MICHELLE ENGLISH: Greetings, and welcome. I'm Michelle English and, on behalf of the MIT Center for International Studies, would like to welcome you to today's Starr Forum. We're honored to have with us Peter Spiro who will be speaking on the topic Citizenship Under Attack.
First, I'd like to cover some housekeeping items. We have several upcoming events that we hope you're able to attend including a Book Talk on October 30 with Min Jin Lee. Ms. Lee will discuss her award-winning book Pachinko. Details for this talk and others are available on our website. Or you can pick up a flyer at the entrance and also sign up to get our email notices if you haven't already.
In our typical fashion, today's talk will begin with our speaker followed by a conversation between the speaker and our discussant and conclude with Q&A with the audience. For those asking questions, please the line up behind the microphones. And please be considerate of time and others who want to ask a question. I'd like to begin by introducing our discussant, Justin Steil.
Justin Steele is an Assistant Professor of Law and Urban Planning at MIT and a steering group member of the Inter-University Committee on International Migration at the MIT Center for International Studies. His research examines the intersection of urban policy with property, land use, and civil rights law. Please join me in welcoming Professor Steil.
JUSTIN STEIL: Thank you, Michelle. And thank you to all of you for being here. These are very uncertain times, as we're all well aware. And changing policies related to immigration and citizenship are at the forefront of conversations at the moment. It's hardly the first time we've seen the anti-immigrant sentiment surge in the United States, but it's a very significant break from recent decades. Citizenship, in particular, is back at the forefront of public debate in ways probably not seen since the Second World War or the Civil Rights movement.
In the first half of the 20th century, to be un-American and, therefore, unfit for citizenship was defined politically, morally, and racially. And many of the current debates, disturbingly, echo some of these old justifications. Indeed, in the past year, we've seen the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency take the phrase, "a nation of immigrants" out of its mission statement. We've seen the formation of a denaturalization task force. And we've consistently seen the White House pushing the idea that being foreign-born is the same as being permanently foreign.
Those targeted by the current administration seem to be ever-widening from undocumented immigrants to refugees, from refugees to legal permanent residents, from legal permanent residents to naturalized citizens. To help us better understand what's happening with these unsettling developments with regard to citizenship, we're very grateful to have with us today one of the nation's foremost experts on citizenship and on international law, Professor Peter J. Spiro from Temple University's Beasley School of Law and the codirector of the Institute for International law and public policy there.
Professor Spiro clerked for Justice Souter on the United States Supreme Court and served as director for democracy on the staff of the National Security Council as well as an attorney in the State Department's Office of the legal advisor. He's held visiting fellowships and appointments around the world, testified before the US Senate on international law, and is the author of two books-- Beyond Citizenship-- American Identity After Globalization and At Home in Two Countries-- The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship. Please join me in welcoming Professor Spiro.
PETER SPIRO: So thanks to everyone for coming today. Thank you, Michelle, for organizing this. And I also wanted to say a special thanks to John Tirman who extended the invitation for me to speak here and old friends. So I'm really delighted to be here with you talking about an issue that is very dear to me and which is now being centered in a way that hasn't been the case in recent years. Although, part of the drift of my talk is going to be how it's, I think, centered in different ways than one might than one might expect.
So Justin-- and thanks, Justin, for their gracious introduction. Justin introduced how citizenship policy now seems to be in the crosshairs. Immigration is obviously in the crosshairs, right? This administration is aggressively working to constrain immigration on every front. And citizenship practice, in some respects, is starting to look like it's going to be brought into that aggressive administration anti-immigrant agenda. And these are three ways in which it is being brought into the crosshairs and then maybe brought into the crosshairs. And so I want to spend a minute on each of them.
So Justin mentioned a denaturalization initiative. The administration has set up a denaturalization task force, which is in the Trump administration's pretentious way labeled, Operation Janice. An initiative that's being widely trumpeted by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, under which, these agencies have assembled a team of several dozen lawyers to review naturalization files, to search out cases of false identity, basically, to look for people who were granted naturalization who shouldn't have been granted naturalization because of criminal convictions or outstanding orders of deportation.
And one notorious case that was reported soon after this initiative was announced, a 63-year-old grandmother who's lived in the United States since 1990, who was convicted as a bit player in a bank fraud scheme found herself facing denaturalization with respect to a conviction that occurred after she was naturalized, even though the conduct itself had occurred before her naturalization.
So this is one initiative that's been getting a lot of attention that relates to citizenship policy-- which, just to lay out the basics-- citizenship and nationality is distinguished from immigration policy to the extent that citizenship and nationality is about full membership in the community. Immigration policy is about territorial, is about admission to the territory of the United States and permission to remain on the territory of the United States. So that's one initiative.
Another involves what I call here documentary interrogation. So along the southern border primarily, there have been many reported cases now in which individuals who have lived their lives believing that they're US citizens have been denied passport renewals on the basis of birth certificates from out-of-hospital births that were undertaken by midwives, so their birth certificates were formalized by midwives. And in which cases, the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security have been requiring collateral evidence that the birth actually took place in the United States.
So there was a Washington Post report that documented these cases this past summer, mostly, at the border. But there's at least one report of a woman-- and this was an individual who wrote an editorial about her experience-- a woman who was born out of a hospital in Kansas who, when she was renewing her passport, was faced with these demands for extra documents. But that's another citizenship-related policy that's been getting reported in the news.
And then the final one is birthright citizenship. And here it's not so much a policy that's been adopted. But an op-ed in the Washington Post in July of 2018 by Michael Anton who's somewhat notorious former member of the National Security Council staff making the argument that birthright citizenship should not extend to the children of undocumented immigrants.
And this also got a lot of attention on top of a Trump campaign promise to scale back birthright citizenship. So again, for those of you who may not be familiar with the baseline. Anybody born on the territory of the United States, through administrative practice with the sole exception of the children of accredited diplomats, receives citizenship at birth by that fact alone.
So those are that citizenship-related initiatives or possible initiatives. And I might have spent the balance of the talk playing those out and situating them in the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda. But I'm going to take a slightly contrarian position here and argue that these are actually pretty marginal policies, especially when compared to what's going on with respect to immigration.
