The politics of amnesty



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What effects policy choice, especially when the policy chosen is widely held to be unpopular? This dissertation aims to answer why and when certain policy solutions are chosen over others by focusing on a specific policy area (immigration) and a specific policy solution (amnesty or regularization of unauthorized migrants). This work argues that narratives put forth by political entrepreneurs are essential in understanding how policy is made. These policy narratives create new interpretations or understandings of political problems by changing how issues are framed. Additionally, by connecting policy “problems” with larger belief systems, politicians and activists can use narratives to widen their coalition and explain why their preferred solution will resolve the “problem.” Quantitative data from the United States and European Union support the hypothesis that demographic, partisan, economic, and country level variables cannot explain immigration policy choice. Qualitative data, obtained from text analysis of debates in the U.S. Congress and Spanish Parliament are used to support the hypothesis that ideas are the missing variable in explaining immigration policy-making. This dissertation connects the immigration and public policy literatures by exploring how facts are presented and connected to existing ideologies via narratives and framing. This dissertation also makes further contributions by incorporating unsupervised content analysis methods into the study of immigration and policymaking. It takes up the challenge to show that content analysis can be a fruitful way to identify ideas and narratives, and when used to categorize text, these categories can then be used in a process tracing approach to trace the development, rise, and fall of specific frames in policy debates.