Across the globe, people are on the move. Some migrate by choice – in pursuit of educational opportunity or economic mobility. But many are forced to flee their homes because of conflict, violence or environmental disaster.

Worldwide, the United Nations reports that there are currently 65.6 million people forcibly displaced. Europe is dealing with what is being called the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. Meanwhile, in the United States, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, representing 3.4 percent of the total population.

Global migration is one of the biggest issues facing people all over the world. According to Stanford researchers, it is also one of the most misunderstood.

“When it comes to immigration policy, people tend to rely on anecdotes and ideology rather than evidence,” said Duncan Lawrence, executive director of Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab.

Lawrence and other Stanford scholars are researching immigration to help people better understand the issue. Here are some of their findings.


Addressing the implications of migration is undoubtedly complex. When it comes to policy, the politics of it can make it an even trickier issue. As Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Steven Callander has said in Stanford Business Insights, “Politics in practice is messier, largely because politicians are trying to solve hard, constantly changing problems.”

Immigration policy is one of those ever-evolving issues.

Stanford scholars have examined its implications, including legal concerns about citizenship, naturalization and the appeals process.

Low-income immigrants face barriers to U.S. citizenship

New research shows that lowering application fees for naturalization could help more U.S. immigrants gain the benefits of citizenship.

Stanford expert deconstructs Trump's immigration policy

Q&A with Jens Hainmueller, professor of political science and faculty co-director of the Stanford Immigration Policy Lab.

Building the case for a California foreign policy

As California and other states and cities act on their own on the international stage, Stanford scholars explore how these sub-federal actors are shifting the laws that would otherwise limit their state authority in foreign affairs.

How citizenship for immigrants leads to better integration

Naturalized immigrants are more politically engaged and have a greater knowledge about their new country.

Why politicians have incentives to let outdated policies linger

Real-world disruptions inevitably lead to "policy decay," but corrections are hard to come by.

Stanford law professor weighs in on Supreme Court’s decision to hear travel ban case

Stanford law professor Jayashri Srikantiah discusses the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Trump Administration’s appeals about Trump’s executive order banning travel of certain nationals from Muslim-majority countries.

Immigration appeals process lacks consistency, fairness, Stanford research shows

A Stanford scholar found that the appeals process for the immigration courts fails to correct disparities in judges' decisions. He suggests new reforms to make the process more fair and consistent.

Should states give driver's licenses to unauthorized residents?

New research shows a positive safety impact of a California law that gave 800,000 people a license to drive.

New Asylum Policies and Crisis at the Border

Stanford law scholars, including Jayashri Srikantiah, discuss the evolving asylum requirements and policies as well as the new executive order on family separation.

Effects & Outcomes

In addition to legal, political and economic impacts, immigration is connected to other outcomes, including health and well-being.

“There are a lot of beliefs about policies, but not a lot of evidence on how policies impact the undocumented and the communities in which they live,” said Jens Hainmueller, a professor of political science and faculty co-director of the Stanford Immigration Policy Lab, in a report about his study that addressed mental health of parents eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Michele Barry, director of the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, has said, “The number of refugees and internally displaced persons due to conflict is unprecedented.” Barry is also a principal investigator of a new campus-wide initiative to address the Syrian refugee crisis. “We believe universities have an important role to play in better understanding the impact and limitations of current aid strategies,” Barry said.

Here is some of the research led by Stanford scholars about the impact of immigration and government policy.

The psychological impact of early life stress and parental separation

Stanford psychologist Ian H. Gotlib discusses the psychological effects of early-life stress and parental separation. Gotlib’s research has shown that children need their parents for their own emotional well-being.

5 Questions: How border separations can traumatize children

Unplanned separation from parents is among the most damaging events a young child can experience, according to trauma research. A Stanford expert explains how it can hurt kids’ development.

Stanford sociologist flips assimilation formula

In his new book, sociologist Tomás Jiménez turns the conventional analysis of assimilation on its head and dissects the phenomenon from the perspective of Silicon Valley’s established population.

