Author Archive for
Jonathan Weinberg

My last few words

by Jonathan Weinberg

Thanks again to Peter, without whose terrific book we couldn’t have done this, and who has responded challengingly and gracefully throughout this conversation. It’s been a lot of fun.

I want to reassure John that he really isn’t the only one here skeptical of global governance. Speaking for myself, I’m not such a fan either. Governance institutions tend to suffer from ever-increasing democracy deficits as they grow larger, and global institutions are the largest of all. In my other life, doing Internet and telecom law, the track record of global governance is pretty dispiriting.

It does seem to me, though, that we can believe in the nation-state — and believe that governance should take place on that level — without believing that the U.S. should impose arbitrary limitations on immigration-for-permanent-residence-and-ultimately-citizenship. That is, I believe that we can have a strong nation-state consistently with having borders that are much more open than this country’s are today. This relates to a key theme of Peter’s book that we didn’t really get to in this discussion: Can we have a strong conception of citizenship but only weak limits on entry into citizenship? I think we can (or at least we can have a strong enough conception of citizenship), and Cristina has articulated some of the reasons why. But the rest of that discussion will have to wait for another day.

The Thinness of American Citizenship: Or, What’s Wrong with Happenstance Americans and Diasporic Communities?

by Jonathan Weinberg

Peter, you argue that there is no core of American identity beyond the popular and political culture (Snoop Dogg, anyone?) that we share with the world. The culture of New York, in other words, is not meaningfully different than that of New Delhi; or in any event, it’s no more distinctively and meaningfully American. I’m wondering, though: if that’s the case, why, exactly, do you think there’s a challenge to citizenship posed by the “happenstance American” born in the U.S. but who spends much of her life outside it? Or by the child growing up in a “diasporic community” said to be socially and culturally disconnected from the larger nation? It seems to me that the reason you think these folks pose a challenge to citizenship is because you do believe that a sufficient period of acculturation and residence, meaningfully situated within the American community, does convey something — knowledge, values, more — that makes you American. The asserted problem with happenstance Americans and folks in disaporic communities is that they don’t absorb that something. But whatever that something is, it looks like American identity.

(Alternatively, I suppose, the problem could be disconnected from knowledge and values; it could be just that those folks may not have sufficient attachment to American community. That concern, I think, would situate you somewhere within the liberal nationalist paradigm you critique in the book. But that’s a topic for another post, if we get to it.)

I suppose I think that there is still an American creed, and that its elements include, among other stuff, a commitment to immigration and to the American experiment — an enterprise of perpetually rebuilding and reconstructing our City upon a Hill, a city that we collectively built, rather than merely inheriting, and that therefore we can rebuild — that we in the U.S. still see as distinctively American. Then again, I may be projecting my own liberal values onto the nation: after all, a lot of the American public are less committed to immigration than I am. I expect there are some members of the public whose version of American identity is premised on closed borders. It may be that what unites us in the U.S. is narcissism. We all tend to see the American experiment as, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “the last best hope of earth”; we just can’t agree on why.

Naturalization numbers and beyond

by Jonathan Weinberg

Peter suggested in a post last night that while there’s been a recent resurgence in naturalization applications, we shouldn’t see that as a resurgence in “the institution of citizenship” because many of those applications may have been instrumentally motivated. There are two things wrong with that, I think. First, near as I can tell, naturalization applications never weakened in the first place. Second, they’ve always been substantially instrumentally motivated.

It’s easy to think that there’s been a big drop in naturalization numbers. Peter writes in his book that “the proportion of foreign-born residents who naturalize has been steadily decreasing, from 63.6 percent in 1970 to 37.4 percent in 2000.” If we adjust those numbers to exclude from the calculation aliens who are here illegally or otherwise are not legally eligible to naturalize, 59% of eligible aliens today are citizens. The comparable figure has been higher at some points in the past. But that doesn’t show that naturalization has declined since those times; here’s why.

Immigrants, natch, are more likely to have naturalized the longer they have lived here. The citizen component of the immigrant population is highest in times of low immigration, when much of the nation’s immigrant population entered long before; it’s lowest after immigration surges, when more immigrants have more recently arrived. In 1920, thus, the country had just seen a major wave of immigration; moreover, the newest immigrants were poorer, less-educated, and slower to naturalize than those who had come before. The result: only 49% of the country’s legal immigrants were naturalized in 1920. After several decades of sharp restrictions on immigration, with assimilation of long-term immigrants, that percentage moved to a high of 79% in 1950. Increasing immigration after that pushed the number back down; just after IRCA added millions of newly-legalized immigrants, the percentage of the legal foreign-born population who were citizens dropped to a low of 38%. It’s been rising since then.

