Carnegie Mellon University

Steven AcetiSteven Aceti

Evaluating the United States Immigration System Through a User-Driven Efficiency Model in Allegheny County

Advisor: Ignacio Arana
Major: International Relations and Politics


The federal government has long worked to combat unauthorized migration across the United States border. This issue has spanned across previous administrations, constituting a significant portion of the federal law enforcement budget. Also, current immigration practices impose employment restrictions, family separations, systemic barriers for visa applicants, lack of transparency and predictability of numerous immigration paths and challenges for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking to obtain visas. Perhaps incentivizing legal migration and voluntary compliance with federal immigration law could reduce enforcement expenses and create opportunities to improve these current immigration practices. This thesis will identify a series of incentives or “win-win” strategies to make more efficient processes of legal immigration by reducing barriers to compliance and identifying incentives for compliance according to the immigrants. By using a bottom-up approach and giving the users of the immigration system a voice seldom heard, this research will create efficiencies in the implementation of immigration compliance.


I am a rising senior studying International Relations and Politics and am also a member of CMU SALSA, the Spanish and Latin Student Association, a member of CMU’s Undergraduate Student Senate, (currently serving on the Advocacy Committee) and the President-elect of Alpha Phi Omega, a coed service fraternity, as well as a Student College Instructor.

I want to pursue a career in international law and diplomacy with a focus on human rights but am also passionate about voice acting, writing and performing comedy, art and graphic design and creative writing. I knew I wanted to pursue this career path when I was in high school. I realized how many problems humanity faced, from the rise of reactionary, nationalist politics and authoritarian strongmen eroding the democratic values of my country, to the ongoing warfare in nations like Syria and Yemen. I also was motivated by the impending global climate crisis, and I wanted to join those actively seeking solutions to these problems at the international level. Lastly, I was exposed to the field of policy research and advocacy throughout my time on the debate team and realized that I had a talent for research and writing on world affairs, something I have continued to do here at Carnegie Mellon.

For my thesis, I chose to conduct research on immigration and the barriers that immigrants face while going through their immigration services. I chose to focus on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County because I believe in serving our local community. The hurdles that even the most brilliant immigrants face during this process are something that I am personally familiar with. My mother is an immigrant herself, brought in on a student visa from Mexico, and I have seen her struggle with the inefficiencies and arbitrary rules of the immigration system for my entire life. It is my goal through my research to identify where the immigration system fails those it is supposed to serve and devise strategies for how the system can do better in helping immigrants obtain residency, employment services and citizenship. 

Growing up in Los Angeles has also informed my interest in immigration. We are such a diverse and beautiful community, in large part due to our large immigrant populations. Getting to experience such a robust multicultural community has shown me the benefits of welcoming immigrants and seeing the rise of nationalism and xenophobia during the last administration translated into increasing restrictions and cruelty towards immigrant groups has shown me the urgency of reestablishing the balance in our immigration system by empowering the unheard voices of the immigrant communities and allowing their voices to be heard.