Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Capstone 2017 – Madeline Ruhl

Presented May 4, 2017, Madeline Ruhl explored the realities of individuals entering the U.S. via the U.S.-Mexico border from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Examining migration trends can uncover important insights that can help public health officials and human rights advocates on both sides of the movement. However, while this topic has garnered much political attention over the past 50 years, Madeline’s research focused on a specific reality—the use of smugglers (called coyotajes in Mexican-Spanish)—that is not as well researched.

Coyotajes are routinely recruited or hired by individuals to assist them in traveling from Mexico to the U.S. They are paid a fee for their service. The increased use of coyotajes since the mid-1960s is associated with a complex web of political, economic, and social factors, along with increased surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border. The number of visas extended by the U.S. has also fluctuated significantly over the 20th century through legislation including the Immigration and Nationality Act, which additionally contributes to the rate of undocumented immigration.

Madeline’s research aimed to uncover whether the fee paid to coyotajes could uncover important patterns in other life effects. Utilizing data obtained from Princeton University’s Mexican Migration Project (MMP), Madeline’s research yielded some interesting results.
  • The average fee paid to a coyotaje is as high as $1,929 in some regions. 
  • The majority of individuals traveling are male.
  • Group sizes tend to be small averaging two individuals.
  • Fees paid by women are approximately 18% greater.
  • Those in better health paid less.
  • Acculturation contributed to lower later self-reported health.

While research in this area may be difficult to gather, Madeline’s project reminds us of its continuing importance. Investigating relationships like those between fluctuating coyotaje fees paid and associated life effects or health outcomes can reveal important information about at-risk populations. This information could then lead to the development of more effective health initiatives, and a better understanding of a path forward for health officials and human rights advocates on both sides of the border.

Learn more about Madeline’s capstone experience.

What led you to your topic?
In 2015, I received an email blast from Loyola’s Public Health department about a volunteer opportunity with an organization called Community for Children, located in the Rio Grande Valley. I applied and attended their January 2016 program. That opportunity not only changed my life, but it fundamentally shaped my career. It sparked my passion for immigration health.

Why was the content or theme important to you?
When I returned from Texas, I dove into studying immigration law, health, and the factors and outcomes associated with the movement of people. I joined organizations like the Migration Policy Institute to help me further my understanding of global immigration legislation. I focused closely on movement into the U.S. from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries—with a special interest in the movement of unaccompanied children. 

Did you encounter any challenges during your project?
There are always challenges associated with obtaining the data we need as Public Health scientists, and even more so when what those data are extraordinarily sensitive, both ethically and politically.

Where are you headed with your career?
My practicum and capstone projects at Loyola led me to continue my career in immigration health. I currently work as a program evaluator with an organization providing support to unaccompanied migrant children. This summer, I will also be participating in a one-month research project through the American Anthropological Association doing fieldwork in pediatric clinics in Antigua, Guatemala. 

What coursework did you apply to completing your project?
Biostatistics and epidemiology were at the technical core of my project, but I believe that Loyola’s well-rounded curriculum gave me the opportunity to explore the undeniable humanity of my work as well. Fields such as bioethics and research ethics, human behavior and health policies all strongly informed my project. 

A student’s Capstone project is a professional presentation, which demonstrates his/her ability to apply the program learning to a specific public health topic. Selected by the student, the project reflects a culmination of the course curriculum, field experience and independent study. This experience helps students explore their academic passions while preparing them for a competitive job market.

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