Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is citizenship dead?

New US citizens taking the oath of citizenship (fun fact: my mom and my ex's parents apparently took their oath together; we compared dates.  Weeeeiiiiirrrrrdddd.)

This article really caught my eye this week—the author, Jacqueline Stevens, makes a case for actually abolishing the idea of citizenship.  That struck a chord with me, not only because of other recent posts I have written having to do with citizenship debates, but because the idea of citizenship is so basic that it caught me off guard to hear someone challenge its validity. 

Stevens’s argument is that the link between citizenship and birthplace is “irrational,” that the soil on which we are born has very little to do with modern identities.  She cites not only the “anchor baby” debate that we encounter a lot here in the USA, but also examples of other governments (Thailand, for one) denying citizenship to their people because even though they inhabit the correct plot of land, their identities are seen as too foreign to be allowed to participate in governance.

I definitely see some merit here, because as we watch the world globalize at crazy rates, more members of younger generations are ending up stateless.  This could be due to undocumented immigration, or due to bureaucratic loopholes (different countries assign citizenship according to different rules, and it is possible to fall through the cracks).  But the people still exist, still participate in culture and conversation, politics and family—so maybe, rather than trying to keep people tied to certain plots of land, theories of migration and identity need to modernize.

As Stevens says, citizenship is a constructed idea.  One can inherit culture, language, values—one cannot inherit citizenship; citizenship is a privilege bestowed by a government, which is a man-made entity.  The conflation of culture and citizenship is one that both of my home countries perpetrate a lot, and it is endlessly irritating even when it is not outright offensive.  But the offense occurs usually when citizenship and immigration are being invoked for political reasons –politics aside, can we really untangle these ideas?

Without citizenship, does the world become boundary-less?  That is where my thoughts start to turn… and not necessarily for the reasons one might expect.  Yes, a world without legal borders (as opposed to geographical borders) would have problems with taxation, etc. (which might be just fine if we use residency, rather than citizenship, as the basis for determining national responsibilities). 

But my problem is more to do with the loss of local identities if the world suddenly has no legal boundaries.  I love the diversity of the Americas, but I realize that the foundation of this region is the disrespect for boundaries (to put it mildly) shown by the first settlers.  With such freedom of movement, and no legal system to prevent it, less aggressive cultures were destroyed, if not through the literal killing of the locals, than by the gradual memory loss of who they were.

What do y’all think?  Is a world without citizenship tenable?  Ethical?  Let’s get a conversation started!

(image via, Creative Commons attribution)

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