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Political Science in Europe

Multiple Pathways to Policy Diffusion in Immigration Federalism in the United States

Policy Analysis
Allan Colbern
Arizona State University
Allan Colbern
Arizona State University

California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, in 2017, boldly claimed that the state would protect its undocumented residents, telling the Trump administration and federal government, “if you want to get to them, you have to go through us.” California has enacted several protective measures for the undocumented: the Trust Act, lawful driver's licenses, basic employment rights and non-discriminatory access to higher education. Yet, what emerged from California’s two decades of passing pro-immigrant policies do not preclude other states or localities from making similar expansions in immigrant rights. Drawing from an original dataset, this paper provides a 50-state analysis of policy diffusion for key policies enacted from 1996 to 2018, to identify and explain the role played by federalism dynamics, immigrant advocacy, partisanship, coalition building, and demographic change and diversity. The growing subfield of immigration federalism in the United States has thus far been dominated by quantitative approaches that explain policy variation through national-scale aggregate analyses. Examining the timing, sequencing and pace of policy diffusion and absence of diffusion on key pro-immigrant policies over the past two decades, this paper provides fine-grained analysis of multiple causal processes. Specifically, the paper reveals that different processes explain why diffusion varies on policies enacted to provide undocumented immigrants’ access to college education, driver licenses, health care, business licenses, employment protection, due process protection, and sanctuary from interior federal enforcement.
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