Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Economics, PhD

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Melissa Rogers

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jean Schroedel

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Heather Campbell

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Fraud, Immigrants, Prejudice, Reform, Rhetoric, Welfare


housands of Mexicans are crossing the U.S. border, bearing children, and collecting welfare checks, according to a dramatic 1994 article printed in the popular magazine Reader's Digest. This well-known publication, which at the time sent out 15 million copies per month, included a story alleging that Mexican citizens were committing rampant fraud and abuse of the social welfare system in San Diego County, CA. In California in the 1990s, key state and federal level reforms involving immigrants and welfare usage occurred, such as Proposition 187 (1994) and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA, 1996). Then, in 1997, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors (SD County BoS) in conjunction with the office of the District Attorney (DA) approved Project 100% (P100), an anti-fraud initiative that mandated invasive and warrantless comprehensive home inspections for all welfare program applicants in the county. In order to analyze how pejorative rhetoric can influence racialized policies, this research project applies Herbert Blumer's (1958) Group Position Theory to investigate the underlying racial bias existing in SD County at the intersection of anti-immigrant elite language that coevolved with restrictive welfare reforms. This derogatory language codified metaphors, storylines, and discourses that were publicly disseminated by governing and non-governing actors who in turn used these labels to enact public policies that burdened the target groups. This research analyzes this specific rhetoric filled with harmful metaphors targeting women, Latinos, and African Americans in what Foucault would call the dismissive language of power and dominance. Fanning the flames of social anxieties and perceived resource threat, the dominant group engages in a process of discourse structuration and institutionalization to create negative identities for non-dominant social groups in order to maintain and reinforce its own privileged position. This research applied qualitative methods in MaxQDA software to analyze the frequency of certain elite discourse terms and metaphors in government meeting minutes and media sources to investigate if elite and public discourse used discourse coalitions (Hajer, 2006) that indicated concern over maintaining group position (Blumer, 1958) on the issue of welfare usage in SD County. This paper then analyzes the evidence for how these factors influenced key policy influencers and makers in the formulation, adoption, and implementation of P100. Findings include evidence of all four of Blumer's categories in elite rhetoric on the issue of immigrants and welfare along with how this rhetoric was operationalized via policy. Further, the existence of a discourse structuration is presented, with pregnant Latina women occupying the bottom rungs and becoming a target of discourse institutionalization via early home visits and Project 100%. Finally, the research contemplates the long-term and ongoing impacts of elite discourse in general, P100 in SD County in particular, and the new complications arising from COVID-19 and the future U.S. political climate regarding immigration.