So if we want to learn about immigrants’ propensity to naturalize over time, it’s not helpful to measure the fraction of the total immigrant population who have naturalized at any given moment in history; we do better to look at the percentage of an immigrant cohort who become citizens within a set number of years. (See here for a longer explanation.) In 1920, toward the end of an immigration wave comparable in size to today’s, only 31% of those who had arrived 10-14 years before had become citizens. Twenty-five years ago, in 1983, a comparable 30% of those who had entered ten years earlier had naturalized. But in 2005, fully 50% of those who had arrived ten years earlier had become citizens. That’s not decline followed by resurgence; I’m not aware of any indication from the cohort data that there ever was a decline.

And as for people naturalizing for instrumental reasons: Sure. But so did early-twentieth-century immigrants. Those folks didn’t step out of the pages of The Education of H*y*m*a*n K*a*p*l*a*n: idealistic, severing ties to the homeland, eschewing circular migration, and emotionally unconditionally committed to the U.S. Well, there were people like that, but not everyone was. There was a lot of circular migration (more than today), a lot of transnationalism, and (because the immigrants were human) there was naturalization for instrumental reasons. Nothing new to see there.

On dual nationality: though Peter really really is correct that dual nationality is more important today than it used to be, it’s important not to overplay that. I can sorta see the argument that it dilutes American identity for folks here within the U.S. community also to be active participants in some other polity (though Cristina makes a powerful argument to the contrary). But — again, as Cristina points out — exactly how is it a problem if there are folks outside the U.S., and outside the bounds of meaningful participation in our community, who get to wear the label “American”? So what? It may well be (and I think this is the point of Peter’s mention of the LDS and Episcopal churches) that folks who feel intense affiliation to their organizations are less likely to want affiliation with parallel organizations. Thus, if U.S. citizens uniformly felt huge affinity with the U.S., they’d be less likely to move away in the first place. But the causation there is running in the opposite direction.

Further, while it’s clear that the scope of dual citizenship is greater now, it’s important not to minimize its sweep a hundred years ago. Peter wrote yesterday: “Many immigrants went home, but rules against dual nationality backstopped leaky naturalization rules to keep the community coherent.” But did they? State Department rules provided for the withholding of diplomatic protection for folks deemed to have gone over to the other side; a 1907 statute created a presumption against protection for citizens who took up residence abroad. But the presumption was easily defeated, and there’s at least some authority that the expatriate dual nationals, deprived of protection, nonetheless remained U.S. citizens — which mean that they could not only return here as citizens, see, e.g., Camardo v. Tillinghast, 29 F.2d 527 (1st Cir. 1928), but could pass U.S. citizenship to their children born abroad. (Before 1934, the only requirements for jus sanguinis transmission of citizenship were that the parent have resided in the U.S. at some point in his life and possess a Y chromosome. The child citizen did not need to travel to the U.S. at any point.) The institution of citizenship survived.

The Salience of Territorial Location: Everything Old is New Again

by Jonathan Weinberg

[Jon Weinberg is Professor of Law at Wayne State University.]

Thanks so much to Opinio Juris for hosting this discussion, and to Peter for making it possible. Peter’s is a terrific and thought-provoking book, even if I do disagree with most of it. In this post, I want to talk about some of its empirical bases. Alex has already pointed out that the data show U.S. naturalization rates to be rising, not falling, so I won’t belabor that point. I’ll turn instead to the argument Peter sets out below that our birthright citizenship and naturalization rules increasingly don’t work. With the declining salience of territorial location, Peter tells us, they’re increasingly disconnected from our larger goals as to who ought to be a citizen. Because the legal and the actual boundaries of our national community don’t coincide, Peter writes, that community is becoming increasingly incoherent.

But is the fit between our citizenship rules and their underlying goals that much worse than in the past? Peter in the book talks about “happenstance Americans”: A child may be born in this country to a visitor, or to an immigrant (legal or illegal) who is here temporarily; that child may move away quickly, following his parents to the country of their birth. Such a person, Peter warns, is a U.S. citizen but has almost no meaningful connection with the United States.

Peter continues that today, children are born in the U.S. whose parents are part of emigrant communities that maintain strong ties with their homelands — “diasporic communities” that “may give the lie to the American tradition of immigrant assimilation.” Globalization has empowered immigrants to the U.S. to maintain their strong ties with their home countries, so that children born and raised in the United States “may pursue their whole lives within their diasporic communities, defined not by geography but by social ties, even if they episodically venture into the larger national community otherwise defined.”

