14 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2019 Last revised: 1 Sep 2020
Date Written: September 1, 2018
The concept of citizenship is undeniably powerful. The terms “citizenship” and “citizen” evoke notions of belonging, participation, equality, civic duty, democracy, and virtually any other term associated with a well-functioning polity. In fact, the term “citizenship” often serves as a shorthand reference to an abstract sense of civic virtue and the right to exercise that civic virtue to shape the polity. Citizenship, as popularly imagined, is a fundamental element of our democracy.
These noble ideals, however, do not necessarily map onto any legal definition of citizenship, nor do they accurately depict the experience of many U.S. citizens who find themselves without equal access to the tools of civic engagement. Indeed, the gaps between citizenship as we imagine it, citizenship as legally constructed, and citizenship as we experience it are wide. Perhaps more concerning are the gaps between diverse groups’ conceptions of citizenship, both in their imaginations and experiences of citizenship. The gaps between how insider groups and outsider groups imagine citizenship and experience citizenship highlight the vast inequality of citizenship that has historically existed and continues to exist in the United States.
Carrie Hyde, Richard Sobel, and Kunal Parker help expose and illuminate these gaps in their individual examinations of U.S. citizenship. When read together, these three authors’ works highlight our society’s and government’s repeated and disappointing failure to live up to the citizenship of our current and historical imagination. The authors, however, offer hope by illustrating the resiliency of our imagined citizenship, its potential positive influence on U.S. law, and the prospect of a narrowing gap in the way different groups experience citizenship.
Keywords: citizenship, citizens, immigration law, immigrants, undocumented immigrants
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