When Institutional Boundaries Meet New Political Ideas: Courts, Congress and U.S. Immigration Policy Reform (Working Paper #38)

Valerie F. Hunt, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies

Introduction: How different domestic governing institutions interact to shape U.S. immigration policy is an under-examined area in political science. To this end, this study turns to the institutional agenda-setting approach for investigating how the courts can and do get involved in the immigration policy process. This study addresses the question “do shifts in the relationship between federal governing institutions influence policy change in U.S. immigration policy during the post World War II era?”

Recent research by institutional agenda-setting scholars in political science have demonstrated empirically that significant changes in policy are, in part, a function of the changing boundaries between the national governing institutions about decision-making authority over old and newly emergent issues (Flemming, Bohte and Wood 1997, Flemming, Wood and Bohte 1999; Jones, Baumgartner and Talbert 1993; Jones and Strahan 1985; Kingdon 1984). Institutional jurisdictions are defined as the organizational locations within which binding decisions are made (King 1997). I argue that a change in the relationship between the judiciary and the legislature regarding jurisdictional authority over immigrant rights increased the likelihood for changes in U.S. immigration policy. Overlapping jurisdictional authority of the Court and Congress set the stage for opportunities for changes in the
structure of the immigration policy process and in the composition of policy outcomes. This jurisdictional overlap resulted from new issues involving the rights of immigrants in regards to naturalization and citizenship emerging in the U.S. national political arena. The emergence of these new issues shifted the Court’s attention from evaluating all issues of entry and exit of migrants as a matter of national sovereignty (and thus governed by plenary power deference to Congress) to redefining some particular issues of entry and exit as a matter of remedying violations of immigrant rights as protected under the equal protection clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Working Paper #38»