Current research: Seeing Illegal Immigrants.
Last year I completed several months of research at the UK's National Archives in London, looking at how UK politicians and Home Office policymakers began to conceptualize -- and make policy about -- unauthorized migration during a time of great policy change between 1965 and 1973. (Here's a blog post on a presentation I made about some of this archival work.) Since then I've been interviewing former immigration policymakers about how they approached issues of asylum and irregular immigration, mostly during the '90s.
Book project: Securing Borders, Securing Power: The Rise and Fall of Arizona's Populist Border Security Politics
My current book project grows from my PhD research, which focused on the treatment of immigration as a security issue. Why do policymakers choose to treat immigration as a security issue amidst other possibilities, like economic or humanitarian ones? How does an issue purportedly being a "security" issue change the ways that it seems to make sense to deal with it politically?
I examine the case of border and immigration politics in Arizona, where beginning in 2004 a security approach to illegal immigration and border security became much more pronounced. This process was driven by populist border hawks, who continually built political momentum that crescendoed in 2010 with the controversial Senate Bill 1070, before it was suddenly reversed in 2011. My book closely follows the arc of the issue, providing a detailed political account of the political maneuvering over many years that led Arizona to that point. As part of this research, I conducted interviews extensively with current and former Arizona public officials. I wanted to help explain the "securitization" of migration by grasping the pressures they felt to partially agree with security-heavy characterizations of the border problem, and how they navigated the choice to agree with or oppose this trend. Understanding how they negotiated these pressures helps to illuminate the particular politics of security -- why "security issues" are treated differently in politics than others.
This work touches three larger research interests of mine. First is how we might understand "security politics" in the context of our democracy: That is, uncovering the competitive, political reasons that security claims seem to lead in a certain direction, with results such as the wide acceptance of policies that would have previously been considered extreme. This speaks theoretically to the security studies field. Second is policy decision making and "political rationality" -- basically, how policymakers' decisions make sense to them given their competitive political context. Third is how the political "mainstream" responds to the challenge from the populist right -- and how their strategies succeed or fail.
The book works from my PhD, which won the Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award for all disciplines in Edinburgh University's School of Social and Political science. This research was funded by the University through three separate awards -- one from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and two from the School of Social and Political Science.
Fulbright Project: At the University of Edinburgh during 2011-2012, I researched the restrictive change in direction of UK immigration policy in the 2000s decade. This project focused on how Home Office policymakers understood and sought to address negative public opinion, as a factor in the political landscape that became hugely more relevant to them during this time. Similar in method to my PhD, I completed extensive documentary study while also interviewing policymakers in the UK Home Office.