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Being American/Becoming American: Birthright Citizenship and Immigrants’ Membership in the United States

Special Issue: Who Belongs? Immigration, Citizenship, and the Constitution of Legality

ISBN: 978-1-78190-431-2, eISBN: 978-1-78190-432-9

ISSN: 1059-4337

Publication date: 15 January 2013

Abstract

Various politicians and public commentators seek to deny birthright citizenship to children born in the United States to undocumented or temporary migrants. Among their claims, critics of universal birthright citizenship contend that the practice flies in the face of liberal principles, in which both individuals and the state should consent to membership. From this perspective, citizenship through naturalization is valorized, since it rests on the affirmative choice of the immigrant and the clear consent of the state. This chapter proposes a different approach to these debates, one that underscores the principles of inclusion and equality. The argument rests on empirical evidence on how those affected by these debates – foreign-born residents and their U.S.-born children – understand belonging in the United States. Interviews with 182 U.S.-born youth and their immigrant parents born in Mexico, China, and Vietnam show that despite a discourse portraying U.S. citizenship as a civic and political affiliation blind to ascriptive traits, many of those interviewed equate “being American” with racial majority status, affluence, and privilege. For many immigrants, membership through naturalization – the exemplar of citizenship by consent – does not overcome a lingering sense of outsider status. Perhaps surprisingly, birthright citizenship offers an egalitarian promise: it is a color-blind and class-blind path to membership. The Citizenship Clause of Fourteenth Amendment provides constitutional legitimacy for the ideals of inclusion and equality, facilitating immigrant integration and communal membership through citizenship.

Citation

Bloemraad, I. (2013), "Being American/Becoming American: Birthright Citizenship and Immigrants’ Membership in the United States", Sarat, A. (Ed.) Special Issue: Who Belongs? Immigration, Citizenship, and the Constitution of Legality (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 60), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 55-84. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1059-4337(2013)0000060007

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited