Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Muted Voice? Red Tape and Latino Political Participation

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Muted Voice? Red Tape and Latino Political Participation

Article excerpt


Not all rules are red tape, and not all rules are bad; as Herbert Kaufman (1977) said, "One's man's red tape is another's procedural safeguard." Still, the concept of red tape tends to carry a negative connotation because it consists of "rules, regulations, and procedures in place [that] entail a compliance burden but do not advance the legitimate purpose the rules were intended to serve" (Bozeman, 2000, p.12). Red tape is inherent to bureaucracy, commonly characterized as being wasteful and being too slow to act, a hindrance to innovation. Kaufman (1977) is responsible for seminal work on red tape in public organizations; at the onset of this line of research, he characterized red tape as "too many constraints, that many of the constraints seem pointless, and that the agencies seem to take forever to act" (p. 4-5). Bozeman (1993, p. 275) reinforced this years later (8) "In common usage, red tape has a strongly negative tenor ... red tape is not only of the 'most enduring and universal rejection symbols in the English language,' but it is a 'classic condensation symbol in that it incorporates a vast array of subjectively held feelings and expresses them succinctly.'"

Within the past 20 years, the literature on bureaucratic red tape in the public sector has become exceedingly richer; the sheer number of articles on red tape indicate a growing interest in the subject as it is a key characteristic of American public administration, and scholars have embarked on the study of the concept from a variety of perspectives (for example, see Bozeman, 1993; Bozeman & Scott, 1996; Pandey & Scott, 2002; Bozeman, 2000; DeHart-Davis, 2009).

More recently in this dialogue, however, it has come to light how the study of red tape has neglected certain areas inherent to a democratic government, "specifically its impact on basic citizenship rights" (Moynihan & Herd, 2010, p. 655). The literature has evolved to acknowledge that a dimension of red tape is its unequal distribution of compliance burdens. Societal groups can be targeted with red tape; this can manifest itself in cumbersome and complex requirements that may add additional costs (both monetary and non-monetary alike), and groups can be adversely affected when access to their citizenship rights is challenged (Moynihan & Herd, 2010; Brodkin & Majmundar, 2010).


Burdensome policies designed or implemented using extensive layers of complex rules play an important role in how citizens access fundamental citizenship rights and in whether citizens become either politically engaged or withdrawn. "Policies are the primary means by which citizens experience the state. They empower some groups, and discourage others" (Moynihan & Herd, 2010, p. 654).

In recent years, there has been increasing legislation across the country aimed at Latinos, (9) specifically state policies used in immigration and security political rhetoric. Examples include new policies on requirements for driver license and identification cards and legislation like Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 (S.B.1070), (10) which makes numerous new requirements of Arizona residents. This policy awards broad discretion to public administrators in its implementation and overwhelmingly affects Latinos. The legislative requirements are not uniformly applied to all residents across the state; rather, compliance is mandatory from individuals who appear "reasonably suspicious" of being undocumented with local, state, and federal law enforcement. Since it is estimated that 75% of undocumented immigrants are Latinos and about half of the undocumented population is of Mexican descent (Lopez, Morin, & Taylor, 2010), Latinos of Mexican nationality are disproportionately affected by these policies, regardless of their legal immigration status.

The main problem presented by a disproportionate allocation of red tape is the potential to hinder access to citizenship rights and ultimately impact citizen participation patterns. …

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