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Terms of Belonging: Are Models of Membership Self-Fulfilling Prophecies?

Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, Vol. 13, 1998

25 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2011  

T. Alexander Aleinikoff

Columbia Global Policy Initiative, Columbia Law School

Rubén G. Rumbaut

University of California, Irvine - Department of Sociology

Date Written: 1998

Abstract

It is traditional, at least in the United States, to see immigrant adaptation as a straight-line process in both political and social terms: non-members of a nation-state residing outside state borders gain entry, take up residence, and seek full membership in the state. As a narrative of legal status, the acquisition of full membership is the transition from alien to citizen, from stranger to rights-holder, from foreigner to governor. As a narrative of social belonging, the story is one of integration over time, a transition from out-group to in-group which is expected to be completed within a span of two or three generations. But these versions of the national narrative fit the historical experience of some ethnic and racial groups more than that of others, and there are egregious exceptions to the normative tale. We write as a lawyer and a sociologist interested in the relationship of our disciplines’ perspectives on these narratives, and on the linkages between the political and the social realms that are reflected in U.S. models of membership. We argue that the way people are invited or welcomed to become members of the society influences their joining behavior which, in turn, influences how the society invites others to join it. Further, we note that the formulation of public policy helps to produce the conditions that affirm the public policies. A nation concerned about and committed to the successful integration of a large and growing resident immigrant population needs to adopt policies that help orient and acculturate immigrants, provide skills and access, and foster tolerance and non-discrimination. The state should model the behavior - such as attachment, commitment and loyalty - that it seeks from its newest members. Anti-immigrant policies are not integrative policies, even if they provide quasi-coercive incentives to naturalization. Models of membership are not free-standing. Like other self-fulfilling prophecies, those models are influenced by the very phenomenon they purport to be classifying. Preservation of the inclusionary model is important not just on principled grounds, but because the model produces the designed outcome and thereby promotes the national interest.

Keywords: Immigration, integration, assimilation, models of membership, citizenship, self-fulfilling prophecy, anti-immigrant policies, inclusionary policies

Suggested Citation

Aleinikoff, T. Alexander and Rumbaut, Rubén G., Terms of Belonging: Are Models of Membership Self-Fulfilling Prophecies? (1998). Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, Vol. 13, 1998. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1898486

T. Alexander Aleinikoff

Columbia Global Policy Initiative, Columbia Law School

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Rubén G. Rumbaut (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine - Department of Sociology ( email )

3151 Social Sciences Plaza A
Irvine, CA 92697-5100
United States

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