The numbers are very low in these cases. So with respect to denaturalization, as of July, there were 20 cases in which the administration had opened up files with respect to possible denaturalization. Challenges to the documentary basis for birth citizenship are also low and pretty clearly concentrated on border areas and restricted only to those individuals who were not born in hospitals.
So the numbers are low. There's also a lot of continuity here. So I certainly understand-- and I think, just to be clear, the Trump administration's immigration policies are horrendous. And they're really exacting awful cruelties on many people.
So I certainly understand the tendency, when policies such as these come on the radar screen, to want to connect them, to situate them in that narrative. But I'm not sure that it applies to these cases. Not only are the numbers low, but there's a lot of continuity in both of these, both with respect to the denaturalization initiative and with respect to these documentary interrogations.
So denaturalization has always been a part of US citizenship practice. In some cases, it's pretty uncontroversial. In some cases, it's even celebrated. So the cases of denaturalization before this Trump administration initiative in recent years that have made the headlines involved denaturalization of former Nazi war persecutors-- so human rights abusers. In that case, welcomed him for good reason on the basis that these individuals committed a fraud in the process of securing their citizenship through naturalization.
So there's some continuity there. The administration obviously is doing this in a more aggressive way. But it's not inventing this out of whole cloth. Nor is it a complete U-turn in the way that the policies with respect to immigration have been. And so there's continuity with denaturalization also continuity with the documentary interrogations.
That was actually a practice that started during the Bush administration and was continued during the Obama administration. And in fact, there are some 75 midwives who have been convicted of issuing fraudulent birth certificates showing an individual to be born in the United States when, in fact, they were born in Mexico. So there was actually a problem here.
Now, we can argue. I'd be happy to argue about whether it makes sense to have citizenship just because you're born on one side of the border or the other. But taking the territorial birthright citizenship scheme at face value, that's a problem. And so the Obama administration was doing this too. And it's not clear, again, to what extent the Trump administration is ramping up. Certainly, they're doing it in Kansas at, it looks like, a more aggressive version of the policy.
And of course, there's no denying that both of these policies add to a culture of fear. And that there's certainly, at least, the potential for them to have a deterrent effect on prospective naturalization applicants. And these things are not being helped by the new head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Francis Cisna, who's very aggressively-- as Justin mentioned in his introduction-- very aggressively trying to shift the culture of USCIS, which is very different from the culture of ICE.
ICE and customs and border patrol are all about enforcement. USCIS, since the INS was split up with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, has really been more the sort of benefits shop, the customer service shop, that the component of the bureaucracy that's friendly to noncitizens.
And things, as we're learning in a big way, the culture of institutions is set at the top. And Francis Cisna definitely not immigrant-friendly. And so I understand how one might dovetail these policies that might one-- situate these policies in a way consistent with the administration's extremely aggressive anti-immigration posture.
But again, the numbers are low. There's continuity. This is the context in which the courts are vigilant and in which the doctrine favors an individual whose citizenship is being challenged. So for the government to denaturalize somebody, it has to establish a basis for denaturalization by clear and convincing evidence. So the burden of proof is not just 51% born by the government. But it has to show by something more that denaturalization is justified in the courts here.
Unlike in immigration where-- again, you've probably gotten at least some vague understanding that the courts in immigration law are very deferential to the actions of the political branches, to legislation, and to presidential action. That, we saw with the travel ban case. The Supreme Court-- highly deferential to these putative national security justifications for the travel ban. That's different in the context of citizenship. The courts have a long tradition and clearly established doctrine under which they will closely scrutinize government action here, which is another reason.
Again, I'm saying that we shouldn't be vigilant against these kind of actions. But maybe they present less concern than they should. And finally, birthright citizenship on the list here, there was pretty vocal. So I use the word triggering here, which I was trying to figure out if that was quite the right word. But when Michael Anton wrote this op-ed in the Washington Post, there was a pretty vocal intense backlash to the op-ed. Again, I mean, it's just an op-ed. And these proposals have been on the table since the early 1990s.
Every session of Congress, there are usually two bills that are dropped, one which proposes to scale back birthright citizenship through a constitutional amendment, the other, which would be by statute. There's disagreement about whether it could be done by statute or constitutional amendment. But these proposals have been made in every session of Congress since the early 1990s, and they never go anywhere. Not a single one of them has even been voted out of committee.
Now, we're living in different times now. And the one thing that even I was a little bit scared about from this Michael Anton op-ed was his proposal that President Trump do it via executive order. Which, in any other world would be dismissed out of hand. In this world, I guess you never know. But again, one interesting facet of all three of these initiatives are would-be initiatives is the response that they provoked.
And John and I are on Twitter together. I mean, there was a lot of-- in way that a lot of immigration policies that the administration are taking-- that are affecting a lot more people-- don't really-- now, they're more technical. But they don't generate nearly the kind of vigorous response that these three citizenship issues have generated.
And so part of what I want to do here today is explore a little bit about why that is and then to what extent it's meaningful going forward. So I think one explanation here, as to why this triggers-- why these initiatives-- even if there's continuity, even if they're not that dangerous because the courts are involved, even if the numbers are low, why they trigger this kind of response is because citizenship is different.
That there's a culture-- part of our constitutional culture-- it's important to our constitutional culture, citizenship as an institution. And so initiatives that even pose a threat to the possibility of a threat to citizenship provoke this more intense response.
Citizenship is elemental. It's, to take a line from-- those of you who are political science majors-- right out of hand errant from 1958 dissent in the US Supreme Court of Chief Justice Warren's, citizenship is the right to have rights. That's how it's conceived as part of our political culture. Citizenship is a cornerstone of constitutional democracy, right?
And much of our political discourse centers citizenship as an institution. So that, I think, explains it. And I think it's also explained by the fact that citizenship as an institution is now in a very fragile state. And that's where I'd like to spend the rest of the talk looking at. So there may be an attack on citizenship. But citizenship is collapsing in my view.
