American Dreams: How Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Shaped the Politics of Immigraiton Policy
Cepuran, Colin Joseph Gaunt
Scholars of the politics of public policy show that policy change has the potential to shift politics. Moreover, politicians often seek to secure favorable political outcomes through this dynamic, which is known as “policy feedback.” Yet, both elites and scholars have devoted insufficient attention to how policy can have different, confounding feedbacks on different “levels” of policy. To remedy this, I develop a multi-level, dynamic theory of how policy change shapes the politics of beneficiaries, the public at large, and elite political actors. I test this theory by applying it to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a prominent immigration initiative in the Obama administration that, I argue, sought to harness policy feedback to break the immigration politics stalemate. I trace three feedbacks in this dissertation. First, DACA identified a population of young, integrated, and vulnerable undocumented immigrants in the United States—the “Dreamers”—as a discrete community defined by common barriers and deservingness. Despite its connecting and helping the Dreamers, DACA had little impact on their attitudes or identities. Second, Obama’s rhetoric around DACA emphasized the conformity and vulnerability of the Dreamers, which primed new considerations about immigrants in the public, briefly bolstering support for immigration. Finally, by leading immigration policymaking in the face of Congressional inaction, Obama signaled his willingness to barter regularization (a more secure—but not legal—status for the Dreamers) for enforcement, and reshaped the politics of immigration policymaking, both shifting short-term electoral dynamics, and providing unequivocal guidance to bureaucracies that were often at cross purposes. Tracing these diverse feedbacks builds understanding of DACA’s consequences. DACA’s effects varied greatly across each level: positive at the institutional level, positive to neutral in the mass public, and neutral to negative among beneficiaries. In short, policy shaped politics at different levels of politics in different, sometimes contradictory ways. By considering each level distinctly, I am better able to account for the equivocal, limited impacts of DACA, and its failure to remake American immigration policy. I conclude by discussing how the institutional investments that made DACA possible played a limited role in Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policy.
American Politics; Public Policy; Race and Ethnicity
Michener, Jamila; Garcia-Rios, Sergio I.; Enns, Peter
Ph. D., Government
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis