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Immigration, Ethnicity, and Citizenship: Re-thinking Sovereignty


statue-of-liberty-1210001_1920These realities of human life have always been contested. It is about loyalty/trust and finding an organizing principle to develop a functional socio-economic society. It is about sharing of resources, which are always in short supply; for a variety of reasons there are never enough resources to go around, no matter how rich the society/community is.

Who will be loyal to the community? Who can we trust? These questions, even when not overtly uttered, drive how we arrange our social and economic organization, which is necessary for self-survival. The test of loyalty has been and continues to be assessed by a variety of categories. Twenty-five hundred years ago Athenians decided that only men, who owned property, could be considered as “citizens.” The debates in the medieval ages and the period of Discoveries, when world explorers and travelers discovered people of different colors, shapes and sizes, there was a heated debate in the West on “who is human”(famous debates held in Valladolid, Spain, in 1550, organized by the Vatican) Are women fully human? This question still is not resolved, and may take a long time.

Who belongs where, and who can be trusted?

To determine these two fundamental questions in the quest to form a community with all its pre-requisites for governance, preferably self-governance (democracy), we have constructed various legal artifacts to create structures with exclusive purpose to keep people in or out. Trust is the fundamental driver of any organized group of people, where shared values and meanings (culture) evolves to promote economic activity. In all this, TRUST is the coin of realm. In order to assess trust various obviously identifiable characteristics get established: belief system (religion), demonstrable connection to the land (ownership of land), demonstrable shared language, values and meanings (culture), manifest commitment to the community (political /economic involvement).

The emergence of constitutional governance, facilitated by the printing press, generated and recorded specific guidelines about who belongs where under what conditions and who can be trusted being a loyal member of the community.

Human experience of constant warfare bred mistrust, therefore greater scrutiny and clear markers about who should be included and excluded have proliferated.

The Treaty of Westphalia attempted to end a brutal and prolonged exercise of mutual mistrust, as newer fissures within the communities, under the pretext of religion, began to emerge. Universally, we accepted that nation-states is the best framework to govern. However, these nation-states lines/boundaries were drawn capriciously by powers to be to project their own power, even when it was collapsing.

Migration versus Immigration

A_line_of_Syrian_refugees_crossing_the_border_of_Hungary_and_Austria_on_their_way_to_Germany._Hungary,_Central_Europe,_6_September_2015Migration is a natural process for humans as for any living organism; migration is about survival by hunting gathering, and adjusting to the geoclimatic conditions. Immigration is a recent political, and legally framed construct to control the movement of the people; it is considered as privilege to open gates to the desirable ones. What makes one desirable? Economic values, social value, someone who will add to the chain of production?

The supremacy of the nation/state negotiated, demarcated, and recognized by the other nation-states boundaries became the norm in the post-Westphalian world. Keeping people in or out became a matter of privilege of the sovereign. This creates a category of immigrants as an act of generosity of the sovereign. Immigration becomes a privilege to be bestowed upon those the sovereign deems valuable (when Angela Merkel decided to open the borders to the Syrians was it a humanitarian gesture, or was she making a calculated decision that these Syrians, in general well educated, would be the much-needed labor force to keep the German economy robust?) However, the migrant driven by warfare, natural calamities, and what not, becomes an immigrant whose status is legalized and codified in the law of the nation-states. The immigrant will continue to have unsure foothold as this immigrant is subject to deportation should he/she fail to meet the demands of the code of conduct, usually capriciously dictated.

Today an immigrant is seen as a “problem,” who comes in with different expectations and with a right to immigrate. That immigration is a right is a recent development. The debate on immigration is skewed. The West and North America is expected to give a right for anyone to immigrate; however, there is no expectation that the original countries of these immigrants accept any immigrants from other countries. The absence of the principle of reciprocity is cause for concern for the fairness of migratory process. One may ask: why would someone want to immigrate to a poorer country? The point is the principle of reciprocity. As an immigrant from a poor country goes to a richer country to hunt and gather and perhaps sow; thus, another immigrant may find an economically emerging country as an opportunity to sow a good seed and plant a tree, which may give abundant fruit. One person’s barren land is another person’s opportunity.


What is it? It is a contested definition – in general it is seen as an identity with or membership in a particular racial, national, cultural group and observance of that group’s custom, beliefs and language. There are theories and approaches how to define ethnicity. Ethnicity is a political construct to establish a stake in the share of resources. Ethos, the etymology of ethnicity, means the fundamental character or spirit of culture, the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people. In the Greek understanding of ethos the individual was/is highly valued.

Sir Francis Palgrave used the term in 1851 and defined it as moral character, nature, disposition, habit, and custom and it began to be applied to a group of people. Only in the 1960s in the USA race came to be as a classification of ethnicity. In 1970 ethnicity was based on the origins of the people (Hispanics). In 2000 in the USA there came an option for more than one characteristic (multiple hyphenated origins) to determine ethnicity.

These artificial constructs of dividing people are recent artifacts to control access to the national pie of the resources.


passport-2642170_1920“It is a complex term that affords compound connotations, polymorphous denotations, and consequential implications.“ 

(Jose V. Ciprut, The Future of Citizenship)

It is impossible to speak of citizenship in practical terms without grounding one’s scrutiny and the ensuing discourse on the anthropological, social and psychological foundations of group organization and group dynamics as well as on a cross-civilizational understanding of how the new realities have come this far, this fast, across time and space: how to understand citizenship in dynamics contexts? How do we deal with the multi-valent understanding of the evolving meaning of citizenship? Is citizenship an obligation to the state and from the state?

