Protection Misdirection: Immigration Politics and Asylum Institutions in International Relations

How do developed democracies respond to flows of asylum-seekers at the border? In order to control the influx of asylum-seekers, governments have adopted a range of policy strategies. Some states attempt to control the volume of asylum-seekers they admit by tightening domestic regulations on who counts as a refugee. Others engage in practices intended to deter would-be asylum-seekers from approaching their border at all. In my dissertation, I argue that the domestic institutions with responsibility for evaluating whether an applicant will be granted asylum shape the available strategies by which leaders can control the border against migration flows. Specifically, the more that authority over refugee status determination for asylum applicants (or “RSD”) is a) delegated to independent government agencies or b) referred to judicial actors for review, the more likely it is that a leader will attempt to control asylum-seeker entry using physical barriers and deterrence. The result is variation in both the quantity and quality of refugee protection in developed democracies. I test this theory using a multi-methods approach that utilizes two original datasets, the first a cross-section of RSD regimes in developed democracies compiled using government, NGO, and UNHCR reports, as well as discussions with policymakers in several of the respective countries, and the second a time-series cross-sectional dataset of political interventions in RSD, specifically physical border control initiatives, the introduction of constraints on refugee status, and the practice of immigration deterrence.


The Foreign Policy of Immigration.” With Jonathan Renshon. Forthcoming in Oxford Handbook of Foreign Policy Analysis, editors: Cameron Thies, Patrick Haney, Sebastian Harnisch, Juliet Kaarbo, Kai Oppermann, and Atsushi Tago.

Commentary and Policy Analysis:

Researcher Anna Oltman on Human Rights and the Politics of Asylum.” Interview at Earth Refuge’s Faces podcast, 14 May 2021.

The Politics of Asylum.” Interview at UCL’s Uncovering Politics podcast, 11 February 2021.

Immigration deterrence?” Interview at PRI’s The World, 21 June 2018.

Does separating families at the border discourage immigration? Here’s what the research says.” Analysis at The Washington Post: Monkey Cage, 31 May 2018.

Can Asylum Seekers be Deterred?” Guest post at Political Violence at a Glance, 11 April 2017.