Robust Citizenship

Part of me hesitates to delve into this debate, which already seems to be generating at least as much heat as light.  But I have to disagree with Nathan Newman's post today on immigration policy and the color line.  

Nathan seems to be arguing not only for an open immigration policy but that the very idea of citizenship is tainted, and that it is little more than a tool of racial exclusion, certaily not a concept progressives can have any truck with.

I believe this is a profoundly misguided vision.

First, on the specific issue of immigration policy -- more or less restrictive -- I think there is no denying that an open immigration policy has a depressing effect on wages, particularly at the low end and especially if a large percentage of immigrants are undocumented and thus easy to exploit in the workplace.  

That said, I also think it's because we have and will continue to have a relatively open immigration policy that Social Security, for instance, will be in much better shape in 50 years than the official projections suggest.  So in purely economic terms, I think there are decent arguments on both sides.  

But to the question of immigration and citizenship itself, there's no reason one can't be pro-immigration and also support a robust ideal of citizenship.  In fact I think a progressive vision for this country is inextricably linked to a robust idea of citizenship.

I'm very pro-globalization, very internationalist in foreign policy and outlook. But, to me, citizenship is inherently unitary. It implies not only membership but allegiance to a political community and a state. To my way of thinking, one can no sooner be a citizen of two countries than a husband to two wives or a wife to two husbands (or, just cover all our bases, a husband to two husbands, etc.) The very idea is a solecism in civic thought.

To my mind, this isn't a conservative view. It's a liberal one. One of the things that makes us all equal as citizens is the fundamental reality that makes us citizens: membership and allegiance to this political community, this country. That's what allows an immigrant citizen to be just as much an American as the guy whose ancestors came on the Mayflower.

Citizenship is the basis of our equality as Americans.

Nathan's whole line of thinking seems to run in the other direction.

Comments (59)

Josh, I see what you're saying but, there is a point where you can't help but asking in a really abstract way: "Why? Because I was born here?" And if I were born in France, I'd be saying the same things about French citizenship, and so on and so on for any number of countries.

Is that necessarily a good thing? Or shouldn't, rationally, my allegiance go to whatever country or culture best reflects my own aesthetic view of the world?

In part, I don't think your point follows from what I said. I'm all for immigration.  So I'm not saying you need to remain a citizen of the country you were born in. A person doesn't have to remain French if they were born French, or remain American if they were born American.  

With your other point, my bonds of allegiance and attachment dissolve at a high enough level of abstraction.  My point isn't that Americans are better than other people, only that we constitute a national community.  And that difference between American citizens and non-citizens is not a trivial one.  


I agree with you but the arguments bother me because of an even bigger issue: the rule of law.

This comment by member Mara said it well for me.

I'm not an idiot, and realize that there are all kinds of complicated issues about protecting human rights that should not be subject to the majority rule of law. That's why we have a Constitution and courts.

But for some reason it just grates on me to be advocating treating people who broke the law to get here any better than someone else who broke another unrelated law. The latter end up going to prison if their crime is serious enough, where they have still have some basic human rights but lose some other rights that regular citizens have. (Pre-emptive as to people misinterpreting that): I am not suggesting prison for illegal immigrants with that comparison, it is rhetorical.)

If you don't like the immigration laws enacted by citizens through their voting, you can work to change them to a different set of immigration laws. But to suggest to reward the behavior of breaking law, that illegal immigrants should be treated exactly the same as citizens, that just tears at the heart of civilization for me. There is just something that rings so wrong with so many of the arguments.

I guess you are right, to me he is arguing that citizenship should be worthless?

By the way, I am extremely pro-legal immigration based on my experiences living in New York City the last 20 years. And we have a lot of immigrants "of color". It just so happens that most of them are not Mexican.

I think a more robust pro-legal immigration policy with a big, broad mix from many countries and from many class levels would be good for our country right now.

How about this thought--why don't those who are so concerned about racism mention that a very open policy towards Mexico (and Canada, for that matter) as an unfair preference to immigrants by geography? Why should Mexicans have more of a chance than Africans? (I've had several good experiences with legal African immigrants lately, so I am "prejudiced" :-) )

On the TV today, I heard someone quote a poll that 40% of adult Mexicans would come here if they could, and it was noted that many of those were educated elite. (I don't vouch for accuracy there--just presented for rhetorical purposes, once again.) Numbers likes this are a such a very complicated thing to deal with, for instance: to brain drain or not to brain drain.

To solve it, I'd be more open to arguments about making Mexico our next state of the union than those which some liberals are making, would make more sense. (Then they'd be citizens! :-) )

Arguments that excuse for or mitigate for illegal immigration are unfair, maybe it's just that simple?


Josh, a quick question on wages, if the immigrants themselves are making more money, aren't they pulling wages up?  Their wages have surged, even if the other people have lower wages?  And isn't this linked to your point on social security?

I like the rest of your post though.  A national identity at unified policial discourse is an important one, and an important part of citizenship.  So the system could look something like, "anybody can come, but they must be on the track to citizenship, because America wants your tired, your hungry...but we want you to be American."


Life doesn't stop a birth. Not only were we born in this country, we were socialized here: we became involved in the incidents of the culture; we went to school; we went to a place of worship; we got involved in the political process; we paid taxes; we may have served our country in battle.

It is what unifies people as the citizens of a country. Necessarily, it is what makes citizenship distinctive and valuable.

I suppose yes if you define the terms that way.  But the way I normally understand this issue is that we're talking about the wage level in the US.  So how much more newcomers -- legal or illegal -- are making compared to their countries of origin is a separate question.


Not that your point is necessarily contradictory to mine, since as long as citizenship in America is open to anyone who wishes to enter the country, you erase the exclusionary aspect of citizenship.  The only exclusions from a polity should be those who choose to exclude themselves.

Electorates should choose their governments; governments should not be able to choose their electorates.

But that said, why should we require a unitary citizenship in a global world?  What's so appalling about dual loyalties?

The idea of unitary citizenship is based on the idea of antagonistic nations where you need to do loyalty checks for where people will line up in the next war.

And that very process of checking loyalty just reinforces nationalist divisions.

So, yes, at some level I question the whole Wilsonian project of valorizing "self-determination" and unitary national states.


Josh, whichever direction immigration policies should go, I just do not see either party having the courage to take on the problem at this time.  They see it as a mine field and don't want to go there.  Too many vested interests are involved, and too many people will be dissatisfied whatever you do.  So we do nothing.

How ironic for the US to be scolding Iran for not securing their 900 mile border with Iraq.

Your argument is that you don't believe there should be any restrictions on citizenship.  Nor do you think there is a problem with plural citizenship.  This is the heart of the matter.  You don't buy into the very idea of the nation-state.  

That is a respectable position.  But you are in an extremely small minority.  So I really don't see how you can cast those who don't share your position as somehow beyond the pale.  


Suppose we separate out the ability to hold a job in this country from the ability to live here. Let's say, for example, that Social Security numbers are available only to citizens, but anyone can live here if they wish. At the same time, all employers, from nanny users to big corporations, have to file a "tax" return for all of their hires, and failure to do so is punishable by some severe and appropriate fine. So, only those with valid SS numbers could work for money, thus ending the argument that illegal immigration depresses wages. And, the legal remedies would be aimed at the employers and not the employees. I think I like that scheme.



Your point is akin to the arguments froom people like Pollard about how our little outing in Iraq should be conducted by a well intentioned and competent regime. In this America, citizenship will not be offered free of taking to anyone who wants it - and the result of open citizenship would be disaster. What you are arguing for is really an adjustable large pool of cheap and legally second class citizens. And it's just bullshit to argue that anti-immigration is racism. Polls show that US born hispanics are more anti-immigrant than foreign born. (  and poorer people are more likely to see immigration as bad than richer people ( for the obvious reason that people are not wading the Rio Grande to take think tank jobs.


I'm very troubled by the slippage between the political and the economic in this discussion, from Josh's post onward.

If I were to elaborate some axioms, one would be that a nation that is willing to accept the labor of people of another "race" whom it will not have as citizens is racist.  I think we should stop pretending that there's any real sentiment for banning such workers, or from taking advantage of their cheaper labor in off-shored jobs.  Both strategies are central not only to corporate profits but to making available to the mass of Americans those consumer goods that I once heard defined--at a conference of educators, no less -- as "the good life."

That's probably the key point.  Either we decide that "citizenship" trumps economics and we stop thinking about the social security benefit of non-citizen labor and resign ourselves to being able to afford less, or we don't.

Another would be that in a world where American wealth and might count for so much, that notions of citizenship cannot stop at the border. We must ask what it should mean to be American in the world we inhabit.

A final one would be that define our principles in ways that approximate the world we live in.  If we're to mandate that citizenship is a singular allegiance (oddly out of step at a time when so much of the world allows dual citizenship), I can think of a lot of people who ought to be stripped of their citizenship.  Jeez, a nation of immigrants has always been a nation of dual loyalties.  But some of the worst excesses have been committed not by the dual-loyalists (I say this even as aother AIPAC scandal unfolds) but by the internment of Japanese during WW II, for instance.  Likewise, the very lively foreign language press in this country died out not because the Germans and Norwegians and the rest couldn't wait to become Americans (my grandfather-in-law was educated in Norwegian-language schools in Wisconsin!) but because of the nativist backlash during WWWI.

So, what are we really talking about here?


Believing in dual citizenship is not a minority position by any stretch of the imagination, and I don't understand the logic whereby Josh equates that belief with a repudiation of the concept of a nation-state. Imagine that we applied that reasoning to, say, the children of divorced parents. "Well, Timmy, if you can't choose between your mommy and your daddy, I guess you just don't believe in families at all, so why don't we just stick you in foster care, eh?"

People have special loyalties, and this is right and good. (Incidentally, attempting to invalidate these loyalties by observing that they are the products of "arbitrary" circumstances such as birth threatens all morality. Moral rules themselves are arbitrary, in the sense that they cannot themselves logically depend on moral authority). But special loyalties are not the same as EXCLUSIVE loyalties. Generally there is no conflict, so it is a non-issue. Where there is conflict, you must appeal to your own best judgement. This is entirely consistent with the idea of a nation-state.

I can answer on one level by saying those who supported abolition were initially a tiny minority in the early 19th century, as were those who supported the complete end of segregation in the early 20th.  

But my point on citizenship is actually separate from the broader point on demonizing undocumented immigrants and denying them equal rights once they are in the country.  

There is a pragmatic position that you can make it relatively hard to get into the country to decrease the flow of immigrants, yet once they are in the country not seek to create differential levels of rights.

Look, I think the ethical point is that international segregation is wrong, yet recognize we aren't going to abolish it tomorrow.  But a nationalist denunciation of those seeking to cross the Rio Grand has the same moral character as the Soviets denouncing those crossing the Berlin Wall.

Respectfully, I don't think the analogy is a valid one.  Marriage, rather than parentage, is I think the correct analogy.  More to the point, I didn't say that Nathan's belief in plural citizenship meant he didn't believe in the nation-state.  It's his non-belief in citizenship at all that raises that point for me.  Having said that, wouldn't immigrants who commit themselves solely to this country have some greater claim on America than those who have another country to fall back on?


