The Migrations initiative aims to cultivate collaborations that advance science, scholarship, teaching, outreach, and engagement in ways that generate new insights into critical problems. A call for proposals was issued to support innovative research on migration phenomena that cultivates dialogue; nurtures collaboration across academic disciplines; and integrates, synthesizes, and builds upon existing disciplinary contributions. Fourteen faculty-led projects—many interdisciplinary—received approximately $550,000 in funding from the Migrations initiative in 2020.
We are pleased to announce the inaugural awardees.
Team Research Grants
Come Rain or Come Shine? The Impact of Weather on Migration Decisions and Routes in Mexico
The project explores how weather fluctuations impact migration decisions and routes in Mexico. Through combining the largest existing data on Mexican migration—information from more than 160,000 Mexicans over 50 years—with satellite-based weather data, the team seeks to understand how weather affects livelihoods, and as a result, migration choices in Mexico. Additionally, they will identify potential mitigating factors that could give people the option of staying in their home communities.
Principal investigator: Filiz Garip (College of Arts and Sciences)
- Co-investigator: Nancy Chau (Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management)
- Co-investigator: Ariel Ortiz-Bobea (Dyson)
Advancing the Health of Refugee and Immigrant Populations by Increasing Knowledge of Legal Rights Through Digital Tools
Immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are decreasing their engagement with health systems and public benefits due to a misunderstanding of legal rights and policy, such as the new Public Charge Rule. The team aims to develop original, evidence-based digital tools to inform immigrants of their legal rights, to increase participation in health systems and public benefits. This project is at the nexus of law, medicine, and technology.
Principal investigator: Gunisha Kaur (Weill Cornell Medicine)
- Co-investigator: Stephen Yale-Loehr (Cornell Law)
- Co-investigator: Deborah Estrin (Cornell Tech)
- Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research
Megacity Migration: Social-ecological Impacts of Relocating Indonesia’s Capital City to a Global Biocultural Hotspot
Indonesia is among the first nations to initiate a climate-based migration, transitioning its rapidly sinking and flood-prone capital from densely-populated Java to Borneo. This move will spur wide-ranging changes for forests, communities, and biodiversity. To understand the impacts, the five-person team of natural and social scientists—in collaboration with local partners—will conduct interdisciplinary research across the planned city location, laying the groundwork for long-term partnerships and a strong evidentiary basis for climate migration policy worldwide.
- Principal investigator: Holger Klinck (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
- Co-investigator: Shorna Allred (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences)
- Co-investigator: Victoria Beard (College of Architecture, Art, and Planning)
- Postdoctoral associate: Wendy M. Erb (Lab of Ornithology)
- Postdoctoral associate: Walker DePuy, anticipated (Lab of Ornithology)
Individual Research Grants
Climate Change Impacts on Bowhead Whale Migratory Phenology and Related Subsistence Actives in the Alaskan Arctic
For approximately 2,000 years, indigenous communities in the Arctic have built their calendar around the predictable spring and fall migration of the bowhead whale, which is a primary source of food and fuel that make up the cultural and spiritual center of Iñupiat life. In the face of climate change, these indigenous communities are experiencing rapid ecological changes, and the timing of what was once a predictable migration of this critical resource is now unknown. Using an archive of acoustic survey data spanning the last 30 years in Arctic Alaska, the team proposes to quantify long-term changes in the timing of bowhead migration and investigate how this timing is related to climate change, and how it has impacted subsistence hunting success for Arctic communities.
Principal investigator: Aaron N. Rice (Lab of Ornithology)
- Postdoctoral Associate: Michelle EH Fournet (Lab of Ornithology)
Freedom on the Move: Freedom’s Loom
This migration project builds the next phase of Freedom on the Move, Cornell’s crowd-sourced database of fugitives from North American slavery. Freedom’s Loom will become a database of databases that enhances the ability of scholars from multiple disciplines to study the migration and trajectory and experience of individuals and populations: through slavery, freedom, and beyond. By collaborating with not only scholars but also public historians, genealogists, and archivists the researchers hope to produce a project with deep public impact.
Principal investigator: Edward E. Baptist (A&S)
- Collaborator: Brandon Kowalski (Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research)
- Collaborator: Lynda Kellam (CISER)
Comparative Migrant Farmworker Rights in Asia: Engaging a Failed Post-Colonial Promise
The figure of the peasant played a pivotal role in the construction of post-colonial national identities, invariably including pledges of a brighter future for rural workers. However, interest fell away and regimes such as those governing Indonesians within the Taiwanese fishing and tea industries are largely invisible. This project traces the “implicit” story of postcolonial treatment of the migrant farmworker, one of today’s foremost subalterns. Basing the research in social exclusion theory, the researchers will engage with workers enduring onerous conditions under harsh visa regimes. By confronting stakeholders with documentation of this ill-understood population, the team aims to drive positive change.
