The US congressional immigration agenda: Partisan politics, policy stalemate and political posturing

Katherine Fennelly, Kathryn Pearson, Silvana Hackett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


In this paper, we examine patterns of congressional action and inaction on immigration issues in the USA over the past two decades, with attention to the impact of partisan polarisation and examples of the effects of public opinion on members’ votes and the immigration agenda itself. Our analysis covers 391 immigration policy votes between 1993 and 2012. Analysing 10 Congresses allows us to test hypotheses about the effects of partisan polarisation on immigration policy-making in Congress over time. Congressional attention to immigration issues has waxed and waned, and relatively few bills were enacted in the period under study, although there were a considerable number of procedural votes on immigration measures. The relatively short list of enacted legislation over the 20-year period is due to the mechanisms that exist for stifling major change such as comprehensive immigration reform. On the other hand, in 2012 pressure for meaningful immigration reform increased as the result of powerful proreform coalitions, and the rising importance of a constituency of Latino voters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1412-1432
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 23 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was originally presented at the Political Studies Association, Belfast, Northern Ireland, April, 2012, partially funded by the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance International Travel Grant Fund. Funds for research assistance were provided by a grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Minnesota.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Taylor and Francis.


  • Congress
  • Immigration USA
  • Polarisation


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