Rejecting Citizenship

46 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2021 Last revised: 31 Jan 2022

Date Written: December 28, 2021


In Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era, Professor Ming Chen examines the rise in citizenship applications and conducts an in-depth analysis of the reasons why LPRs naturalized. Chen critiques the federal government’s immigration enforcement regime, which led many immigrants, undocumented and documented alike, to feel vulnerable. Accordingly, Chen claims that lawful permanent residents (LPRs), or green-card holders, applied for formal citizenship in greater numbers than previous years. Notably, the Trump administration’s enforcement mechanism also impacted substantive citizenship and the ability of non-citizens to become better integrated to society.

No doubt, as Pursuing Citizenship illustrates, the desire for citizenship among immigrants eligible for citizenship is on the rise. However, Chen’s book tells only one side of the citizenship story. As this Review argues, the story regarding the pursuit of citizenship must be examined alongside the story of how individuals—citizens and non-citizens alike—are refusing citizenship.

This Review conducts such examination by drawing attention to those non-citizens who have rejected or are rejecting citizenship. As it explains, many LPRs who are eligible to become U.S. citizens do not, in fact, take the final step and apply for naturalization. Specifically, the Review aims to make four points. The first is to counter the view that citizenship is always beloved and chosen. To be sure, as Part I discusses, Pursuing Citizenship makes a strong case for why non-citizens choose to naturalize, particularly when an administration is engaged in heightened immigration enforcement. But, as the Review’s second point contends, contrary to the conventional wisdom, citizenship is not always desired or viewed as ideal. Part II describes individuals who find citizenship unnecessary, questionable, and undesirable. These include LPRs who choose not to naturalize, American Samoans who reject birthright citizenship, and U.S. citizens who abandon citizenship. The Review’s third point argues in Part III that the rejection of citizenship illuminates underappreciated critical views about how citizenship is acquired. Using tools borrowed from Critical Race Theory (CRT), the Review challenges the conventional view of citizenship as a means of inclusion and equality and shows how citizenship has served as a tool of oppression and subordination. Fourth and finally, this Review raises some questions that consider the normative and theoretical implications of the repudiation of citizenship. This includes building on the concept of unbundling citizenship, which I have explored elsewhere, to encourage revisiting what membership in the American polity should look like.

Keywords: citizenship; race; critical race theory

Suggested Citation

Cuison-Villazor, Rose, Rejecting Citizenship (December 28, 2021). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 120, 2022, Rutgers Law School Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Rose Cuison-Villazor (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States

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