The “Guts” of Immigration Law: On the People and Contexts that Shape the Administration of United States Immigration Law
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The “Guts” of Immigration Law: On the People and Contexts that Shape the Administration of United States Immigration Law

Abstract

A range of people make decisions on a daily basis that can ultimately result in noncitizens’ deportation from the United States. These actors responsible for interpreting and implementing immigration law make up the “guts” of the U.S. immigration system. This dissertation focuses on the actors whose discretion is most likely to matter first in deciding whether a given noncitizen gets put on the deportation conveyer belt—local law enforcement officers—and the actors whose discretion matters last of all in deciding whether a noncitizen gets taken off the same conveyor belt—immigration judges (“IJs”). I elaborate on how the organizational, political, and social environment of these actors contributes to heterogeneity in their decisions. Chapter 2 asks if the motivations behind sheriffs’ decisions to participate in immigration enforcement influence the consequences of such participation. I focus on social influence—influence experienced because of participation in public official associations (“POAs”)—as a motivation for sheriffs’ decisions to get involved in immigration enforcement. I find that (1) POA participation shaped the timing and manner in which counties showed interest in immigration enforcement and (2) those counties that were most likely to have had social influence be a factor in their decision to participate in immigration enforcement subsequently became the counties that escalated commitment to immigration enforcement at the highest levels. Chapter 3 asks how a rapid change in social perceptions of a national-origin group triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic influenced immigration judges’ decision-making in U.S. removal proceedings. This study with Emily Ryo produces three key findings that answer this question. First, we find that Chinese respondents experienced a significantly higher removal rate during the early pandemic period. Second, we find that East and Southeast Asian respondents also experienced a significantly higher removal rate during the early pandemic period. Notably we also found that increases in the number of cases involving Chinese respondents increased the removal rate for East and Southeast Asian respondents during the early months of the pandemic. Third, we found the decline in the removal rate in the later pandemic period was more gradual and lagged for East and Southeast Asian than Chinese respondents. Chapter 4 asks whether having received training at an elite law school influences IJs’ response to different external influences. First, looking at the change between the Obama and Trump administrations, I test the effect of shifts in IJ behavior that accompany changes in presidential administration. Second, I test the effect of tendencies toward conformity in decision-making that comes with higher levels of similarity to fellow judges. Third, I test the effect of responses to crisis, which I do with a case study of increased bias toward Chinese nationals at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings generally suggest that IJs who graduated from elite law schools show lower levels of sensitivity to external sources of influence. The dissertation’s conclusion highlights contributions of these studies to the understanding of the administration of immigration law and other bodies of research while also identifying commonalities across studies.

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