And I think it provides a different lens on a discussion that we're all having in the face that's a discussion that's been accelerated by this administration. But it applies a different angle to that discussion. In one way, I think that we have to think of citizenship really almost in sociological terms, that citizenship is about solidarities, it's about bonds. It's about how we feel about our conationals in a way that's different from how we feel about the rest of the world. It's about mutual trust.
And the language that we're-- a parallel discussion that we're now hearing a lot of is about polarization. So we certainly have that. And this is a slide that many of you may have seen coming from Pew which shows how Democrats and Republicans used to share a lot more ideological common ground in the past than they do now.
And so this is a discussion that we're having, which is playing out virtually every day in terms of how there is no more common ground across the political aisle. Tribalism is another descriptor that's being used liberally these days, which gets a little bit closer to what I'm talking about, which is really about thinking about these things beyond politics.
In my view, politics is a symptom and not a cause of a split, that citizenship captures the gravity of the split better than polarization does as a description. And here, I'd like to do in an exercise of just thinking about how you have in common with your fellow Americans or certain segments of the national community relative to the rest of the world.
So it doesn't take a lot of rigorous empirical work to suppose-- and I think this probably applies to most of you are-- those of you who are US citizens who are from the Northeast who are Democrats or who have that political identity, that you have more in common with a Londoner, a British citizen who voted remain than you do with your fellow US citizen from Kentucky who voted for Donald Trump.
This is something you just sort of play out as an image in your head. If you were given a choice as to who you would like more to go to dinner with, most-- I mean, it seems like a pretty easy-- I mean, I'm happy-- and I'm very much looking forward to the discussion afterwards.
But for a lot of people, the New Yorker who voted for Clinton is going to want to be hanging out and would feel more in common with that person, would feel a greater bond with the British citizen than with the fellow American citizens, that there be more in common. And that's, in part, because cultural references that mapped out onto natural boundaries have dissipated.
Those of you who are MIT students or MIT graduates, you have more of a common data set with the educated British citizen than you do with the Trump voter from Kentucky. I mean, you've got Thanksgiving. That's something that you have in common maybe with a person from Kentucky. You might have football. So sports-- there's actually a lot of interesting ways that you can play around with sports in these kinds of discussions about citizenship.
But other than that, there's probably little in the way of shared knowledge and traditions that are distinctly national. Part of it is, everybody is starting to celebrate Thanksgiving. And they're talking about expanding the National Football League to London. These things are being globalized in terms of these cultural reference in a way that dissipate what used to be very highly segmented national identities.
This slide, I don't know if you can see it. And some of you may have seen it in the news from a couple of months ago from a Trump rally, a couple of guys who are wearing T-shirts that say, I'd rather be a Russian than a Democrat. Which sort of-- in some ways, it sort of says it all, right? That these people are saying that they feel-- and so this is not just about transnational progressive elites. OK, so you're hanging out with your friends in London. And that's all very nice in terms of the global chattering classes.
But it's true on the right. The people on the right have their friends across borders also. And that these guys are basically saying that they feel more in common with more-- I'm skeptical of loyalty discourse. But in some ways, these guys are saying that they feel more allegiance to Russia than they would to their fellow American who has this different political identification.
And before we get too dismissive of these guys, we'd all probably rather be French than Republican. I mean, that's sort of an interesting question to pose to people, whether, if given the identity choice. It would be a lot for a lot of us to swallow now to identify as a Republican and everything that comes with it-- again, politics just being sort of the tip of the iceberg in terms of reflecting an overall identity composite.
And now, I've just yesterday-- we have this op-ed from Thomas Friedman, which sort of proves that, in some ways, it's already the conventional wisdom that this is-- that there's now actually more serious talk about breaking up. It seems more of a prospect-- breaking up the United States than, certainly 20 years ago, people would have thought of it as preposterous. And now it's not so preposterous, I don't think. And this was actually a piece worth looking at. I mean, above all, we no longer have the common enemy to bind us together.
And so the Cold War did a lot of work in terms of-- I mean, the proverbial circling of the wagons in a sense that we were all in it together. And terrorism doesn't really do that same work that the Cold War and certainly earlier state-to-state conflict and the zero-sum games that it used to present played in foraging and helped cementing a national identity. Now that that's gone, it's-- and so this is where I part ways with-- I'm not alone in this description.
I mean, if Thomas Friedman's doing it, then it's probably not rocket science. Where I part ways with the positive part of the analysis, positive in the sense of descriptive, is where it's heading and the possibility of turning things around. So Friedman, in his op-ed yesterday finishes with a paragraph, what stops it? So what stops our going down this road to the second civil war?
Quote, "When a majority of Americans who are still center-left and center-right come together and vote only for lawmakers who have the courage to demand a stop to it. Now. Right now. Not just when they're leaving office or on their deathbeds." Right? So this plea for the center to come together and for leadership elites to reach across the aisle and return to restore, basically, the sense of, at some level, a sense of unity based on the national identification.
There are many examples of this liberal nationalist tendency to prescribe as the remedy for the division, a return to the past. So Amy Chua and Jed Reubenfeld in this most recent issue of The Atlantic closes-- again, they use tribalism as setting the base. But then they close it. "America is not an ethnic nation. Its citizens don't have to choose between a national identity and multiculturalism. Americans can have both. But the key is constitutional patriotism. We have to remain united by and through the Constitution regardless of our ideological disagreements."
And that's it. I mean, that's sort of where they stop. In my view, these calls are now empty, that that's not going to do the trick. The calls to constitutional patriotism, there's just not enough common ground there to work a reversal of the gulf that we find cleaving the national community. Many of these-- another person that I think is associated with this is Yascha Mounk. Again, on the one hand is saying democracy is dying, on the other hand, calling for renewing sovereignty, rehabilitating national identity, and renewing civic education.
Civic education is a coda to many calls to-- and many voices who are understandably lamenting our current politics and other divisions. Civic education-- we think about how do we start down that road now? Now would it be possible to reach an agreement as to what that civic education should consist of? I'm happy to hear suggestions.
But that seems like a very difficult proposition at this point in a world in which we're not even looking at the same facts. So how are we going to agree on the same high school curriculum in which we rehabilitate the national identity? So I don't see that happening. And you can't do democracy without citizenship, and you can't manufacture citizenship.
