Resisting Erosion

by Cristina Rodriguez

I want to begin this post by addressing John’s claim that it has never happened in history that a democracy has extended beyond the nation state. On the one hand, I share his difficulty in imagining a world where the nation state is not the locus of democratic participation, because it seems to be the form of organization that best facilitates, simultaneously, accountability of public officials and common cause among members.

But, at the risk of venturing into territory with which I am unfamiliar, what about the European Union? And, closer to my comfort zone, what about federalism? The nation state today (as it has always been to some degree) is embedded in sub-national as well as supra-national networks, all of which perform important functions in an increasingly interdependent world, and all of which promote accountability and common cause to some better or worse degree than the nation state itself. I do not take Peter to be suggesting the end of the nation state, or that polities must abandon drawing lines between those who belong and those who do not (the EU, despite expanding conceptions of citizenship beyond the nation state, is nonetheless exclusive). But Peter is challenging us to think about how we might reformulate our citizenship frameworks, or think about redrawing those lines, to better take account of the cross-border relationships and affiliations that have emerged in impressive form in the post-War era. The fact that we are in unmapped territory does not mean that we shouldn’t attempt to think beyond our nation-state centered worldviews. I would be very curious to hear from Peter what shape he imagines new frameworks of affiliation and community might take. Do we need an international right to political participation? Or a political arm to NAFTA, for example?

Along similar lines, I would ask Peter whether in redrawing lines of membership we must accept globalization-driven developments as they have happened, or whether we should actually use immigration and nationality law, and trade and foreign policy, for that matter, to strengthen the attachments to the nation state, or to resist certain aspects of the erosion you describe?
As John points out, there is a deterministic quality to Peter’s book, but I think it is largely warranted. Peter takes a crucial first step in delineating how citizenship frameworks have evolved over time. The question is not whether we can turn back the clock to a (non-existent?) time when American citizenship was not overinclusive and everyone robustly belonged to one place. Rather, the question is what would be the cost of resisting the erosion of citizenship that Peter describes, especially to the extent that the “erosion” has occurred as the result of overturning historical debacles, such as the adoption of a nearly universal jus soli rule in response to Dred Scott, or as the result of progressive advancements, such as the reversal of the rule that women who marry foreigners lose their citizenship.

In my view, the question of when and how we should resist the forces of erosion becomes trickiest when we confront the problems of (1) unlawful immigration; and (2) transnationalism and cyclical migration. I will address the latter in a later post. As for the former, I don’t want to sidetrack this discussion into a debate on illegal immigration since Peter’s book is about much more. I’ll just suggest that is too easy to say, as John does, that “we the people” should simply determine what our immigration policy is, and those who are here illegally are here without the consent of the governed. Decisions about who we want in the United States are not made by the body politic through some sort of centralized, unilateral, and singular decision. As scholars such as Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut have argued, migration patterns are the product of historical entanglements between nation states. As I have argued in my own work, such patterns are also the result of consumer-driven preferences that operate outside or parallel to the law, and they are the result of various enforcement decisions made by the federal government that reflect a mix of humanitarian and pragmatic judgments made on case-by-case bases, at different points in time. I would not go so far as to say that illegal immigration is beyond our control. But it is important to realize that the sorts of cross-border relationships that challenge our traditional conceptions of citizenship, including illegal immigration, are the result of decentralized, sometimes contradictory, decision-making by various branches of government, along with the people acting simultaneously through their representatives and their private and market choices.

These observations are all by way of saying that, to the extent Peter is arguing that the decline of citizenship is the result of strong and difficult to resist forces, he is making a point we cannot escape by asserting that we have the autonomy to ensure otherwise. And to the extent that he is challenging us to confront these forces head-on, and to rethink how we promote community, he is pushing us in the right direction. I think we can still accomplish a lot within a nation-state centered conception of citizenship, and today more than ever we need strong territorially-anchored frameworks for belonging to promote integration—a point Hiroshi Motomura’s recent work powerfully underscores. As I suggested in my previous post, I am skeptical that we are witnessing “America’s dissipation,” as Peter puts it. But my skepticism does not mean that we should not take steps to strengthen American citizenship in light of transnationalism—a question I’ll take up later.

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