Should we kid ourselves that daring the world to think big and throw all convention and caution to the wind on abstract notions... is realistic? At all? I propose “the loco test” for any plan. If it’s “loco” to a majority of Hispanics and everyone else...

Anyways… here’s a bit for the mix.

We're profoundly tribal for good reason. It's generally more efficient in many ways to have more meaningful bonds with some, than less meaningful bonds with all. Of course diversity via inclusion can be great but social cohesiveness via exclusion also has merits.

There has to be a balance, pushing either total assimilation or dissimilation is neither practical nor popular. Both are extremist ideologies, both tempting to those who like the certainty of abstract concepts.

For what it's worth I'm racially mixed and married to a resident, and proud of it. I usually err on the side of inclusion and diversity. I live in one of the most diverse places in the world, and feel a bit uncomfortable in homogenous communities. But that's me, lots of people think that’s nuts and I’m sure most of my ancestors would agree.

Also, it's not exactly relevant, but IMO primatology is helpful in understanding some basic human instincts, how they’re profoundly rooted in evolutionary pragmatism. At the least it offers a novel framework to address these questions outside the well worn paths of left/right liberal/conservative ideology.


I can answer on one level by saying those who supported abolition...

How about substantiating those analogies a bit?

How about "abolitionists because of ______ are relevant to my views and this issue today because of _____."

 But a nationalist denunciation of those seeking to cross the Rio Grand has the same moral character as the Soviets denouncing those crossing the Berlin Wall.

I think this goes to the analogy thing again.

I agree. That so many people want to come here is proof that this is still a relatively desirable place to come. The only real way to keep out our poor neighbors is to make America more of a Third World country, which of course Bush is well on his way towards accomplishing.

Indeed, a more rational immigration policy could spark the rebirth of the great democratic experiment that is America. 

JFK famously said that a rising tide lifts all boats, but if yours is a power yacht and mine is a leaky raft, mine won't stay lifted long. More and more people among us, especially undocumented immigrants, don't even have a raft. They're treading water and hoping not to get run over by a pair of water skis.

My great grandparents immigrated to the US when the rules were quite basic and the country saw itself as a place to be nourished by strong young bodies from abroad. Now there are huge, complex and inconsistent immigration policies in place; cold as ICE, if you will.

Chief among our goofy immigration nonpolicy is that the nation tacitly continues to welcome the modern equivalent of the bracero to serve as cheap, exploitable labor. From a legal standpoint, this reality is not typically a burden for the employers of such workers. Those employers continue to be influential in ensuring that the federal government doesn't rationalize its policies.

In truth, 1.) we're not going to stop uncontrolled immigration without unrealistically massive law enforcment investments that are unlikely to work anyway, plus a politically unpalatable  and wholesale commitment to punishing businesses that employ these immigrants and 2.) we're still going to have tens of millions of undocumented immigrants in this country, with no prospect of returning them, a human rights and social issue of extraordinary magnitude, which tougher immigration enforcement would only exacerbate.

So let's get to work on both fronts.

First, let's give those undocumented immigrants already here the benefit of the doubt. Give them a CLEAR path to citizenship. It doesn't have to be a shortcut, just more or less a sure thing.

The government already offers a shortcut to citizenship for immigrant aliens who agree to serve in the US armed forces -- and, for better or worse, TWO PERCENT of our men and women in uniform are now non-citizens.

But what makes service in the armed forces so special (beyond, that is, the Defense Department's recruitment desperation)? How about an undocumented immigrant who works hard, gets his kids through school, pays his property and income taxes (yes, there are many of these individuals) and demonstrates in other ways his commitment to the community? Isn't that the kind of neighbor and resident and, yes, citizen we want to encourage all around? It sure is.

Second, let's bring the immigrant economy above ground as quickly as possible. The Patriot Act, for better or worse, speaks of this need. The government says it needs to better track finances, to ward off money laundering that could lead to terrorism. Accepting that, let's ensure that more undocumented immigrants and even documented ones become BANKED residents who don't distrust the financial systems and don't deal in the underground economy where they can be exploited by predatory lenders, unethical businessmen and sensationalist politicians.

Not that this is as yet a common belief, but new legislation that would make it much harder or impossible for immigrants to get drivers licenses, borrow money or have a bank account are silly and counterproductive, even if they're politically sexy, because they will force more undocumented immigrants underground. These Augustinian laws are self-fulfilling prophecies that will lead us to a massive enforcement bureacracy worse than the drug enforcement fiasco. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It is imperative we take on this issue, and openly. Howard Dean is quite right in predicting that Republicans will make immigration issues the big scare story in the '06 elections. The way Democrats and progressives in general can overcome this is to be extremely pragmatic, even-tempered, thoughtful and vocal. Voters may  knee-jerk into the fear-mongering of the right, but if given a chance will stride with us into this issue if we are simply confident enough to be patient and honest with them.

That means dealing with the unpleasant fact that immigration policies and laws are one huge mess. But we can't nuke this problem out of existence with a few strokes of some legislative pen. We have to dig our way out as a society. Cheap labor is like crack to our economy. Best to smooth out an upward ramp to the future than dig a deeper hole.

Stronger citizenship standards can do that, and they are good all around for our country. That's because they mean putting a higher value on what it means to be a citizen. It's about getting back to the "ask not" phase of the New Frontier.

