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First published online January 29, 2010

The Logic of Institutional Interdependency: The Case of Day Laborer Policy in Suburbia


This article challenges public choice and regime theory interpretations of constraints on local politics, developing instead the institutional logic behind coalitions of local institutional actors designing redistributive policies addressing immigrant newcomers in increasingly diverse suburban jurisdictions. Employing qualitative data from a data set consisting of over 100 in-depth interviews among state and local elected and appointed officials, and community-based leaders in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the authors find that elected officials, bureaucrats, and nonprofits partner to gain additional leverage to overcome suburban NIMBY problems such as those associated with day labor workers.These partnerships develop for at least three reasons: (1) they give community-based organizations (CBOs) access to resources available in the public sector; (2) for public agencies, these alliances lower the transaction costs associated with overcoming language and cultural barriers between newcomers and existing residents; and (3) these partnerships allow local bureaucrats to minimize outlays of their scarce resources to deal with the problems associated with the demographic shifts taking place in suburbia by essentially outsourcing much of the effort to nonprofit organizations while still allowing local bureaucrats and the elected officials who control their budgets to take credit for the programs these organizations initiate, maintain, and staff.

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1. The authors conducted these interviews, together with Junsik Youn.
2. These interview data were analyzed using the qualitative software program ATLAS-TI (
3. National Day Labor Organizing Network official Web page, http://www.ndlon .org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=60&Itemid=1
4. Notably, the interviews in this study, collected from June 2003 to August 2004, preceded the immigrant rights marches of 2006, where thousands of immigrants (both documented and undocumented) from Los Angeles to Atlanta came “out of the shadows” to voice their grievances concerning several national comprehensive immigration reform bills proposed by the 109th and 110th U.S. Congresses. These interviews also preceded many of the later developments related to the day labor center in Herndon, Virginia, as discussed in detail in the article.
5. The survey found that day laborers in the county tended to be Hispanic men, between 18 and 35 years of age. Moreover, the survey found that “over 80 percent of respondents are from Central or South America and the remaining 4.2 percent of respondents were from Mexico” (Department of Systems Management for Human Services [DSMHS] 2004, 3). The survey also found that
the majority of respondents (over 90 percent of respondents who provided zip code information) reside in Fairfax County. . . . The majority of respondents live within walking distance of the site where they were interviewed . . . [and] most respondents live within a few miles of the day laborer site where they were interviewed. Of all of the respondents, two-thirds walk to the site. The average distance to the site for those that walk is less than one mile. For those respondents that drive or use public transportation to go to the site, the average distance is 4.9 miles. On average, respondents reside 2.4 miles from the day laborer site where they work. (DSMHS 2004, 3)


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Published In

Article first published online: January 29, 2010
Issue published: March 2010


  1. immigration
  2. suburbs
  3. day labor
  4. NIMBY
  5. institutional interdependency
  6. public choice
  7. regime theory

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Published online: January 29, 2010
Issue published: March 2010



Lorrie A. Frasure
University of California, Los Angeles, [email protected]
Michael Jones-Correa
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

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