When Asylum Policies Go Local: the Case of Socially Useful Works for Asylum-Seekers.
The local sphere of migration policy has become a key area of intervention for local governments, during the recent refugee crisis. The scant existing literature on the topic has distinguished different approaches through which local governments manage asylum issues, but largely neglected mayors’ aims and motivations, how they frame problems and make decisions, and the implications of these processes on policy implementation. This article aims to fill this gap, by focusing on local decision-making processes and analysing the interplay between local politics and policies in the asylum field, by applying insights from Weick’s sensemaking approach and relying on semi-structured interviews and social network analysis. The article applies this perspective to the case of mayors’ decisions to develop “socially useful work” (SUW) projects for asylum-seekers – defined as the “Italian way to asylum-seekers’ integration” – and focuses on Veneto, a region that experienced a harsh political crisis around asylum-seekers’ reception. The analysis concludes, first, that, despite this policy being promoted by the Ministry of Interior, mayors are not mere passive implementers and rather adapt SUW projects to their own aims in a way that powerfully shapes policy implementation and its outcomes. Secondly, it shows that, while mayors’ political affiliation is a strong predictor of the policy strategies adopted, the main difference observed is not much between progressive left-wing and conservative right-wing mayors but, rather, between mayors affiliated to dominant political parties and independent mayors.