One reason this matters, potential backlash aside, is that Americans who were born to citizenship -- born in effect on third base -- need to take their franchise more seriously. They would do well to understand that newcomers who have to work hard at becoming citizens often are better equipped to be citizens.

Therefore, it would be in the nation's common interest to apply higher citizenship standards across the board. That could have significant progressive offshoots. For instance, if citizenship were to be seen as having a much higher value, then probably so would civil rights.

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein ("Starship Troopers") postulated a future America in which the only way to gain the vote was to serve in the armed forces. The USA of his novel reasoned that military people were best equipped to make policy choices for us all, based on the sacrifices they had made. Misguided as that was (the average blue collar worker makes his or her own set of sacrifices, and in greater number), it's not a bad idea in principle.

We need a drivers license to operate an automobile. Why not require an analagous license for general citizen enfranchisement? It could be based on a number of factors, e.g., community service in lieu of a military draft. I realize such a requirement  could also, on the down side, be twisted into the equivalent of a modern poll tax, but if we're careful, we ought to be able to craft something that gets the job done. One thing's for sure: It can't be a "no citizen left behind" pop quiz.

If people from all socioeconomic backgrounds in this country had to meet a fundamentally common citizenship standard, we might be on a surer path towards egalitarianism. And immigrants now in a legal no man's land could be put on the same or a very similar path. Quality, alongside the need to shelter refugees, would again be a high factor in immigration policy. Instead of attracting the most exploitable immigrants, we would attract -- and eventually reward -- immigrants who were ready to make a strong commitment.

Canada already operates under such an immigration standard. You are welcome if you have already lined up a job or have a skill for which the country has need. The American quid pro quo could be a guaranteed path to citizenship in exchange for a term of protected service, one that doesn't treat you like some kind of indentured servant.

So what would happen to unskilled, bracero-type immigrants still eager to pour across our borders? No simple answers, beyond federal laws that better ensure their rights. A deportable alien is an exploitable alien. If they are here, they deserve basic human rights, not punishment for being clever enough to arrive, or for having a profit-minded sponsor who brought them across the border.

We will only be able to limit immigration to the extent that we rationalize it. The idea that citizenship can be a more powerful factor in that attempt is a good one, because it speaks to core American democratic values instead of narrow capitalist ones.

To solve it, I'd be more open to arguments about making Mexico our next state of the union than those which some liberals are making, would make more sense. (Then they'd be citizens! :-) )

That's hilarious, Artappraiser - for reasons that you may not know about.  In the early seventies a consortium of business people from Newport Beach made a formal offer to the Mexican Government to purchase Baja California del Sur, which still was a territory of Mexico at the time. Baja Norte had already became a Mexican State.  The Mexican Government politely said it would consider their offer, and that was the end of that.  Well, not actually.  A few months later a group of Mexican business people from BCS made a counter offer to buy Newport Beach.  They offered a burro, a 50 kilo sack of masa harina, and a 25 kilo sack of frijoles. 



Josh, I'm a bit conflicted by your argument. I think the idea of citizenship should rise above the microeconomic model of utility maximization. That said, I also think that emerging global hazards such as climate change inevitably redefine the nature of citizenship. Global warming will not be stopped unless we cultivate a "global citizenship" that privileges a concern for the planet. This invariably requires a split loyalty, because individual nations - particularly major greenhouse gas producers such as the U.S. - will have to make sacrifices for the benefit of the whole. Whether we like it or not, in an epoch of global hazards each of us already holds dual citizenship.

That's what allows an immigrant citizen to be just as much an American as the guy whose ancestors came on the Mayflower.
Citizenship is the basis of our equality as Americans.

And rhetorically I ask...who would say any citizen should stand above any other in terms of being a citizen?  My parents were immigrants.  I am a first generation American and I view myself as American as Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt or Bill Clinton.  And anyone who takes the view that there is a class of Americans who are superior to another based on the other person's ancestory, is racist.  I don't think that was the direction Nathan was going at all, it is just my observation agreeing with the statement Josh made.

We would be lying to ourselves if we tried to say there isn't a significant part of the American population who frown upon immigration on the basis of race.  This country's legacy is SCOTUS rulings like Dred Scott just as much, if not much more so, as it is about the Amistad.  And that we can't change.  That is why a person who shares an Italian heritage like me won't be elected president.  If an American of Italian ancestory is elected president in my life I will drop trow on main street of my hometown, at high noon.  Josh says we should be equal based on just the fact we are all Americans, I agree, but it would only happen in a perfect world.

The effect of any given racial group on wages is of no import on whether a person should or shouldn't be a citizen.  All of the prior immigrants, throughout the history of our country, have always entered at the low end of the wage scale.  These immigrants had a negative effect of the on wages in the job market during their period of immigration, whether they were German, Irish, Chinese, Italian, etc.  All they wanted, and were entitled to, was a chance to better their lot.  Why would Mexicans, or Central/South Americans be any different?

I haved always viewed the dems as the party of The Amistad and not the party of Dred Scott.  And on immigration policy we have a chance to restate what we believe in...come to America, disavow any allegiance to any other foreign potentate, and be equal and free in the eyes of the law because you are an American.

Well, I don't at all deny that you're a member of the community where you choose to live and, even if it's by accident of birth, if you're in a place, you by some standard chose to live there.  I guess I've always been wary of nationalism, if you can believe that I find that concept distinct from patriotism or even an obligation towards fellow citizens.


Josh: But you are in an extremely small minority. [regarding abolition of borders] So I really don't see how you can cast those who don't share your position as somehow beyond the pale.