So that's my orientation here is that citizenship can't be manufactured. Now I want to move-- this I have is sort of a bracket. Maybe in Q&A-- there also are very strong pressures on citizenship in a global frame that are undermining it as an institution. So something that I've been doing some work on lately is investor citizenship.
So citizenship is being sold by a growing number of countries. And this is a practice that's here to stay. And again, the liberal nationalists-- very unhappy about this. Even though the numbers-- again, as with the domestic policies we were talking about-- very small numbers.
So The Economist has a piece this week on the overall state of play for investor citizenship and estimates that it's about 5,000 people a year who buy citizenship in a country. Malta is the gold standard here. So a tiny number of individuals actually doing it. But it does threaten our conceptions of citizenship because it's the literal commodification of citizenship. In that frame, citizenship starts to look arbitrary, and it starts to look like a privilege.
And so we've got, especially in the US, this sort of ungluing of the national community that citizenship is a formal status, no longer maps out well into any sense of community. And then you've got these pressures at the global level, which I'm happy to talk about in the Q&A. And so I-- So I gave another talk recently, the title of which was The End of Citizenship.
And people were like well, I hope you're suitably glum in your affect for this talk. And so I don't want to leave it at that. So the question is really confronting the fact that national citizenship is not going to save us. And that there are irreparable breaches in the national community. And so the question is what to do about it.
Well, here is where-- and this is something I think academics are well-suited. Because in some ways, we can take risks that policymakers can't. And if we get something wrong, the stakes are very low. But the challenge now, I think, is to explore alternate locations for citizenship that seem more fertile for citizenship-like activity instead of romanticizing the old-- there's a lot to valorize about citizenship in a national frame, although, a lot that gets swept under the rug, of course. And that's, I think, for the historians now to explore. And it's not something that we can just go back to.
And so thinking seriously about these alternate locations of citizenship-- so that the local level, local solidarities continue to be organic. Some aspects of community will always be spatial. I mean, you have to figure out what you're going to do with the sewer, and the water system, and utilities, and the roads. And so there has to be some collective action at the local level. And this is almost a trope now that the local and the global are pressuring the state.
But again, citizenship I think adds an extra lens to those framings that subnational citizenship is-- in part, one interesting dynamic with the Trump administration-- and Justin's done some very interesting work on this-- is how subnational jurisdictions are now becoming more aggressive in the immigration context.
And its almost becoming defining in some ways that identity of sanctuary cities is a very powerful one. And there's even a very interesting initiative in New York state to establish a state citizenship that's decoupled from national citizenship so that you can become a citizen of the state of New York even if you're a noncitizen who's out of status who is here in violation of the immigration laws.
And that actually seems to me like fertile ground for exploring citizenship's virtues going forward. And then, at the global level-- not in the sense of world citizenship. Although, I'm just turning to sort of taking global citizenship seriously in the old, discredited 1950s world federalism sense, that there actually is some common life that is shared by humankind now that, at least, gives rise to a kind of secondary community.
But at the global level, it's more about transnational solidarities that, all of us-- kind of associations that I would venture to say all of us belong to, that we have come transnational communities that have been enabled by changes in material circumstances on the ground. And really, the challenge is how to take the good of citizenship and migrate those virtues into these nonstate traits. So I've gone on too long. I'll leave it then, and look forward to the conversation.
JUSTIN STEIL: Thank you, again. That was very thought-provoking on a number of levels. And the first question that comes to mind is thinking about where you ended. And can we take citizenship to a higher scale? Can we resize citizenship to a smaller scale? And it seems like the best-- I'm no expert on the EU.
But it seems like the best expert of citizenship at a higher scale is the EU where there were real rates to migrate and still are, and work, and participate in local, not national elections, but local elections outside of your home country. But it seems like the EU even has been struggling with the same resurgence of nationalism not holding together in the way its founders hoped. And so I wonder what you think that might imply about the higher scale. And maybe I'll have another question about the lower scale.
PETER SPIRO: Well, so the EU, in a sense, it's territorially delimited. And so it's working on a kind of nation-state model. And so it's consistent with my thinking about US citizenship, in particular, that it's going to suffer some of the same pathology.
JUSTIN STEIL: It's not big enough.
PETER SPIRO: Well, no. It's too big, I think. And then, when I think about-- when I put the global on the table as a new location for citizenship, I'm definitely not talking about a world state, right? So it's at most, there's a common identity that gives rise to some kind of global citizenship, which is reflected in international institutions, but not the same kind of institutions that we see on a nation-state model. So the nation-state is what I'd cut out of this. And the EU, I would sort of put-- it has features of federation.
And so that doesn't seem to me like a promising future. In fact, we should be going, in some respects, we should be devolving governance to smaller scale, at the same time that we're scaling up governance functions, but not government to the global regional or global level. So there's a place for Europe as an identity and as a location of governance, but not maybe as a location for citizenship.
JUSTIN STEIL: And so at the local level, the examples you gave were kind of the current identification with sanctuary cities and, potentially, sanctuary states and some form of state citizenship. But it seems as though, if we open-- if we're putting our hope in that level, that can just as easily go, not in an inclusionary way, but also in an exclusionary way and really lead to a much more, even more dramatic fragmentation of our political geography.
PETER SPIRO: Absolutely. Right. So that's completely right. If you imagine just as a thought experiment, the US just splitting up into red and blue. I mean, it's too bad the states don't align more neatly. I mean, I come from Pennsylvania, which is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Alabama in between. So it doesn't really work as a monolithically-- blue state Massachusetts may be a little better. But if you do that, then things are going to be, from a progressive perspective, and a rights-advancing perspective, things are going to be worse. People will be worse off in those red states.
So two responses. One would be, if that's the way they want to do things-- I think there are actually other constraints on bad behavior. I mean, you've done work on immigration federalism that, when you get something like SB 1070 in Arizona, which sounds great from a restrictionist perspective-- this is the measure that was passed in 2010 by Arizona that very aggressively looked to ramp up enforcement against undocumented aliens. But there are actual costs to taking that kind of action, that there's lost labor. There were significant boycott movements against Arizona.
