A research question
October 20, 2009 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I need to do some empirical research of a kind I know next to nothing about. Please help!

(Asking anonymously so that friends on metafilter don't connect my real identity to my pseudonym, as they would recognize me from the question).

I am trying to figure out the economic circumstances of illegal immigrants in Texas in 1993. I don't really know where to start, and I am very constrained in how much time I can spend on this, so I don't want to spend too much time groping blindly in the dark. I don't even know how good the data is, given that illegal immigrants are probably trying to avoid visibility (right?). How would I go about trying to figure out things like median income, family size, and so on? I am also worried that my total ignorance will make it difficult to determine how trustworthy data is. For example, googling led me to the Center for Immigration Studies, but since I have never heard of them, I don't know what their reputation is or whether they have an institutional bias.

If it helps, the specific question I am trying to answer is this: how many illegal immigrants in the state of Texas in 1993 could have afforded to spend $400 per child per year if that money were required as a "tuition" before their child could attend the public schools?
posted by anonymous to Education (7 answers total)
This is a report (.pdf) from the Texas Comptroller's Office about undocumented immigrants in Texas. Exhibit 3 and the accompanying text address public school costs (estimates, at least), although for 2004-05, not 1993. You are wise to take CIS and their info with a grain of salt; a little googling brought me to this, which outlines their history and touches on some of their reports (nativist to outright racist), and this. They are hardly unbiased or nonpartisan.
posted by rtha at 9:34 AM on October 20, 2009

It seems like there's a chance that you're working on this in some sort of academic setting. If that's the case, and your university (or a university in your area, for that matter) has a decent library, go there and talk to one of the research librarians. Finding strange stuff is like candy for them, and I have called on them many, many times when I hit what I thought to be absolute dead ends or had no idea where to start. They'll help you, and they'll be thrilled to do it.
posted by plaingurl at 9:42 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

The question I always ask at the beginning of research (particularly for statistics is: who would have published something about this? or who would have collected this information?

But really, go to a library, this is what they are for, this includes public libraries and academic.
posted by Gor-ella at 10:13 AM on October 20, 2009

The Pew Research Center gathers data and writes reports on undocumented immigrants, and their research is pretty trusted. I don't know off the top of my head whether they have data as granular as what you're trying to get at but it would definitely be the first place I'd look.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:32 AM on October 20, 2009

Was this $400 fee a policy throughout Texas, or was it just in specific school districts?
Even today that would be a lot more than most poor families could afford.
What you could look at is US Census data, and HUD data on median income. I am an academic librarian, don't have time to look stuff up now, feel free to email me with more specifics.
posted by mareli at 11:02 AM on October 20, 2009

Regarding mareli's suggestion of using government datasets: I'm guessing that if you're time-limited you might not have the ability to go to the data and manipulate it yourself, but if you do, a pretty useful resource is this guide on data about immigrants, put out by the Urban Institute.

The year you're looking at makes this a bit harder; the Census Bureau didn't add a question asking about citizenship and nativity until 1994. (You can use the responses to those two questions to get an okay proxy of undocumented** immigrant status, by looking for non-citizens who were born outside the U.S.; however note that you'll also be catching refugees, student visa holders, and other noncitizen immigrants who are here legally.) The March CPS, which is publicly available data, has a whole lot of information about income, household size, and whether children are in the household, which gets to what you're trying to ask. The major difficulty is separating out the undocumented immigrants from immigrants who are in the country legally.

There unfortunately just isn't a lot of good data out there on this subject. The most respected researchers (like the ones at Pew or Urban Institute) basically use a bunch of different data sources, like Census data and INS data, to create their estimates. It's fairly complicated reconciliation process and uses some data that is (as far as I'm aware) not available publicly, which is why your best bet is using briefings, papers, or reports that reputable sources have published.

**Just a note: if you are searching the literature and using the term "illegal immigrant," you're going to end up with a fair amount of politicized (I hesitate to even call it) research. The term that most academics use is "undocumented", not "illegal."
posted by iminurmefi at 11:27 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why don't you ask a reference librarian?
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:11 PM on October 20, 2009

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