Considering Unlikely Outcomes
The Peculiar Politics of Immigration
This is a study of the public face of congressional lawmaking that focuses on the official function of imagery, stories, and symbolism in the policy process. It employs specific methods of discourse analysis and Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram's social constructions of target populations theory to explore how public officials use these stories and images in defending legislative solutions to immigration problems.1 The research focused on two policy periods (1981–1986 and 1994–1996) characterized by significant policy changes. Such significant policy changes include alterations in approaches to dealing with a problem (mechanisms referred to as policy tools) and redefinitions of which parties (target populations or groups) should be implicated in these new approaches. I am specifically interested in revealing how legislators justify pursuing policies that narrowly favor very unpopular groups.
Viewed from a historical perspective, policy change is a recurring feature of immigration administration. The criteria and regulatory tools utilized to control immigration have shifted from the establishment of qualitative criteria designed to keep out those unable to support themselves (1875–1917), to overt restriction by race and national origin (1880S-1960S), to the post-1965 system that emphasizes family reunification, labor force needs, and humanitarian considerations. Furthermore, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) represented a significant departure from past policies, marking the first time businesses faced federal penalties for their role in encouraging illegal immigration. It was also the first time that the United States offered resident unauthorized immigrants the chance to regularize their status. By contrast, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act eased compliance requirements for employers while restricting access to public benefits such as housing, food stamps, and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (or TANF) available to legal and illegal immigrants.