Also Alabama was another interesting example where, all of a sudden, the crops are rotting in the fields because there's nobody there to pick up. And so once they're forced to shoulder the consequences of their action, it's like, OK, well, this is actually going to cost us jobs. Maybe we should re-evaluate this. And I think, if the Supreme Court hadn't gutted SB 1070 on a constitutional basis, that SB 1070 would have died a natural death because of those economic consequences. So that's one form of discipline.
And the other-- and this looks back to the global is-- international human rights, which now does have traction. There's no world court of human rights. But there are real consequences for governmental units in violating human rights norms. And so that then becomes the floor that protects people in those red zones from their own people. It's true that some people were definitely worse off. But my sense is that there would be, in that case, a revival of citizenship virtues in other areas.
JUSTIN STEIL: It makes me think that-- on some level, I think when people think about governments we're seeing, even before the most recent election, there was declining trust in government institutions generally. But I think that people interact more closely with their local and state governments and so sometimes have higher levels of confidence at that level, which is consistent with your argument. But something that I thought was interesting along those lines is that-- When we talked a lot about citizenship as the right to have rights.
But you didn't talk much about what are those rights? What should those rights be? Basic civil rights, basic political rights, social rights, and also responsibilities-- and it seems as though-- I feel like part of the implication of what you were saying-- and maybe I'm stretching this too far-- is that citizenship is just becoming a commodified economic platform in some sense. And then people aren't seeing it as much as the way that I have rights or a place that I have responsibilities and so much an economic platform for material advancement.
PETER SPIRO: So the rights and obligations of citizenship is sort of part of our political vocabulary. Politicians use it all the time. President Obama actually used it in a way that not many people caught on to. There were a series of major speeches that he gave, including his second inaugural address, and his acceptance speech for re-election, and then other major-- in which he centered citizenship and spoke in terms of these rights and responsibilities. But there actually aren't really many rights and responsibilities now associated with citizenship. So on the obligation side, anybody know there's only one distinctive obligation of citizenship.
JUSTIN STEIL: Jury duty.
PETER SPIRO: Jury duty. That's it. So it's not very thick in terms of the obligations. And then on the right side, it's the right to vote. So political participation rights-- although, that's not as much of a binary as people sometimes play it out to be. So if you're a permanent resident alien, you can donate money to candidates for political office. A lot of people would say that's of much greater power than the right to cast one vote.
And even as a nonimmigrant, you have rights of speech and other rights of participation. So that's not as much of a binary as it's played out to be. And then, really, the main right of citizenship is a right of locational security. So you can't be deported. And that's important now, right? Because even if you're a law-abiding permanent resident, as a form of insurance, I would certainly be motivated to naturalization. By the way, notwithstanding this fear in these initiatives, the possible deterrent effect on naturalization applications are actually up.
In some ways, not surprisingly, because it's a form of insurance. So the rights-- And so I think-- and you could tell me more about this than I can tell you. But this sense, even if they're not legal rights and responsibilities, that they're more keenly felt at the local level than the national, right? And so there's a distinction there-- I mean, the comparative element.
JUSTIN STEIL: Yeah. Another thing, from some of the time that I spent doing research in smaller cities and towns that are wrestling with immigration issues and conflicts, one of the things that I think does come up in anti-immigrant policies is a yearning for a sense of solidarity and a sense that some form of solidarity has been lost. And I think that part of that does have to do with race and sense among some white voters that privileges or rights or perquisites of whiteness are declining and a concern about what's happening to that solidarity.
And it seems like that is the undercurrent of a lot of the current immigration policies. It's obviously been part of the history of immigration since the founding of the nation. And we had quota systems in the 1920s explicitly to return the United States to its former racial composition. Trump seems to sometimes echo some of those arguments. And so how do you feel like that plays into this sense about citizenship is in decline or under attack?
PETER SPIRO: Well, it's a good question. And so you've got a racialized history of immigration. You also have a racialized history of citizenship. I mean going to
JUSTIN STEIL: Famous cases about--
PETER SPIRO: Absolutely, Dred Scott--
JUSTIN STEIL: Citizenship and naturalization were all about, right?
PETER SPIRO: So even after the adoption of the 14th Amendment, it was only whites and blacks who could naturalize. So anybody-- there are these really sordid jurisprudence trying to draw the line of whiteness know where somebody from Syria qualifies white for purposes of eligibility for naturalization. And those racial criteria were only limited in 1952 with the last-- so there's a history there in terms of-- and so that is no longer a part of-- in fact, there's a nondiscrimination clause now and the Nationality Act, as well as the Immigration Act.
Is that a part of this story of frayed solidarities? I mean, it's clearly, the people who are identifying themselves as nationalist and sovereigntists, for them, it's clearly part of their narrative. Now the interesting element there is that the people who are in the areas with the lowest level of immigration tend to be the most anti-immigration.
So once immigrants come into an area, because of just the necessities-- and again, you could probably tell me more about this than I know, from being out on the ground-- that just the necessities of being together in the community end up forging bonds that then give rise to solidarity across immigration, foreign-born, native-born, immigration status, et cetera. And then the solidarities-- I do think multiculturalism is a part of the story of frayed solidarity, that it's hard to anchor solidarity in multiculturalist ethics. And this sort of goes back to the question of what would civic education consist of?
So I think there is a challenge there in the way-- what does come to mind is the last great wave of immigrants at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century, there was a very hard program of Americanization that accompanied that was foisted on those immigrants in ways very much antithetical to our contemporary sensibilities. It probably did help forge some solidarities in the sense of assimilation as opposed to integration, the melting pot ideal that those-- that was probably helpful in forging solidarities in a way that, today, those don't seem sustainable.
JUSTIN STEIL: The last question, and then I'll turn to the audience-- and this is a little bit in the weeds, but it's something that's been on my mind because I've had people approach me about the notice of proposed rule-making regarding public charge. And so you talked about how some of the citizenship policies lately seem like they affect a few number of people.