Newman: I can answer on one level by saying those who supported abolition [of slavery] were initially a tiny minority

Whoa, wait a second Newman,

The slavery abolitionists always were popular, at least with slaves. They worked to liberate people who were in no confusion about wanting to abolish their slavery.

Is there a single group of people favoring the abolishment of borders, such as you advocate?

Central Americans don’t. They want entry into economies with work, but that’s different from abolishing of borders altogether.

How can you repeatedly wrap yourself in past civil rights movements while ignoring the difference? They had popularity and common cause with the people they claimed to represent!

I’m kind of awestruck by this.

But, I think you could argue that, in the long run, immigrants will pull wages up in the US.  If they're not illegal, and ae making an acceptable US wage, they'll consume the same way current US citizens consume.  That consumption should increase demand for goods and services, push prices upwards and... eventually... wages.  By my same argument, the increase in workers could drive wages down but, if they consume as I suggest they will, won't they boost the economy over-all and bring wages up, long term?

The social security problem is more demographic.  There aren't enough workers supporting future retirees.  You can't force people to breed but, since the rest of the world is breeding faster... import more workers. 


I agree with Josh's analysis on the idea of citizenship.  It is much weaker if it is extended to multiple nations.

Citizenship is a lasting representation of the social contract.   It represents both rights and duties and binds an individual to the law.  Most importantly, if two states offer dual citizenships it weakens the sovereignty of both.  Citizenship needs to remain a strong concept free from the ideology of entitlement.  A person is free to leave their own house, but not free to waltz into someone else's.

This is an age where many americans are concerned with National Security.  Global, "one people" solutions do not appeal to them.  Americans, by and large, aren't satisfied with the United Nations and believe that it is a weak organization.  Furthermore, globalization and immigration are to them synonymous with job loss and "the fleecing of America".  Can anyone prove them wrong?

But it is also worth noting that the claim that people have a right to freely move is based on more than just the theory of human equality.  It is based on a radical, lassiez faire notion that an individual's actions are voluntary and will not have a detrimental effect on others.  Common sense says that if America were to open its doors to the rest of the world, well, hell would break loose.  That's bad.

avatar Citizenship is the basis of our equality as Americans.

Excuse me Josh, but in case you hadn't noticed the relationship between being a citizen and the notion of equality have had a bumpy ride over the years. Ask any elderly black person or a woman pulling down 20% less in wages for the same job a man is doing. Move into more modern times and inequality raises its ugly head again based upon economic status. If you are a member of the business elite that Congress and the administration so love to suck up to you have a leg up on the majority.

While citizenship may the basis for equality it is most decidedly not the factor that establishes 'how equal' a person or group of persons may be. When your elected representatives in Congress can't even introduce a bill or offer an amendment we have much bigger problems than immigration etc. that need looking after. And when those same legislators represent nominally half of the population, the words citizen, equality and equal representation ring mighty hollow. For the present, democrats are citizens pretty much in name only.
A robust citizenry has most to do with education, political awareness or sophistication and transparency of governance. Open immigration policies aren't likely to reverse the negative trends of the first two that bring about the emergence of the third. English speaking, native born and natively educated citizens struggle with the complexities and nuances of democracy. Anything that reduces the educational level and political sophistication of the voter hinders democracy. Or put another way; If people are easily influenced by the high art of political marketing their judgements are impaired and democracy isn't served. Feel familiar?


Um, Nick, legalization of undocumented workers is very popular with the 10 million undocumented workers in the United States.

I'm not sure what your point is that there isn't a large group of people who suffer under our present system of a militarized border and differential rights.


Josh has hit upon one of the critical issues that will no doubt dog us for years to come.  As economic blocks like NAFTA, CAFTA, the EU, and ASEAN increasingly transcend the physical and ideological boundaries of the nation-state, the question of regional loyalties (much like the days of feudalism) will by necessity come into question and contestation.  This is, as someone on this thread has already noted, the slippage between the political and the economic.

This is a delicate issue, but I think it accurate to characterize the illegal immigrants crossing the border to the south as an exploited underclass denied access to certain institutions related to citizenship, which in turn can limit their economic success.

But to grant these migrants residency as workers just might institutionalize their status as an underclass rather than grant them access to institutions of social and economic empowerment.

Given the slippage between the political and the economic, how, Josh, are we going to define citizenship without lapsing into the nationalism that Elie Kedourie and others have shown to be so destructive to broader globalized relations?


avatar Josh writes: "there is no denying that an open immigration policy has a depressing effect on wages, particularly at the low end and especially if a large percentage of immigrants are undocumented and thus easy to exploit in the workplace."

But the actual data suggest that this isn't true. The relatively open immigration of the last few decades hasn't done anything to hurt labor market prospects in the U.S. In this paper, economist David Card shows that there's no correlation between high school dropout wages and the size of the immigrant population in a labor market. Further, he shows that even though immigration has increased the supply of workers with less than a high school education nationwide, the wage gap between dropouts and high school graduates hasn't changed.

"I think I like that scheme."

Your scheme is utter non-sense.

How can someone live here if they are prevented from earning a living?  Do you want them to all live on welfare or would you cut welfare benefits as well?

Your solution is in effect the same as the right wing solution of deporting illegal immigrants.  You simple want to force employers to kick them out on the street and let them fiend for themselves.  Right wingers at least would provide them with transportation back to where they came from.

Electorates should choose their governments; governments should not be able to choose their electorates.

In the United States of America, the government supposedly truly represents the electorate. So immigration laws are the electorate choosing itself.

The idea of unitary citizenship is based on the idea of antagonistic nations where you need to do loyalty checks for where people will line up in the next war.

