fall short of the promise. Spaces open up. And when we choose to occupy the space, we agree to a bargain. In exchange for waiting in line, a chance to stay. Not as a guarantee but a negotiated wager. We get paperwork together. We vouch. You vet. We keep appointments. You review. We pay. You get the final say at the long end of a flowchart bearing at least some resemblance to the actual negotiated process. Who gets in line—or, even less, plans to make the journey—without a nascent sense of belonging? “Maybe I get to stay, let’s see if we can.” Citizens in waiting; claiming rights as members; one step at a time. When a door announces “open” and the stakes include a change in legal status, immigrants walk inside but so do a hydrae of characters. Impostors and hollow organizations make a lot of quick money by walking through the door. A fraud does not advertise lack of training or suspicious track records. A vague ad or minimally professional website can look more or less passable. And then, two month’s rent (and maybe even original birth certificates) walk out the door and into a bottomless pit. Gone. Perhaps the chance to make the case to stay just disappeared. What now? Did the window of opportunity effectively close? No one knows how many immigrants end up forfeiting a place in line without a fight. But not everyone remains silent. Speaking up matters even if a grievance, a complaint, or a report does not guarantee justice. Coming forward to denounce—the act, the protest itself—requires a basic recognition of protections against wrongdoing. But what does filing a complaint look like if stigma clouds the process, if the crime does not enjoy elevated regard as crime, if the opportunists who walked away with the money vanished and no record of anything remains? The easy thing to do would be to keep the matter silent. And yet reports of fraud do get filed. Reports of immigration legal services fraud share two things in common: immigrant (typically noncitizen or unauthorized) victims who chose to let the world know what happened and off-the-beaten path offenders (small operations, word-of-mouth referrals, innocuous online or telemarketing scams). Reports of fraud hold clues about where immigrant and allied communities have built the capacity to sustain a nascent tide of change; a shift whose tents come into focus: to belong and to denounce implies membership (even with citizenship out of reach).