They may be marginal in terms of numbers, even though, perhaps, significant in terms of their symbolism. But it seems like the public charge limitation on applying for, renewing green cards could actually involve large numbers of people and significantly restrict access to citizenship, kind of setting up a deserving and undeserving, dividing immigrants into a class that's seen as deserving and a class that's seen as undeserving in ways that echo a lot of our other divisive policy debates historically.
PETER SPIRO: Right. So for those of you that haven't been following this at some level-- it's actually quite complicated. I think the proposed rule is something like 400 pages on this, So it's a rule under which, if you are likely to become a public charge-- and actually, some of this I'm a little less firm ground than I should be. So if you're likely to become a so-called public charge-- and this was part of the original immigration law in the 1880s-- you were excludable.
So you could be kept out of the country if you were likely, basically, to end up-- we'd use more colloquial, contemporary terms, end up on public benefits. And that actually has been, again, in terms of a story of continuity, has been quite aggressively policed with respect to individuals coming into the country.
So under the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, it's now, you have to show-- and you have to do it. It's a matter of math. You have to show that you have-- that your sponsor can support you at a level 125% of the federal poverty line. Otherwise, even if you're somebody's spouse or child or sibling, you're just not getting in.
And what the Trump administration is doing is looking to exploit a law that's on the books with respect to deportation for becoming a public charge within five years of entering the United States in addition to more aggressively enforcing against bars that were adopted under the '96 law, making ineligible noncitizen for various forms of benefits.
So this aggressive enforcement is a really big deal. With respect to green card holders, especially if they expand it to deportation, which is something that basically has been unused for many decades, with respect to citizenship, there's actually no public charge. So it would be an indirect--
JUSTIN STEIL: Exactly.
PETER SPIRO: It would be indirect. So likely to become or being a public charge is not an exclusion, does not make you ineligible for citizenship. But this is the kind of thing where there's a lot of stuff, when I'm teaching immigration law, there are a lot of provisions in the immigration part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which basically, and for decades, have been just lying unused.
But now we're finding out that they're sort of like loaded guns that have been lying around. And obviously, there are people in the administration who are, I think, systematically reviewing the act to figure out how they can exercise discretion or how they can revive these long-dead provisions to advance this anti-immigration agenda. Whether it will affect naturalization-- and one shoe that I've sort of been waiting to drop is, to naturalize, you have to show that you have facility in the English language.
And you have to show an understanding of the principles of governance of the United States and the history of the United States. And that's just what the statute says. And could they start testing people in a more aggressive-- I mean, that would be within their discretion to do. They haven't done it yet. And I'm not sure that they're going to go take that extra step.
JUSTIN STEIL: We'd love to hear from questions from the audience. I guess you can line up at the microphones. Looks like there's a lot of questions already.
AUDIENCE: A lot of stimulating commentary. I guess I just want to make couple quick connections that you brought together. One is the thing about the Cold War, which really united us and this call to nativism, which is really about being white and not being native that was really a central thing in terms of kind of coalescing a whole group of people that they could identify a common enemy, which is anybody who doesn't look like us. So yeah, that's really a strong theme that you pulled out.
And the other is thinking about our connections or more common connections, for example, with folks in London. And you're talking about multiculturalism. And thinking about this community, in Massachusetts or especially Boston, in London, yeah, those are really two very highly multicultural communities where that is also a huge common theme. But I wanted to get back to the citizenship issue, which is really interesting because, thinking about citizenship of Massachusetts and the locus of power is supposed to be the state. There's a delegation of some power to the federal authorities in terms of borders.
But just think about it. And there is lot of support for this in the Supreme Court that the locus of powers of states, that states ought to be able to have citizens, which we do. But it's not a formal process. And that we ought to be able to protect our citizens. Kansas, which has no borders, if it chose to be, could say, hey, we don't have any borders. The United States government has no business saying to our citizens that they shouldn't be here. So there is an interesting idea here that would actually resonate with some of the state rights folks out there.
PETER SPIRO: Shall we take a couple?
JUSTIN STEIL: Yeah. Sure we can take a few questions and then [INAUDIBLE]. And then we'll go to the other side.
AUDIENCE: First of all, thank you very much for your talk. When I think about ensuring a policy of substate nationalism, I can't help but think of the 1990s and former Yugoslavia. Do you think, given our current circumstances where a New Yorker, a Bostonian has more become so identity politics in common with a Londoner or a Berliner, do you think that pursuing a policy of substate nationalism might provoke Balkanization in the United States? Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Actually, I'd like to start with a dilemma. I'm born in Lebanon. My mother is Cypriot. I was a diplomat for an African country. I lived in Istanbul. My wife's American. My children are born in Turkey, but they are born American. So my father fought in the Second World War. He was among the first men in Normandy to blow bridges before the actual landing. He was with special forces shoulder to shoulder with Americans and British.
My grandfather was an officer in the Ottoman army. I lived in Turkey. So I'm a holder of a green card. And this is my year where I qualify to be a citizen. I work for the-- I'm part of the United Nations. I represented a small African country. I was with the Alliance of Civilizations to bridge cultures between East and West and everything that goes around it. I studied in Turkey because I couldn't get a visa to come to the United States because Ronald Reagan decided to ban visas for Lebanese as a punishment because an aircraft was hijacked out of Athens, and I couldn't come to university.
So I ended up having to study in Turkey just because that was more practical because it was closer to home. So I have to justify why I should be American. And it's a dilemma I'm facing. And I qualified to apply last April. And it's been six months. And I'm still trying to justify it. So because I come from a military family, I asked my parents and my father. And I've been trying to justify.
So what makes you believe your ground? What makes you feel Lebanese? What makes you feel Cypriot What makes you feel this? How would you do it? And his advice to me is where you want your children to have a better hope and a better future and in a land where a country allows you to be buried. Now it didn't mean much to me. I'm a little kid, what does burial have anything to do? But here I am now. I'd be an American citizen.
But if I have certain beliefs, I'm not allowed to be buried in a certain way because the law of the country doesn't allow me to be buried in a certain way. Because you only have to be put in a concrete casket and this and that. You look at Jewish people. They're being flown all the way to Israel. You look at the Indians. They're being flown to India. Look at the Muslims. They're being flown to the Arab world. So what is nationality? Where do I fit in this equation?
