Participation in the American Polity: Why Citizenship Matters
The common political identity under which Americans have traditionally acted is that of citizenship. This shared membership facilitates discussion and mobilization for communal projects. Immigration can be problematic because it allows people into the polity who do not share this identity. They are not automatically included as members, and in fact may not wish immediately to become members. However, every polity includes residents who are not full members, whether by choice or law. Children, criminals, and foreigners rarely have the same rights as full members. So merely having neighbors who do not share membership in the polity is not in itself problematic. However, a new situation arises when, as is happening today, incorporation and membership are not even part of the discussion.
This chapter considers the implications of the absence of any mention of citizenship from the current debate on immigration, and makes the case for why we should be concerned if immigrants are not full members under the umbrella of citizenship. Aside from the very real dangers of their exploitation by the unscrupulous, the marginality of immigrants and others in the polity has three very damaging consequences: it undermines the processes of representation and accountablity which are central to representative democracy, it reinforces our undervaluation of participation in the political process, and it encourages our willingness to see immigrants as outsiders instead of as potential citizens.