First Advisor

Craig W. Shinn

Term of Graduation

Winter 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Affairs and Policy


Public Affairs and Policy




Emigration and immigration -- Government policy, Local government, Oregon -- Emigration and immigration -- Government policy -- Case studies



Physical Description

1 online resource (xiii, 452 pages)


This research study presents a new model of immigration federalism which integrates existing theories into a framework that emphasizes agency at the local level. Unlike dominant models of federalism that observe the cascading effect of higher-level policy on lower levels of government, this research focuses on empirical evidence at the local level to understand its relation to policy at higher levels. Immigration federalism is receiving substantial interest in scholarly work and in practice, but it lacks a cohesive and comprehensive theory explaining variation at the community level. There is little reason to expect sweeping changes in immigration policy at the federal level anytime soon, but immigration policy continues to change in practice. Understanding changes in immigration policy, particularly at the state and local levels of government, is valuable, and a comprehensive theory of immigration federalism focusing on lower levels of government expands perspectives of federalism.

The research for this study follows a nested case study design that involves collecting and analyzing secondary and primary data at the federal, state, and local levels. Secondary data were collected at three levels of government--federal, state, and local--for each case study. Semi-structured interviews of public administrators and community leaders were conducted at the local level. This primary data were analyzed using grounded theory and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA). The five case studies that result from data collection and analysis frame immigration policy at the federal level, across 50 U.S. states and in Oregon particularly, and in the Oregon cities of Sandy, Nyssa, and Madras. These case studies are compared within and across levels of government to construct a new model of immigration federalism.

Following this nested approach, I created and refined a theory of immigration federalism by constructing an overarching framework reflecting the institutional context of immigration policy at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Each level yielded understanding which informed, modified, and optimized information gathering at the next level, so construction of the framework was recursive throughout the research project. The resulting model emphasizes a policy's connection to the public at the local level and highlights the role of governance in balancing rather than resolving tensions. This immigration federalism model helps describe the dynamic nature of the intergovernmental influence and the reality of independent local authority in the United States that results in different policy outcomes locally depending on polity perspectives and civic capacity of the community. Therefore, this model offers a new perspective that encourages scholars and practitioners to value local diversity and the knowledge and expertise--even of complex and controversial policy issues like immigration--inherent in the local community context.

The findings of this study reveal that there are more differences than similarities in the capacity of local-level jurisdictions, which ensures that the experience in each jurisdiction will be unique. With this known, the response to federal and state-level immigration policy changes can differ in different localities. The findings of this study also highlight the significance of factors relevant to civic capacity, which can impact immigrants and immigration at the local level. Finally, the study finds that, where local-level public administrators and civic leaders take the initiative to understand their city's historical, racial, ethnic, and immigrant dynamics, informants in the community expressed greater awareness of cross-cultural challenges. The study offers recommendations for public administrators for improving social equity across cultural groups, building civic capacity, and building leadership capacity.

The theoretical framework for immigration federalism explains observed relationships between and among levels of government while taking history and the realities of local-level diversity into account. The immigration federalism framework is born of empirical observation and drives theory that is empirically testable, so the framework as it exists now can be built upon by constructing additional state and local-level cases and making comparisons. The functionality of this model has implications for understanding civic capacity and social equity in local jurisdictions and is transferable to policy domains beyond immigration. Environmental policy, including climate change policy, health policies such as maternal health policy, and Indian child welfare policy, are a handful of examples of policy domains for which this model of federalism would be helpful.


© 2022 Sara Kuehlhorn Friedman

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