PETER SPIRO: Obviously, that's a very good-- it's obviously a very complex, complicated equation. So when I take these-- because that's-- and not a completely uncommon cosmopolitan kind of background. But it's interesting that you feel this need to justify becoming American. Because a lot of people will just-- I just read a very interesting manuscript of a book that's going to be very interesting when it comes out about actually-- the place of US citizenship in Turkey.
The place that, in three different permutations, one of which was Turkish mothers who come to the United States to give birth to their children, maybe in ways that you could relate to where they want to have their kids have opportunities. And because they're-- I have this slide about citizenship as privilege. Having a US passport comes in handy if you want to live and work around the world. And so they go to the trouble-- and these are not always-- they're obviously able to afford coming to the United States. But they're not always--
AUDIENCE: Sorry to cut you off, but you can go to a Trump office in Moscow. And if you have over $2 million, you can come to Miami, and they let you stay in a Trump hotel right until you have your birth, and they give you citizenship.
PETER SPIRO: Yeah. There are packages now that travel agencies sell to do this. But then there were also interesting cases of native-born Turks who moved to the United States, got their green cards, and then naturalized as Americans so they could go back to Turkey. So that then they have their US citizenship is sort of an exit strategy. Because then they could go-- they then can freely travel back to the United States.
And so not because they necessarily feel-- although, one thing that's really interesting about this manuscript, which was the result of field work interviewing these people is that, even though they were doing it for pretty clearly instrumental reasons, that there were actually some identity-- there was a valence, in an identity terms, to just getting the passport. So I wrote a book on dual citizenship. I have German citizenship through my German Jewish refugee father. And I certainly don't identify as German.
AUDIENCE: I can have four nationalities.
PETER SPIRO: OK. So you've got four. Excellent. Then your kids might have six.
AUDIENCE: They have five.
PETER SPIRO: So this is going to become an increasingly common story. And it's also actually one that can be situated in this narrative of citizenship has declined. To the extent that citizenship is no longer an exclusive, it requires exclusivity that inevitably it enables these less meaningful memberships in ways that I think, ultimately, inevitably corrode the sense of community that comes with it. I wanted to-- on the other points, very interesting observations-- multiculturalism can be a kind of identity.
I might say that it's more cosmopolitanism that that's the identity more than multiculturalism. Definitely states' rights and federalism and devolution are takeaways from this view on citizenship. And I think that would be a good thing in the United States if we had more-- again, especially now, unlike during the Civil Rights era, now that the internet that global human rights is a more robust quantity to sort of act as a brake against more serious rights deprivations. 1990s Yugoslavia, super interesting question-- Balkanization I mean there, it's literal Balkanization.
Here, yeah, I mean, I'm not sure Balkanization is sort of a way of diminishing these substate identities and communities. And I'm not sure that they should be diminished. I'm sure Justin is more familiar with this, but James Fallows has this new book out in which he looks at a group of localities, the kind of places which most of which I've never been which are really positive stories about good things happening on the ground in places where Washington is really considered sort of a distant kind of imperial power that's only going to mess things up. So maybe another round?
AUDIENCE: Yes. Thank you for taking all of our questions. My father too was on the battleship Missouri in World War II. And I was lucky enough to have his stories of the past. And he would say, I've seen this before. I've seen this before. He said this country, never forget-- this country-- and I hope everybody agrees-- is the greatest country on earth that no one could do what Martin Luther King Jr. did. And when he did what he did, it really opened a watershed of justice efforts across the globe.
And he said that he's seen this play out before in this country the way it's going. He died in 2014. And he said we're headed for a revolution if things don't change. And he also said-- one of the things he couldn't get over was banging his fists and saying we didn't have to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And not saying, you know, I wish we walked in that park one more time. But he thought of that. And he also said that's another question. Is it human nature?
He says we had to show our might. That's what he felt. And he remembers the signs on Miami Beach where I grew up in Miami that says, it's not so long ago-- no blacks, no Jews, no dogs on the beach. And everybody in between here would have fallen in that category. And he worked-- so where the GI bill dried up for many people-- he didn't have that, obviously. He was a dark skinned Cuban. So for us, we were considered of the ilk that we didn't get a GI bill.
So those of us, he had to work three jobs, paid his house outright in cash. And we still have that today where many people were able to come over and stay until they got their citizenship. Also was curious the flow of the border with Mexico how they were used as migrant workers in the '70s. And now, all of a sudden, under DACA, their children are at risk. How so? It was OK. No commentary before [INAUDIBLE]? Was there a law that enabled that?
And also, as far as the picture of men saying I'd rather be Russian, I believe we do have as much in common with them, even more so than someone in England. Because everybody's got a story. And it reminds me of the book Hillbilly Elegy. What happens when technology comes to pass? What happens when these people lose all their jobs? What happens in Detroit? We have so much in common. Where is the leadership? Who's reaching across the aisle? Who's articulating this for all of our great people in this country?
No matter who we, we are one, and I will always believe that. I teach a Model UN club for kids. That's my effort. But I'm noticing all of our great conferences, which are at the state house and at the many law schools in the city, at Harvard. I look around, and I see the finest private schools, and then I see my group. I see [INAUDIBLE] one other. So I'm now actively working to get it into the public schools. Because that kind of education is what's going to bring us forward. And we need that leadership. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Well, This has been a little inchoate, so it's hard to tie all the strands together. So I wanted to go back to your book on dual citizenship, which kind of illustrates some of the problems with the bifurcation in immigration. Despite the fact that you are generally favorable to it, you did raise the principal objection to dual citizenship when you said that dual citizenship past, present, and perhaps future is just another way transnational elites have privilege relative to their mononational counterparts.
And then you said it's a rich kids problem. And it seems to me that the class component is missing here. Because if you want to generalize about Boston, there are plenty of people in class situations which I identify more with your enemies in Kentucky than they do with the city in London.