Indeed, Peter argues, the five-year rule for naturalization no longer assures that new naturalized citizens will have absorbed the American identity through the activities and exposures of everyday life. Immigrants can lead their entire lives in “large, geographically concentrated immigrant communities . . . . Such immigrants might as well be back home for purposes of assimilating the American identity. They are, in effect, in a different part of their homeland, one that happens to be physically located in the United States.”

The factors Peter identifies as leading to “happenstance” or uncommitted Americans, though, aren’t unprecedented products of globalization. Peter talks about circular migration as a source of happenstance Americans; a migrant might have an American child during the brief U.S portion of her sojourn and then raise the child elsewhere. But circular migration has long been with us. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more than half of all immigrants to the U.S. from southern Italy ended up returning home, at least for a time. Indeed, according to one source, the proportion of immigrants returning to their homelands in 1900-1920 was one-and-a-half times as high as the rate in 1971-90.

And more fundamentally, transnationalism — the phenomenon of immigrants’ maintaining active involvement in, and ties to, their homelands — isn’t a new thing. Here’s a quote:

The conception of citizenship itself is rapidly changing and we may have to recognize a sort of world or international citizenship as more logical than the present peripatetic kind, which makes a man an American while here, and an Italian while in Italy. . . . The old barriers are everywhere breaking down. We may even bring ourselves to the point to recognizing foreign “colonies” in our midst, on our own soil, as entitled to partake in the parliamentary life of their mother country.

The passage is nicely complementary to Peter’s concern that, by virtue of the ease of international travel and communication, insular “colonies” of migrants may be so strongly tied to their homelands as to lack primary identification with the United States. The speaker? Gino Speranza, secretary of the Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants, in 1906.

We’re heard it before about aliens and their children forming insular, self-isolating communities within the United States. Justice Field in Chae Chan Ping talks about Chinese immigrants as having “remained strangers in the land, residing apart by themselves, and adhering to the customs and usages of their own country,” unwilling or unable “to assimilate with our people or to make any change in their habits or modes of living.” Kobayashi points to Japanese-Americans’ asserted inability to “assimilat[e] as an integral part of the white population.” And though lots of folks were more sanguine about European assimilation, you see the same sentiment in connection with the enactment of the restrictionist sentiment of the 1920s. A 1924 newspaper editorial, thus, explained that restricting immigration was desirable precisely because it would “result in the gradual elimination of foreign communities on American soil. There will be no more ‘little Germany,’ ‘little Russia,’ ‘little Poland’ or ‘little Italy.'”

Natch, all those folks were wrong. Immigrants to the United States in the early part of the twentieth century abandoned their mother languages and shifted to (English) monolingualism more quickly than in any other country. To the extent that they didn’t assimilate, their children and grandchildren certainly did. Is there reason to think that Peter’s concerns are better-founded? Modern advances in communication and travel have made transnational ties easier in ways that weren’t thinkable a hundred years ago. But the data don’t support the notion that the affiliations and acculturation of children born into immigrant communities are very different now.

Let’s start with language acquisition. Peter suggests that language acquisition means less in the modern world, when so many immigrants already speak English, than it did a hundred years ago. But a lot of immigrants today enter without language skills; two-thirds of recent immigrants from Latin America, in the 2000 census, reported that they spoke English “not at all” or “not well.” Where the parent doesn’t speak English, the child’s acquisition of English both evidences and makes possible her integration into the larger society. Studies consistently show language acquisition in the second and third generations of modern immigrants to be comparable with that in earlier waves.

Or look at intermarriage. Peter in his book mentions Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador, Cuba, India, China, the Philippines and Korea as potential diaspora homelands. Those nine countries, plus Vietnam, dominate the immigrant flow here from Latin America and Asia. If immigrants to the United States from those countries find themselves in insular, imperviously sealed communities that maintain that insulation across multiple generations, you’d expect to find children of Latin American and Asian immigrants marrying within those communities. So far at least, that’s not especially so. A study of 1990 census data showed nearly two-thirds of U.S.-born Asians marrying non-Asians, and nearly 40% of U.S.-born Hispanics marrying non-Hispanics.

To be sure, immigrants today often live in coethnic enclaves, just as immigrants in the past did. But as Alex wrote a few years back, a “review of the social science research literature on immigration reveals that assimilation . . . appears to be progressing roughly as it always has.”

Bottom line: I’m unconvinced that new globalization trends cause territorial location to be any less salient to citizenship than it ever was. In my next post, I’ll try to talk about American identity and the meaning of citizenship.