Nation-states controlled citizenship and treated it as a privilege to be bestowed on certain individuals, in a regulated manner. Some nation-states do not accord citizenship by virtue of birth, while some others do, some impose “probation period” to assess the suitability to the privilege of citizenship and reserve the right to revoke under certain circumstances. Demonstrating trust and becoming a contributor to the nation-state is the currency to gain citizenship. Interestingly a poor person without proper immigration documents is an “illegal alien.” A rich person without proper immigration documents is an “asset,” an “investor.”

What makes one a citizen? Why citizenship? Why is it so important both for the individuals to have it, and for the nation-state to grant it? There are new challenges: how do we place citizenship in the increasing tension between state security and public order?

Re-thinking Sovereignty: diluted nation-states

For just over 350 years, sovereignty – the notion that states are the central actors on the world stage and that governments are essentially free to do what they want within their own territory but not within the territory of other states – has provided the organizing principle of international relations. The time has come to rethink this notion.

The world’s 190-plus states now co-exist with a larger number of powerful non-sovereign and at least partly (and often largely) independent actors, ranging from corporations to non-government organizations (NGO’s), from terrorist groups, from regional and global institutions to banks and private equity funds. The sovereign state is influenced by them (for better and for worse) as much as the State is able to influence them. The near monopoly of power once enjoyed by sovereign entities is being eroded. How are regional and global challenges met? New mechanisms are needed for regional and global governance that include actors other than states (Richard Haas).

Are states prepared to cede some sovereignty to world bodies if the international system is to function (Javier Solana)? This is already taking place in the trade realm. Governments agree to accept the rulings of the World Trade Organization because on balance they benefit from an international trading order even if a particular decision requires that they alter a practice that is their sovereign right to carry out.

Will the “boundary-less” global climate change compel states to give up a “bit” of sovereignty? All of this suggests that sovereignty must be redefined if states are to cope with globalization. At its core, globalization entails the increasing volume, velocity, and importance of flows – within and across borders – of people, ideas, greenhouse gases, goods, currencies, emails, weapons, and many more things, challenging one of sovereignty’s fundamental principles: the ability to control what crosses borders in either direction. Sovereign states increasingly measure their vulnerability not to one another, but to forces beyond their control.

Globalization thus implies that sovereignty is gradually weakening. States would be wise to weaken sovereignty in order to protect themselves, because they cannot insulate themselves from what goes on elsewhere. Sovereignty is no longer a sanctuary.

Richard Haas promotes the notion that sovereignty must be conditional, even contractual, rather than absolute. If a state fails to live up to its side of the bargain by sponsoring terrorism, either transferring or using weapons of mass destruction, or conducting genocide, then it forfeits the normal benefits of sovereignty and opens itself up to attack, removal, or occupation. The diplomatic challenge for this era is to gain widespread support for principles of state conduct and a procedure for determining remedies when these principles are violated.

Maybe we should re-think sovereignty for the era of globalization, to find a balance between a world of fully sovereign states and an international system of shared governance. The basic idea of sovereignty provides a useful constraint on violence between states. The main challenges to the international order come from what global forces do to states and what governments do to their citizens rather than from what states do to one another.

Can global economic integration, the nation-state, and democracy coexist? Until recently, the so-called Washington Consensus, with its emphasis on liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, shaped economic policy worldwide. While the 2008 global financial crisis eroded its credibility, the G20 countries quickly agreed to avoid the protectionist policies against which the consensus stood.

2016 marked a turning point to something very ambivalent. A “Beijing Consensus” has emerged, which some view as an alternative model of development based on greater government intervention. However, recent developments in UK and USA reflect the move to upend the long-established balance among globalization, the nation-state, and democracy.

All of these forces overestimate their capacity to dilute or circumvent existing economic integration, which has been strengthened in recent decades by the rapid development of cross-border value chains. Unless these forces reverse course, they are more likely to dilute the influence that their nation-states (or the states they seek to create) might be able to wield over globalization. In short, Javier Solana, in a recent commentary, stated that an increase in formal sovereignty could paradoxically result in a loss of effective sovereignty, which is the kind that really matters.

Relations between states are driven by cooperation, competition, and confrontation. There is little doubt that a certain degree of confrontation will always be present internationally. The spirit of cooperation, along with constructive competition, should structure relations between all players that possess international legitimacy. With technological development and the multiplication of economic and cultural synapses, we may look to Pax Technica.

Immigration, ethnicity and citizenship – how to understand them in today’s context?

The demographic revolution caused by mass migration and the fractious “multiculturalism,” which brought about ongoing changes have stimulated considerations for re-building a common, transcendent, civic culture – a “national community.” Its advocates argue that we must fend off what, in USA context, has been widely described as politicization of ethnicity, with its counter-productive outcomes.

Notions of “citizenship by association,” “social sovereignty” global “cosmopolitanism” in wake of city-based economies, are seriously being debated in academic circles.

“Trickle migration” versus “mass migration:” societies have always absorbed migrants without much fuss when it was and is trickle migration. From the point of view of social-anthropology it makes perfect sense. The host community does not see the “trickle migrant” as a threat, and the “trickle migrant” is easily absorbed in the host culture. The “mass migration” presents itself as a threat to the host culture, and thus the ensuing politics around accommodating “mass migrants,” who appear to be disruptive to the existing socio-economic and political order.

“Mass migration” is desperation driven. The ensuing tensions between “mass migrants” and the receiving nation-state is understandable, while the mere transformative force of “mass-migration” is inevitable.

Immigration, ethnicity, citizenship and sovereignty – are mere constructs, developed fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly, to form a community of people where trust is the coin of the realm, and thus security is engendered to carry on self-sustaining socio-economic activity, to advance interests of its people to conduct rationally self-governed and meaningfully led lives.

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