So I think the immigration question is tied up with the class issue. Because illegal immigration falls most heavily on the lower working class, which seldom has a voice in immigration debates, which is controlled by elites. And the same is true of dual citizenship, which is as symbolic of that. It may help you get discounts on museum admissions.
PETER SPIRO: You really read the book.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, yeah. But I don't think cab drivers and plumbers are too interested in that. And they can see the obvious discrimination. So if you're going for a multiple five passports, we need to look at it from the other side too with people that are limited to only one passport and have no opportunity to expand beyond that.
AUDIENCE: So well, good points I think. First of all, I always like to, in certain contexts, when I hear certain things, I like to let people know. And for those who don't, that over 50% of the registered voters in Massachusetts are registered unenrolled. As a registered Democrat, some of my fellow Democrats would consider it heresy to mention that. But we're not just Democrats and Republicans. And also, as far as Pennsylvania, my family-- there is, right in the middle there, Gettysburg.
So I sort of enjoyed that comment about the middle of Pennsylvania. But I have family in Carlisle. So the big question, I think, is-- and we're not really getting into it very forcefully. But I think the big question I think has to do with the pressures of migration and immigration-- and I make a distinction-- and of the forms of globalization. I prefer the adjective corporate globalization. The pressure is on citizenship, community, solidarities.
We're sort of just skimming the surface I think. But I have two specific questions. David Cole, who's the legal director of the ACLU, you probably know. I looked him up just to refresh my memory. What comes up in a Google search is David Cole, nationality, American. David, what he stresses is that citizenship-- that many people actually have all the rights.
I mean, I've heard him talk about this that basically everybody who arrives in the United States have significant rights. And so I wonder if you can comment. First of all, his understanding of the Constitution and the law correct? Would you agree with it? And what do you think might be the implications of that for this discussion?
And then the other thing is, if you could refresh my memory-- and maybe the people here who don't remember that far back, who don't know it-- how did Rupert Murdoch get his citizenship? To me, it's quite important. It predates this being able to purchase your citizenship. But he needed to acquire some media properties and wanted to expedite his citizenship.
JUSTIN STEIL: Yes. For instrumental reasons.
AUDIENCE: --and was able to do that. And I'd like to hear you explain how he did that. Because he's really the embodiment of the patriotic discourse, but I'm kind of dubious. Thank you.
PETER SPIRO: So I'll do it in reverse order. I mean, I think what David Cole is saying is that-- and it's a riff on the observation that there aren't that many distinctive rights that attach to citizenship. So when you arrive here, certainly as a legal immigrant, you even have due process rights in immigration proceedings. And then all the Bill of Rights applies. I mean, even in the context of criminal prosecutions, even if you're-- it doesn't matter what your immigration status is, if you're prosecuted under federal law or state law, for that matter, for criminal activity, then you get all the same rights that citizens do.
So other than locational security, that is in isolation from deportation and political rights, there's not that big a difference. Rupert Murdoch-- I'm sure he had-- I mean, the US, of course, does also indirectly sell citizenship through something called the EB-5 program. You can get a green card with an investment of as little as $500,000, which can then put you in track for eligibility for citizenship after five years residence.
I don't know how Rupert Murdoch did it himself. But I'm sure probably multiple-- but he actually-- one thing about citizenship, though, is it's still, in the US context at least, he still would have had to have had five years residence here, 2 and 1/2 of which would have had to include presence. And that he couldn't have gotten around that. He couldn't have bought his way out of that.
AUDIENCE: It wasn't-- I'm remembering now just that, in the light of the differences in citizenship, there was a time when you had to be a citizen in order to acquire media properties.
PETER SPIRO: Yes, the broadcasting.
AUDIENCE: So that was maybe one additional difference [INAUDIBLE] it might give you. So that was the motivation. That's why he acquired--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] it might give you. Yeah
PETER SPIRO: Right. Absolutely. Other very interesting questions-- I mean, inequality is very much a part of this discussion. And that's, again, the slide on citizenship is privilege-- that those of us who are US citizens only, a lot of Americans don't understand what a privilege it is to have a US passport and how it means you can travel around the world. And you don't have to plan months in advance. And you don't have to pay for expensive visas. You don't have to worry about getting denied visas.
And that gives you a privilege that people who come from countries with nonpremium passports just don't have. And dual citizenship is a part-- I do finish up my book sort of raising this question. And I've got an article, for those of you who are interested in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies that's posted online, about how dual citizenship does feed into this inequality.
There are very interesting stories in it from Latin America that are now being studied by sociologists of when their financial crisis hit earlier there than in the US and Europe-- in Argentina and Chile, a lot of people have Italian and Spanish grandparents, which entitles them to Italian or Spanish nationality, which opened up economic opportunities that their mononational neighbors just didn't have in very meaningful ways, but also really pretty arbitrary ways.
It's just, you're lucky if you've got that Irish or Italian or Spanish grandparent. And your life chances are materially affected by that. And contrast that to the liberal nationalist discourse of citizenship being about equality. Again, in our received discourse, citizenship is about equality. And that's now being challenged by this global phenomenon.
And then, I don't want to be dismissive of civic education and of the good work that lots of people are doing out there to work against inequality. And that's way more important than what we're doing as academics in terms of actually changing people's lives. I mean, I do-- when you say we are one, I'm not feeling that anymore in terms of certain pairings, at least not in any way that's different from we are one as a common humanity.
So you know, when people are suffering across national borders, we should all feel that. And I think, to an increasing extent, we do feel that. So for people who were not doing well in Kentucky-- I hope people project empathy and feel empathy and help those people do real things on the ground to help those people who are in not a good place.
But I'm not sure that that's any different now from people who are facing a disaster in Indonesia or people who were suffering from extreme poverty in other parts of the world that, again, the feeling, you know, should I be especially concerned about somebody who's suffering in Kentucky versus somebody who's suffering in some other part of the world? I think that's an open question now in a way that it didn't used to be. And I think, again, that that's reflective of the sort of dissipating sense of national community.
JUSTIN STEIL: I think we're at the time. Thank you very much for being here.
PETER SPIRO: Thank you very much.
JUSTIN STEIL: Thank you, professor Spiro.