Document Type

Honors Project


Thesis Advisor:

Professor Erik Larson, Department of Sociology

Capstone Advisors:

Professor Terry Boychuk, Department of Sociology

Professor Khaldoun Samman, Department of Sociology


Lacking civil and political rights, over 30 million noncitizens in the United States hold de facto citizenship through the accumulation of social rights. Although governments confer rights, the United States relies on non-profit human service organizations to deliver many social support services. As the primary institution that interacts with noncitizens, human service organizations not only make policy in practice, but also play a key role in determining who gets to stay and who should receive help in doing so. This arrangement poses important questions: How do human services interact with pressures from immigration and welfare regulation? How does the institutional and organizational environment affect professionals’ prioritization of services and client selection? Through ethnographic interviews with human service directors, this study analyzed on the ground policy implementation and how noncitizens gain access to social rights and legitimacy. Due to regulatory pressures and referrals across professional networks, human services adopt similar practices and structures that decreased case variability irrespective of noncitizen’s needs. Additionally, directors responded to uncertainty in their work by using formal intake processes to serve varied interests and motivations. Thus, the immigration policy environment constrains discretion and narrows directors’ practical understanding of eligibility, limiting rather than expanding access to social rights.



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