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Hagan's research focuses on immigration policy effects, the place of religion in migration, migration and labor market incorporation, and the role of the sending state in immigrant integration. She relies on mixed methods approaches and conducts surveys and fieldwork in places of origin and destination in Latin America and the United States.

Hagan's scholarship on immigration policy examines the social and economic effects of U.S. immigration policy on immigrants and their families. The research is based on surveys with deportees in their home communities in El Salvador and Mexico. Research to assess the impacts of deportation in sending and receiving communities shows that during arrest, immigrants experience twice as much force as citizens in the hands of arresting officers and officials, and that most deportees had established work, residential, and family ties in the US. These findings were presented to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (July 2007) as well as published in Social Forces. Subsequent research has demonstrated the effect of deportation polices on family separation and remigration, calling into question the efficacy of U.S. enforcement policies.

Hagan's second area of research focuses on the place of religion in migration in the migration process. Most research on immigration examines the role of religion in immigrant integration. In her award winning book, Migration Miracle: Faith, Hope, and Meaning on the Undocumented Journey (Harvard University Press 2008), Hagan broadens the focus and illustrates the powerful role of institutional and personal religion in all stages of the migration process, including the decision to migrate, the departure, the journey, and the arrival. These themes are further examined in several other publications on religion and migration in historical and comparative perspectives.

Hagan's third area of research examines variation in the work experience for different immigrant groups, from the highly skilled to those with little education, for women and men, and for legal and undocumented alike. Her award-winning book, Skills of the Unskilled: Work and Mobility among Mexican Migrants (University of California Press 2015) challenges the notion of the 'unskilled' migrant. Most labor and migration studies classify migrants with limited formal education or credentials as 'unskilled.' Despite the value of migrants' work experiences and the substantial technical and interpersonal skills developed throughout their lives, the labor-market contributions of these migrants are often overlooked and their mobility pathways poorly understood. Skills of the 'Unskilled' reports the findings of a five-year study that draws on research including interviews with 200 Mexican non migrants and 320 Mexican migrants and return migrants in North Carolina and Guanajuato, Mexico. Hagan and her colleagues uncover these migrants' lifelong human capital and identify mobility pathways associated with the acquisition and transfer of skills across the migratory circuit, including reskilling, occupational mobility, job jumping, and entrepreneurship.

Hagan's return migration study is methodologically innovative, interviewing migrants in places of origin and destination and across the migratory circuit. The study has broad implications for the return migration policies of the United States and Mexico. There is a fundamental skills mismatch in current U.S. immigration policy which gives preference to 'skilled' immigrants who rank high on traditional human capital attributes and restricts the entry of 'low skilled' migrants, a classification that ignores the high level of informal skills they bring to labor markets. The study also has broad implication for the return migration policies of the Mexican government. Between 2005 and 2010 an estimated 1.4 million returned to Mexico from the U.S., a figure roughly double the number who had returned in the five-year period a decade earlier. The Mexican government should support entrepreneurial activities and reintegration programs that recognize and reward skills of return migrants.

Hagan continue to study U.S. immigration, emigration, and the incorporation of migrants and return migrants. In summer 2015 and 2018, Hagan and Wassink (former CPC trainee, now a Posy-doc at Princeton) conducted a follow-up study on return migration to Mexico. This study represents the first longitudinal study of return migration to Mexico. The research focuses on migration histories and the labor market experiences of sub groups of return migrants interviewed in 2010, including forced returnees (deportees), women and men, and entrepreneurs. Hagan is interested in the long-term social mobility experiences of the return migrants that she interviewed in 2010. In 2010 the majority of the migrants were faring well in the local economy, in part because they were able to mobilize social and technical skills learned in the U.S. labor market and apply them to their jobs upon return home. Hagan will assess the social mobility experiences of the migrants five years later. She is especially interested in 1)examining the status of entrepreneurs who had established businesses in 2010 and 2) the gendered experiences of return migrants. She is at beginning stages of drafting a book manuscript on gender and return migration.

Hagan is also a member of a project that focuses on the role of sending states in the integration of their diaspora. Mexicans comprise the largest immigrant population in the United States, and the Mexican consular network is also the largest and most established in the country. Thus, these consular offices are important entities for the delivery of services, the protection and safeguarding of rights, and the coordination of integration programs. Hagan, along with Professor Weissman form UNC law, and two CPC trainees (Riccardo Martinez-Schuldt) has launched a study to examine the circumstances and institutional mechanisms that motivate and support Mexican immigrants in the United States who seek legal assistance from the Mexican Consulate.

Associated Research Themes