New campus-wide initiative to address Syrian refugee crisis

A team of Stanford researchers has launched an initiative to explore how universities can best respond to the large and growing number of Syrian refugees.

DACA eligibility for mothers improves children's mental health

Children with mothers eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program suffer from lower rates of anxiety and adjustment disorders than those with mothers who lack DACA eligibility.

Fairness favored in Europe’s refugee crisis

Stanford scholars surveyed 18,000 citizens of 15 European countries and found that they support allocating asylum seekers proportional to each country’s capacity, even if the number of asylum seekers to their own countries would increase.

Bias leads to supporting ‘boundary-enhancing’ initiatives

People who believe that certain social groups share an unchangeable essence are more likely to support programs and legislation that keep those social groups separated.

Immigration debate affects children

History Professor Emeritus Albert Camarillo says that key questions in the immigration debate regarding native-born children and separation of families remain unresolved and problematic. View Q&A with Al Camarillo (PDF)

Stanford students learn about community from Spanish-speaking immigrants

Community-engaged Spanish classes take students outside the bubble and change their worldview along the way.

5 Questions: Rita Hamad on why living in poor neighborhoods could be bad for your health

The Stanford researcher co-authored a new study showing that refugees assigned to the most deprived Swedish neighborhoods were 15 to 30 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.


Reflecting on the past can provide useful insights into why problems persist, what policies work and, just as important, what doesn’t work.

“The best reason to study history is to discover past possibilities that are not apparent today,” said Stanford’s Richard White, a professor of American history, in an interview about his book that analyzes U.S. history from 1865 to 1896. “Many debates over today’s policy recommendations on how to solve American problems go back to the debates over Gilded Age policies.” Immigration is one of the topics White has studied.

Through a historical lens, Stanford researchers have examined global migration over decades and even centuries to better understand the social dynamics that exist today.

Here are some studies led by Stanford scholars that examine migration from a historical perspective.

Analyzing undocumented Mexican migration in U.S. during 1970s

Stanford historian Ana Raquel Minian explains how undocumented migration from Mexico to the United States became entrenched between 1965 and 1986 in her recently published book.

Reconsidering United States’ Reconstruction era, Gilded Age

Historian Richard White analyzes U.S. history from 1865 to 1896 and provides a fresh perspective on the time period, which was marked by rising inequality and corruption.

Returning home during Age of Mass Migration

New research by Stanford economist Ran Abramitzky studies Norwegian immigrants to the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries who chose to return to Europe.

Early culture shaped by migration and population growth

Bursts of cultural advance are usually assumed to result from climate or biological changes. A new theory digs into how humans innovate.  

History of Mexican social clubs’ development, influence

Stanford historian Ana Raquel Minian traces the establishment of Mexican social clubs and the funds they raised for their hometowns between the 1960s and 1980s.

Japanese immigrant’s diaries on display

A Stanford alumnus and his family donated the diaries of his great-uncle, a Japanese businessman who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1900s. The diaries give a unique perspective into life for Japanese immigrants during that time.

(Image credit: Kate Chesley)

Campus Resources

Stanford is committed to supporting all members of the university community around issues of immigration enforcement and international travel.

Stanford provides information, support to international and immigrant communities

As the federal administration pursues new directives on immigration enforcement and international travel, the university continues a range of efforts to inform and support the Stanford community.

Update on Stanford’s support for immigrant community members

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell issue an update on Stanford’s efforts to support all members of the campus community, regardless of immigration status.

Stanford law clinic launches website for nonprofit pro bono support

Stanford Law School's Organizations and Transactions Clinic has launched a website offering free access to hundreds of sample legal documents for attorneys who represent nonprofit organizations.

Stanford's commitments to undocumented students

In a post on the Notes from the Quad blog, Provost Persis Drell details the university's commitments to undocumented members of the community.