That's one way of looking at it. Another is that citizens swear allegiance to a set of ideals, whether they be fealty to a monarch, elevation of an ethnic group over all others (Nazi Germany) or, in this country, loyalty to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independance and even more importantly, in the Constitution.

And with that interpretation of citizenship, I think Josh is right. One swears allegiance to a notion of polity, and that conception of citizenship is necessarily exclusive. You can't swear allegiance to the notion of elevation of a supposedly superior ethnic group at the same time as you swear allegience to the notion of equality under the law. That's why slavery and racism were always un-American, even when they were the norm (and legally sanctioned).


What I don't see here is why Nathan Newman's ideas are so radical?

It doesn't take that much of an intellectual leap to see that as the world becomes increasingly "global," citizenship matters less.

And as Howard Boyce commented upthread, issues like global warning -- and I would add the global pervasiveness of technology -- are going to one day force the issue.

I think Mr. Newman may just be ahead of his time.

His ideas may not be realistic in today's political climate, but I applaude him for pushing the issue and forcing us to think beyond the next election cycle. His ideas are about progress.

And because his ideas are founded in what's just and ethical, I believe he's right. And that's why his comparison to abolitionists also makes sense.

Just look at Abu Gharib for an example of how something not founded in what's just can so easily crumble.

Which is just as dangerous.

Look at DeLay's gerrymandering games, where "the people" manipulate how people are represented.

Choosing who gets to be a citizen is even more coercisive as a temporary majority could choose who is allowed into the polity and who is excluded in ways that cement that majority for the future.  

Aa world of freedom of travel where states are elected by those who choose to live in a place is the only kind of political structure where that kind of manipulation is not possible.


The analogy is straightforward. Today a person's rights and life chances are radically different depending on which side of the Rio Grande they were born. This is no more acceptable morally than for them to depend on skin color.

Guantanamo Bay is a warning of a where "robust citizenship" can lead. A noncitizen is not a nonperson. 


How can someone live here if they are prevented from earning a living?

Your comment is short sighted, lacking in thought, and shows signs of poor reading skills. (Apparently an insult is necessary to start comments when you are involved.)

Some people are wealthy. Those people do not have to work to live here. Some people have income from investments. Those people do not have to work to live here. The people, like me, who have to work to live, will not move here if they cannot get work. So, if employers are required to hire only people with Social Security numbers, and those numbers are available only to citizens, then the availability of jobs to non-citizens will dry up and the incentives to illegally move here will also dry up. It should go without saying that it would be necessary to provide a fast track to citizenship along with such a scheme. I still think I like this idea.


I think it's much simpler just to recognize that Josh's sense of "immigration policy", which conflates both documented and undocumented immigration, isn't the sense of "immigration policy" that comes to mind for most people, and that it's almost entirely the undocumented sector that has the effect he complains about. (You can also have documented workers pulling down wages if the legislature mandates a guest-worker underclass, but that problem is much more amenable to in-band solutions.) A very restrictive immigration policy, as long as there was a large admixture of undocumented immigrants, would also have the theoretical effect of pulling down wages (indeed, possibly a stronger effect, since undocumented workers would be in that much weaker a position with respect to their employers).

 But all of that seems completely orthogonal to citizenship issues for me, except insofar as we are not demanding the duties of a citizen from the people who employ undocumented workers, and are not exacting appropriate sanctions for their violation of the rules of the nation whose protections they so blithely claim.

 It's a little odd to be talking about robust citizenship for me, at least, when the actions of the current government have made being an american at least faintly embarassing. Perhaps the question is what kind of a nation we should have for people to want to think of themselves as citizens rather than as residents/customers.



"If they're not illegal, and ae making an acceptable US wage, they'll consume the same way current US citizens consume."

Immigrants are ultimately good for the economy, but not by virtue of their consumption.  If that were true, the U.S. could simple open the borders, pay new immigrants welfare so they don't steal "our good `mericun jobs", and the economy would soar.

I think immigrants are generally more ambitious, hard working, and resourceful than a lot of U.S. citizens who feel a sense of entitlement and do not appreciate the opportunities available to them.  Thus, over the longer term they generally make the economy more productive and vibrant.


You point about trading blocks is well taken.  Also what about transnational corporations.  In the arguments over freetrade there is an assumption that there are American Corporations seeking to outsource American jobs.  However, virtually all of these corporations are giants over the whole globe as are companies we associate with Japan and Europe.  The corporations may need the nation state for various legal reasons but many of them transcend borders, a trend that is likely to continue.


One thing is certain we do not want to become like Europe.  Which invites foreigners in, and lets them live there for generations but gives them no hope, ever, of becoming citizens. It is one reason for unrest across Europe.

You are right about the question of who is a citizen where is going to be more confusing as corporations are established globally and wired to everywhere.  However, I do not want my rights to be set by standards of anything other than Americans.

It seems to me that in order to clarify the issue we need to unpack all the different meanings of having illegal immigrants enter the United States with impunity.  Different reasons may have different answers.


Respectfully, I don't think the analogy is a valid one.  Marriage, rather than parentage, is I think the correct analogy.

Maybe - if you can be born married.

I appreciate that your sentiments deprecating the notion of dual citizenship are aimed at people making a choice to the United States to live and presumably benefit under American society.  But I have to take grave issue with this (since it was fairly general to say the least):

one can no sooner be a citizen of two countries than a husband to two wives or a wife to two husbands ... The very idea is a solecism in civic thought.

Some of us were born with dual citizenship and I don't feel I'm being "unfaithful" to the United Kingdom when I cheer the Republic of Ireland's football team, or that I'm "cheating on" Ireland when I vote for my Westminster MP.

