Immigration matters for the socialization, education, life chances, identity, and political agency of people who come to live in a new country. It also affects the lives of their children.
Generally, social scientists study immigration empirically by comparing immigrants to non-immigrants on socio-economic, political, and cultural indices of belonging. They also investigate what public policies help or hinder inclusion of immigrants.
Social membership is a set of norms, beliefs, and values that shape individuals’ social relationships and affiliations. In a national society, people are members if they comply with its social norms, share in its burdens of social cooperation, participate in its institutionalized forms of reciprocity and risk-pooling, show concern for its collective well-being and future, and contribute in ways that suit their capacities.
These expectations underpin deservingness judgments about membership and social citizenship. They also underlie the dynamics of bounded solidarity that underpin the struggles for equal societies.
Whether these movements advance more inclusive membership and robust social citizenship depends on the power of organized collective interests in governments. They may use veto points, like lobbyists in Congress or the executive branch, to resist policy change. Alternatively, they may mobilize a sense of social obligation to defend institutions that determine policy and enforce law.
In modern Western societies, citizenship is a complex and multidimensional concept. It includes legal, political and identity dimensions.
Citizenship is a legal status based on the rule of law. It is also a civic identity, rooted in the ties of loyalty that bind a person to her political community.
It is also a social identity, shaped by the ways in which she is able to participate in her political community, through a wide range of activities and practices that presuppose certain capacities for rational, discursive agency.
A common view of democratic and republican theories is that citizens have a variety of capacities for political agency, including the capacity to vote in elections, canvass, participate in public deliberation, demonstrate against government decisions or policies, etc.
This view of political membership is based on a conception of nationality that is historically oriented, grounded in an understanding of the nation-state as a historical community of citizens with shared values and ethno-cultural traits. It is a conception that has been challenged by various historical experiences and different models of citizenship, ranging from Athenian democracy to Republican Rome, Italian city-states and workers’ councils.
There are many positive economic outcomes associated with legal status and citizenship, including increased productivity and wages. For example, immigrant workers fill low-wage jobs that keep the economy humming and help local economies respond to a variety of shocks such as recessions or labor shortages.
The research literature also shows that immigrants are likely to spend their increased earnings on food, clothing, and housing, which stimulates demand in the economy. Additionally, they provide much-needed services to aging native-born populations and help bolster Social Security and Medicare trust funds, contributing significantly to the U.S. economy’s long-term health.
While advancing membership and social citizenship can be a politically or economically beneficial endeavor, it may be more difficult to achieve these goals than many people imagine. Consequently, it is important to understand the relationship between immigration and citizenship.
Immigration and citizenship involve a complex interaction of different memberships, including legal, social and cultural. In some ways, these relationships are advancing more quickly than in the past.
For example, today’s immigrants are more likely than their predecessors to be given legal status or able to marry a native-born citizen and have their children enrolled in school. They are also more viewed as valuable members of their society.
However, this change has created some tensions. For instance, in the United States, many people worry that immigrants are not as educated and do not share American values.
Fortunately, there are ways to address these tensions and to find solutions. For one, research on cultural membership offers a better understanding of how the diverse populations that immigrate to this country experience their identities and what affects their attitudes about immigration.
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