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CSDE Seminar Series

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Overcoming Institutional Closure in Immigration Research: How TRAC Uses Public Records Requests to Study the Deportation State

Austin Kocher, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), Syracuse University

CSDE Winter 2024 Lightning Talk & Poster Session

Register HERE.

12:30-1:30 PM PT

101 Hans Rosling Center

101 Hans Rosling Center


Population Health Initiative, Center for Human Rights

One of the most significant barriers to scholarly research on U.S. border enforcement
and immigration control is institutional closure. Closed institutions—such as immigrant
detention centers, immigration courts, and ports of entry along the border—create added barriers to researcher access and limit the production of knowledges that might critique, reform, or transform these systems. To challenge institutional closure, TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) at Syracuse University has spent the last 30 years using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and litigation to make large government datasets on immigration enforcement available to researchers and to the wider public. TRAC’s data provides unique insights into who gets asylum, how many immigrants are detained, and where immigrants facing deportation live—all at a scale that enables multi-disciplinary mix-methods research. Join us for conversation with Dr. Austin Kocher, immigration researcher and faculty member at TRAC, who will unpack TRAC’s various methodologies, key research findings, and ongoing impact on public policy and popular discourse.

Dr. Austin Kocher is a geographer and Assistant Research Professor at the Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research institute at Syracuse University that uses Freedom of Information Act requests to study the federal government. Key areas of Kocher’s current research at TRAC include mapping and analyzing large federal data sets related to immigration detention, enforcement, and deportation, the immigration court system, and trends within the federal criminal and civil courts. Kocher’s research interests focus on the political and legal geographies of racialized policing practices, local immigration enforcement, and the immigration court system. His ongoing work interrogates the legal rationalities and everyday practices of producing “illegalized” immigrants throughout North America and Europe. He uses cartographic, ethnographic, and quantitative methodologies to examine how the immigration courts link up with local immigration enforcement on the ground. His work also examines the strategies and impact of grassroots immigrant rights and worker rights movements that contest deportation as a tool of social and labor control.