As a Northern Irish Catholic (who doesn't hate the Brits!) I can vouch with certainty that it is possible to feel a fervent attachment to two separate countries (even if I will never be fully accepted as a "true" citizen by other natives of either)

If I was forced to choose to renounce either Ireland or the UK I could pick one for pragmatic reasons but it would be with heavy heart and most unwillingly. 

(But I'll leave it up to any Mormon readers as to whether they took offence at the suggestion that a man can't be a good husband to two wives :))


"I still think I like this idea. "

I still think it blows.  More realistically there is no there there.

You know damn well the immigration "problem" is not retired or wealthy people, so don't use that as a smoke screen to cover your xenophobia.

Only citizens can work so we need a fast track to citizenship.  WTF?  Do we grant citizenship to immigrants as they cross the border or it this a ploy to keep immigrants out?  Make up your mind.  Even the most xenophobic right-winger is willing to allow new legal immigrants to work before they get their citizenship.


Exactly. The "just like slavery card" is perennially played by anti-abortion radicals and animal-rights activists. If you don't argue why the analogy holds, but merely expect the analogy to carry the weight of the argument, then you come off as glib and unserious as the anti-abortion and animal rights people who make essentially the same argument.


To argue against throwing money at illegal immigration interdiction isn't to excuse illegal immigration.

Nor is questioning the motives of those who want to crusade against illegal immigration the same as excusing it.


However, I do not want my rights to be set by standards of anything other than Americans.

Not to put words in anyone's mouth, but I think the issue here is that by using what's "American" instead of what's "morally and ethically correct," we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Not too long ago, the "American" standard was to have blacks ride on the back of the bus.

We should get beyond what's "American" and figure out the right thing to do.

We need to keep making progress, using basic human rights are our guide. I see this no different than the gay marriage issue -- I am confident one day we will look back and see how wrong the 2004 election was, just as today we look back and we cannot believe we ever asked blacks to ride in the back of the bus.

"All Men Are Created Equal" needs to mean something.


Fine, start your hundred-year crusade to abolish nationalities. Just don't imagine that you're helping those of us who are trying to damp down anti-illegal immigration hysteria (in both its benign, Lind/Perotista form and its malignant, Sensenbrenner/Minuteman form).


Mr. Brown,

Your criticisms of Hoppy's comments are not utter nonsense, but there's no reason that you can't make them with a modicum of civility. There's no call for ridicule in a discussion forum.


We need to distinguish two different things.  There is who gets to decide what the laws are and how those standards are arrived at.  I agree that from the beginning America fell short of its own ideals.  One of the interesting aspects of is that groups that were left out did not demand a change of standards but to be let in to enjoy those standards.  America has largely been a history, imperfect though it has been, of expanding who enjoys our ideals.

However, regardless of the moral and ethical superiority to be found elsewhere I do not want to give up American sovereignty or the right to have our laws decided by our people.  


I agree with you in that I believe the American people will eventually do what's right.

I do not want to give up the right to have our laws decided by our own people because I have faith that our own people will eventually do the right thing.

But we still need progressive thinkers out there that force us to confront what's wrong with ourselves in order to make us better.


"there's no reason that you can't make them with a modicum of civility. There's no call for ridicule in a discussion forum."

Sorry, calling a very bad idea "nonsense" is not being uncivil.  Bad ideas do, indeed deserve to be riduculed in a vibrant discussion group.  This is not the U.S. senate looking to trade pork!


Totally agree with you.

Also if I might you the theme of morals to make a point that is often mistated by the Right.  When you hear that "people of faith" are being kept out of the public debate, which sees mto be a mistatement if not a lie, you hear reference to the Civil Rights movement.

No doubt given the importance of the Black Church many a minister led the Civil Rights movement.  They used biblical language and allusions.  However, they did not call on American to live up to the Bible.  They asked Americans to live up to American ideals.  


Josh Marshall does a nice job challenging Newman's ideas on theoretical grounds, but that's no reason not to explore the practicalities as well.

As a practical matter, Newman's idea of unfettered immigration is problematic because it would create a system where the only limit on immigration would be a society's descent into poverty.  If the US had no limits on immigration, presumably economic migrants would be attracted to the US until the nation became so destitute, chaotic, or overcrowded that the migrants would be better off by staying put rather than immigrating.  

If you keep in mind that most of the world lives on fewer than $2 a day, then you start the get an idea of how far the US's wealth would have to be diluted before the immigrant flood would be sated.

This is not merely bad policy.  It's the type of occurance that nations will go to war to prevent.  So to dismiss Newman's idea as impractical is to understate the point substantially.

See my proposal on having immigrants pay for the right to a Green Card, which everyone has ignored.  It would allow unlimited immigration but also provide the funds for government to assist in any local dislocations due to increased populations.

Since slavery was justified, as I specifically noted, based on the trope of differences between citizens and non-citizens, it's not even an analogy but a legal precedent for today's exclusion of immigrants from full legal rights.

The language of "citizenship" unfortunately has a bad history in American history.  It doesn't mean the concept has no usefulness, but when people like Lind tie it to active denigrations of groups of people, it evokes that racist history quite clearly.


Dude -- you do an excellent job at pointing up the economic motivations behind the lofty talk of citizenship when you declare that open borders wouldforce the US into destitution  Another way of saying the same thing is that the imbalance between the US standard of libingand that f probably 2/4 of the world would decrease. 

