Terms of Belonging
THE CONSTITUTION IN 2020 AT 133, Jack M. Balkin and Reva B. Siegel, eds., Oxford University Press, 2009
Posted: 6 Sep 2009
Progressive reformers have been increasingly drawn to citizenship as a way to advance their agenda. Confronted with civil rights reversals in the 1980s and 1990s, progressives hope that citizenship can provide not only a new rallying cry that generates popular support but also a sound constitutional foundation that advances law and policy. This essay sounds a cautionary note, building on Alexander Bickel’s observation that “[i]t has always been easier, it always will be easier, to think of someone as a noncitizen than to decide that he is a nonperson.” Historically, citizenship has been deployed in profoundly exclusionary ways, and there are good reasons to doubt that today’s efforts, however well-intentioned, will yield a different result. The essay critically analyzes some proposed reform initiatives and offers suggestions for ensuring that they account for the United States’ substantial immigrant population. Without an awareness of the dangers that a citizenship agenda poses, the essay concludes, nativist impulses could be unleashed in ways that are dehumanizing and damaging to a democracy by, for, and of the people.
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