Principal investigator: Beth Lyon (Cornell Law)
- Collaborator: Eric Carter (Cornell Cooperative Extension)
International Migrants Bill of Rights Initiative
Cornell’s International Migrants Bill of Rights Initiative (IMBR) will launch a new research project focused on identifying pathways to legal status for migrants—particularly migrant children and migrants fleeing adversity—grounded in human rights law and standards. The recently concluded U.N. Global Compact on Refugees and Global Compact for Migration prioritize expanding pathways to admission and status to address forced migration and promote safe, orderly and regular migration. Developing clear guidance on how the human rights framework must serve as the basis for such pathways and clear prescriptions for policy will help ensure that the changes states implement strengthen the legal rights migrants enjoy in practice.
Principal investigator: Ian Kysel (Cornell Law)
Workshops and Student Engagement
Peacebuilding, Climate Change, and Migration
A better understanding of the complex relationships between and among climate change, conflict, and migration is urgently needed. An initial workshop will launch a research project building on past research. The team will examine regions that have been understudied, but are characterized by significant migration flows and vulnerability to climate change, and how climate-related migration might be turned into a unifying force for peacebuilding, rather than a source of conflict.
Whose America? U.S. Immigration Policy Since 1986
Ten immigration scholars from across the disciplines will gather on Cornell’s campus on May 1–2, 2020 for a two-day symposium and book workshop. The presentations (and the anthology that will follow) examine the impacts of post-1980 immigration laws and policies on U.S. society and transnational immigrant communities. The workshop will address such issues as the deterrence and detention of asylum seekers; the technologies of border enforcement; the privileging of high skilled labor; diversity lotteries; racial, gender-based, and ideological exclusion; Temporary Protected Status; and the sanctuary movement.
Principal Investigator: Maria Cristina Garcia (A&S)
The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, with Isabel Wilkerson
The Cornell Center for Social Sciences, in partnership is excited to bring Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson to Cornell for her talk, Our Racial Moment of Truth. Wilkerson is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, which documents the story of the migration of more than six million African Americans from largely Southern rural areas to largely urban areas in the North, Midwest, and West. The talk is free, open to the public, co-sponsored by the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and will be followed by a reception to encourage community dialogue and interaction with Ms. Wilkerson.
Merekoo Aba: Migration of the Kayeye and Sea Turtles of Ghana
What are the factors that lead young women head porters—known as the kayeye—to migrate to urban areas in Ghana? Why do sea turtles travel thousands of miles along the migratory corridor? What prompts these movements over long distances? Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies Institute for African Development (IAD) undergraduate interns will seek to understand what factors prompt the migration of both people and animal towards unfamiliar territories and what changes can be put into place to make the journey less hazardous.
Principal investigator: Muna Ndulo (Cornell Law)
- Collaborator: Jackie Sayegh, program manager (IAD)
Border Spaces and Environmental Justice
This project takes a deep dive into borders as vibrant spaces for environmental justice. Integrating field research with engaged learning, the faculty researchers will conduct a comparative study of this question at two sites: Brownsville, Texas, located on the Rio Grande across from Matamoros in Mexico, and Buffalo, New York, which often escapes attention as a border city similarly shaped by the entanglements between geo-biological and urban-industrial forces constantly interacting with the ebb and flow of human bodies, cultures, and values. The objective is to develop an understanding of border spaces as crucibles of “Anthropocene in place,” both as cautionary tales of environmental injustice as well as potential models of a livable future.
Latin American Immigration to the U.S.: The Economic and Security Dimensions of Migratory Flows
The U.S. response to immigration from Mexico and Central America has been a source of considerable political conflict, but debates over immigration policy routinely gloss over the conditions that force migrants to flee their country of origin. The Einaudi Center for International Studies Latin American Studies Program is launching a workshop with research and educational activities focused on the sources of migration from Latin America to the U.S. The workshop will explore the conditions, or “push factors,” that drive migrants from their home communities in Mexico and Central America. These conditions are complex and interwoven, as they include a wide range of insecurities rooted in “illicit” economies and the varied forms of criminal and state-directed violence they engender.
Principal investigator: Kenneth Roberts (A&S)
Don’t Waste an Outbreak: Learning from the Past and Present to Inform the Future
Cornell Public Health faculty will convene a series of working meetings with students and researchers from Cornell peer institutions to explore the conditions that allow for emerging communicable diseases. Grounded in One Health and Planetary Health paradigms (how humans interact with, influence, and are influenced by our natural environments, including the health of animals), the team will use outbreak case studies of the past and present to understand root causes, and to develop shared recommendations and action plans for the future that consider intersecting factors such as wildlife trade and management, food system drivers and consequences, cultural norms, public health and regulatory systems, and multi-national systems strengthening opportunities.
Principal investigator: Gen Meredith (College of Veterinary Medicine)
- Co-investigator: Alexander J. Travis (CVM)
- Co-investigator: Gary R. Whittaker (CVM)
Learn more about the Migrations initiative:
Migrations Initiative Announces Cross-campus Awards (Cornell Chronicle, February 28, 2020)
Cornell Tackles ‘Migrations’ Global Challenge (Cornell Chronicle, October 23, 2019)