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At the intersection of immigration and welfare governance in the United States: State, county and frontline levels and clients’ perspectives

Lucia M. Lanfranconi, Yu-Ling Chang and Ayda Basaran


The U.S welfare reform of 1996 restricted the eligibility of immigrants and introduced a punitive and devolved workfare system. While previous studies explained state variation in the welfare eligibility rules for immigrants, few studies have examined the intersection of immigration and welfare governance within a state. We choose the Californian welfare-to-work (WTW) program as a case, most likely to be inclusive to immigrants. Analyzing statistics, documents, and interviews at the state, county, and frontline levels, however, we also reveal multiple exclusionary mechanisms at various policy levels, such as complicated processes and insufficient translations. Our analysis of immigrant clients’ interviews helps to understand why many immigrants decide not to apply for welfare and how even WTW participants with an immigration background experience fear and are especially vulnerable to unfair treatments. Thus, the implementation of the punitive workfare regime along with the restrictive immigration regime can contradict the aim of WTW-policy to lead families in poverty to selfsufficiency.


This project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF, project no 180713) and carried out at the University of California - Berkeley. We thank the clients as well as all the state- and county- and frontline-level administrators who we interviewed for this study and those who helped us collect additional data. We thank Paul Simpson, Kevin Clark, Joy Subaran and Patricia Malagon, who assisted in transcribing, coding and analyzing the data. We further thank the editors, co-collaborators and anonymize reviewers of this special issue as well as Aditi Das, Gesine Fuchs for their valuable feedback on the earlier versions of the manuscript.


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Published Online: 2021-02-26
Published in Print: 2020-12-16

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