Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aleinikoff and Kluysmeyer on Migration-friendly Citizenship Policies

*I will be presenting occasional notes/ reviews of important old and new scholarly articles in migration studies/ law/ political science. When possible I will link to the article*
(Also, this review was submitted for a class at my university)

Article: T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Douglas Klusmeyer. Executive Summary: Citizenship Policies for an Age of Migration Except available online at CEPS.

In the Executive Summary for their book Citizenship Policies for An Age of Migration, Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer layout their back-door plan for creating more immigrant friendly societies: adapt humane and pro-immigrant citizenship legislation. By altering citizenship policies, the “tension and anxiety” (3) caused by migration influxes can be partially eased, while avoiding the political landmines of migration politics. While this is likely partially true, this brief overview fails to take into account two factors: first, that processes of determining citizenship are likely to be as political or more so then the other types of national legislation that deals with migrants. Second, the possession of legal citizenship does not necessarily lead to integration, social rights, or a feeling of belonging among migrants, or for that matter, other groups in society.

Many of the policy recommendations outlined by Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer are creative and humane; an accomplishment considering how often progressives are criticized for offering problems but no solution. For instance, the concept of changing the discourse of comparative citizenship by identifying countries policies not by their key requirement but by the practical number of generations required to acquire citizenship is a step towards recognizing the injustice of the traditional systems. It also allows for recommendations common to both to be identified more clearly (such as the concept of 1st generation citizenship for children raised in the host state from an early age.) Even those requirements which are not so creative, such as eradicating barriers to holding dual citizenship, are still certainly proposals that deserve implementation.
However, as the dual citizenship example demonstrates, these are highly controversial and inherently political proposals and do not necessarily present an easy path to integration. For example, the suggestion that parties should “refrain from campaigns that stigmatize ethnic minorities” (9) is something that most people would agree with, and yet sounds hopelessly naieve. Stigmatizing ethnic minorities and immigrants is a long-cherished political tradition that is so widespread that a suggestion to “refrain” from it can hardly be considered a policy proposal. Similarly, the suggestion that citizenship not be regarded as the gateway to welfare and other social benefits is likely to be met by massive skepticism by policy makers.

A nation’s citizenship policies reflect a lot about its conception about itself, and so those policies are bound to be controversial, regardless of how reasonable reforms may be. Even simple shifts can call into question issues of national identity. For instance, the removal of vague requirements like “good moral character” that Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer recommend could awaken a sleeping monster. One can imagine the headlines: “Good Moral Character no longer required to become citizen!” The problem is that reason and fairness has so much less to do with citizenship policies than does that intangible “spiritual principle” described by Renan. If citizens cannot put their finger on what exactly makes them belong, its hard to be rational about what qualities in others should distinguish them enough to join.

Of course, even within a relatively heterogeneous society there are bound to be outsiders of some sort creating tension and anxiety by their presence. These people are not necessarily non-citizens, and citizenship, even with all of the enlightened proposals in the world, does not always eradicate these problems. Ultimately citizenship, even bolstered by the wisest policies unimpeded by political barriers, is only one aspect of the tension and frissures created by diverse modern societies.

These points are more than likely considered by the authors within the full text of their book. And in general, the proposals presented by Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer are refreshingly well-balanced and no doubt effective in achieving the stated goal of promoting inclusion, and a liberal-minded person could almost not help but agree with them. However, the reformation of citizenship policy is not a simple thing. On the contrary, it involves grappling with some of the most fundamental and political questions in any society. It just seems to me that any society that was able to unproblematically implement the reforms suggested in the Executive Summary may not need them anyways.

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