But economic equality is impoverishment only for the rich, and the truth is quite clearly that outrelative affluence depends on the exploitation of labor both from undocumented workers and from off-shore workers who are paid much less and receive far fewer benefits and protections.  If our concern is our relative economic advantage (as consumers, American workers' relation to most ofthe world's workforce is that of corporate eexecutives to American workers as workers), then we really ought tostop wrapping it in the flag:  It's not about citizenship as noble feelings at all, it's about privilege.

If we want to be utilitarian, why should we calculate greatest good for the greatest number within our borders, rather than the greater number that includes those beyond.  We're already in such a globally imbricated economy that we can't pretend to have real borders in an economic sense.  (Look at the tax laws and the subterfuges for avoiding taxation.)

So, I'll repeat what I said, or at leastimplied in an earlier post: this arument is not really about citizenship at all for most of its paticipants (Nathan decidedly exempted), it's a coded,more palatable way oftlking about economic privilege.

So my thanks, Dude, for being honest about it!


re my previous post, obviously that was supposed to be 3/4 and as for other typos, it's what happens when one clicks Post instead of Preview.  (Damned new laptop; but a good argument for an edit function!)

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa


But, to me, citizenship is inherently unitary. It implies not only membership but allegiance to a political community and a state.

Josh - I think you're being unneccessarily strict in your interpretation of 'citizenship.'  At its core, citizenship expresses the fact that there is an (often unspoken) social contract that binds individuals to the other people and to the governing structures that share the place in which they live. 

Where I disagree with you is in the idea that each citizen is (or should be) party to only one 'citizenship contract' at any one time.  In fact, we are always citizens on many levels concurrently.  I am a citizen of my city/municipality, my county, my state (if I wasn't a DC resident), my nation, and the world community.  Each of these levels has a polity, a governance structure, policies which affect me, community affiliations which I can and should be a part of, etc.  Each represents a social contract of citizenship. 

No one would suggest that these multiple contracts impinge on my ability to be a 'robust citizen' in each, even though it is common for there to be conflicts of interest between them (witness the states' rights issue).

Many in this debate, including Josh, imply that citizenship requires chosen allegiance, loyalty, etc.  None of these need be the case.  I have repeatedly exchanged my citizenships based on necessity, convenience, and even a need for adventure.  I was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Washington State, and have lived in California, Maryland, and DC.  Yet no one has ever suggested that my mobile lifestyle reflects a betrayal of my citizenship commitments.  On the contrary, I paid my taxes, voted, complied with state law, and invested in the well-being of my new community. In this sense, therefore, being a citizen is much more a factor of location and engagement, than of ideology or allegiance.

What's more, the economies and political systems of the states I joined or left did not collapse as a result of the 'open-citizenship' policies between them.  In fact, the United States would be significantly harmed if free movement was prohibited between states.

I see no reason why applying such a model of open-citizenship to nation-states need be any more radical than applying it to states/provinces, especially given that the nation-state itself is such a modern invention. This, to me, is the model that Nathan has suggested. 

Applying a policy of open-citizenship could, of course, lead to real complications - potentially large migration flows and adjustments in global wage levels among them - but these problems are not the fault of open-citizenship, but rather of the glaring disparities currently dividing international populations.

Open citizenship would also have its perks for the globalization true-believers out there.  The current international system artifically skews the global market by allowing free movement of capital, but restricting the movement of labor.  It perhaps goes without saying that the current effect of this market aberration very strongly benefits those already in the wealthy countries to the great detriment of those in poor countries. 

It is also clear that the preservation of this market ineffiency is a primary, if not the primary, factor in the continuation of the current immigration system. 


Um, Nick, legalization of undocumented workers is very popular 

Newman- you're totally, and shamelessly, changing the subject from your stated view of abolishing all borders, to the legalization of undocumented workers. Sorry, NOT the same thing.

I’ve asked Newman to point to a popular mandate from any people in support his stated belief of general abolition of national borders OR that he stop wrapping himself in the mantle of historic leaders who actually represented ideas with supporters.

 So far, Newman still hasn’t identified the people supporting his ideology.

 I'm not sure what your point is that there isn't a large group of people who suffer..

Another shameless straw man, total fabrication.

Again, the question is: who do you claim supports general abolition of national borders? You don’t have any meaningful support in that view, anywhere, AFAIK.

Yet in every post you've made, you’ve wrapped yourself in the mantle of leaders with actual populist mandates.

This is just breathtaking. The audacity, cognitive dissonance, and sheer sophistry is stunning.   Neocon’ish even.



KTH - Fine, start your hundred-year crusade to abolish nationalities.

 No kidding. I'm awestruck by Newman's sheer sophistry and audacity of  claiming the mantle of past populist leaders, when in fact he has no popular support for the abolition of all national borders.

Abolitionists had slaves who wanted freedom. Suffragists had women who wanted to vote. etc.. And Newman compares himself to them all.

But where is there any population in the world that wants the abolition of all national borders? Hello!

Mexicans for one example want into the US, but they don’t want the abolition of all national borders. Neither does anyone else!

It’s amazing! Neocon like. Hubris in the extreme.

Unrealistic. People need to work if they're to eat, if they're to provide for their families. Right now if you are an upstanding member of the undocumented working community, you file with the IRS for an alternate to the Social Security number -- an Individual Taxpayer ID Number. The ITIN lets you pay federal taxes on your income. You also pay SS taxes but you can't, of course, benefit from them as you're not a citizen. Take that away and immigrant workers wouldn't stop working! They'd go back to the situation pre '96, when the IRS had no such option and immigrant workers had to hide their income because they had no alternative. Whatever else we do, we need to engage in realpolitik on these issues, not imagine an ideal world that's simply not realistic.

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