The Face of the Nation: Immigration, the State, and the National Identity

The Face of the Nation: Immigration, the State, and the National Identity

The Face of the Nation: Immigration, the State, and the National Identity

The Face of the Nation: Immigration, the State, and the National Identity

Synopsis

This innovative work provides both a historical account of the crazy-quilt of legislation dealing with immigration that Congress has passed over the years and a theoretical explanation, building on the "new institutionalism," of how these laws came to be passed. The author shows why immigration is a uniquely revealing policy arena in which a polity chooses what it will be, a collective decision that shapes a nation's identity and defines itself. The book focuses on three aspects of immigration policy: the regulation of admission to the United States for permanent residency, the regulation of admission of people fleeing political repression, and the efforts to cope with the flow of unsanctioned migrants across the U. S.-Mexico border. It identifies the most puzzling features of contemporary immigration policy, asking, Where do these policies come from? Why do they have their special characteristics? The author seeks the answers in modern theories of public policy formation, especially the currently popular new institutionalism. He offers an enhanced version of this approach, which he calls "improvisational institutionalism," and applies it to the paradoxes of immigration policy.

Excerpt

This book HAS two complementary goals. One is to contribute to recent work in political science that places political institutions at the center in explaining public policy. The second is to explain important features of United States immigration policy. An understanding of how institutions influence the content of public policies helps solve the most puzzling features of immigration policy. Immigration policy, in turn, illuminates central issues and implications for recent institutional political theories. Pursuing these complementary goals together entails something more than the sum of the parts. It involves contemplating the place of politics in the contemporary human condition.

This book's stress on political institutions departs from the way political scientists have explained policy in much of the modern era. For a generation, most political scientists tried to explain public policy by tracing its features to demands that came from outside politics, from economic elites or dominant classes. They reduced the political system to a device that responded to social change by translating it into "outputs," public policies that, contrary to the apparent view of political science, do not seem automatic to the people struggling to enact them. There was always some recognition of the importance of "within-puts" (the way political institutions altered social demands in reacting to them), but these analysts tended to neglect what was special about politics and political institutions as forces structuring culture and economics.

The price of this neglect sometimes showed up in how little political science had to say to people outside the discipline. Some of the best public policy research showed that public officials' actions emerge from technological, cultural, or economic forces outside politics. The critical truth of these studies said, in effect, "What a shame it is that it all has to work out this way." Students and potential activists, who wish to see politics as a way of changing the world, respond with cynicism or dejection to such conclusions. They go from unwar-

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