Response to Weinberg: Some Things Really Are New

by Peter Spiro

Thanks to Jon for his richly detailed post. It’s true that the last great wave of immigration, at the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, witnessed some of the same phenomenon, including circular migration and the flowering of immigrant enclaves. But there are at least two developments which make the current picture a very different one.

1. New rules relating multiple citizenship. In the old world, one could go home, but you couldn’t take your US citizenship with you. Although dual nationality per se wasn’t illegal, hairtrigger expatriation rules provided for the loss of US citizenship upon evidence of active participation in another polity. The mere act of voting in a foreign political election resulted in the loss of US citizenship (a measure upheld by the Supreme Court in its 1958 decision in Perez v. Brownell). As a matter of administrative practice, the Department of State withelf diplomatic protection to naturalized Americans who resettled in their homelands. Many immigrants went home, but rules against dual nationality backstopped leaky naturalization rules to keep the community coherent.

Today, it’s almost impossible to lose your citizenship. In line with Afroyim v. Rusk, short of serving as a head of state (which apparently continues to make the folks at Foggy Bottom nervous), you can go home and do whatever you want, with no risk of forfeiting your US passport. The result is a nontrivial group of Americans who may not be very “American”. This includes not just naturalized citizens but also native-born ones who have permanently emigrated. Transformed norms relating to dual citizenship are central to my analysis.

2. Jon’s arguments are consistent with a literature arguing that there’s nothing new in globalization as a general matter. I’m not up to date on the debate (and I certainly don’t have the empirical evidence to back it up), but at some level the thesis has to be wrong. Obviously (as Jon notes), some things are around today that weren’t around a century ago. And they are very relevant to community formations. As much circular migration as there may have been in 1910, you couldn’t go back and forth the way you can now, quickly and cheaply. And you couldn’t stay in touch with your homeland counterparts or fellow diasporans the way you can today, in the wake of the comunications revolution.

So there would seem to be a much greater potential today to sustain transnational communities. That has implications for the integrationist model of American immigration. Sure, newcomers will learn to speak English, but that’s increasingly true everywhere, as English becomes a global second language. The fact of intermarriage has more potential salience. But I wonder

A perceptive external reviewer of my manuscript (you know who you are!)suggested that a major component of my thesis is based on a bet: that the second and following generations of recent immigrants follows a very different path than their predecessors. I think that’s right, but I think the jury is very much still out on the question. I’m mistrustful of press reporting and the social science literature here, insofar as it’s clear how the politics cuts (evidence of integration is good for immigrant advocacy). So we’ll just have to see. But there’s at least the possibility that immigrant communities will stay transnationally segmented on an intergenerational basis, in a way that challenges the coherence of the national identity.

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