Not long ago, hopeful presidential candidates debated about citizenship, immigration, assimilation, and belonging. With stark and controversial opinions, the topics grew to national news.
Dr. Nicole Stokes-DuPass is a sociologist who specializes in state and international migration, citizenship, and social integration. She also co-authored Citizenship, Belonging, and Nation-States in the Twenty-First Century, the topic of the Art Gallery panel discussion on February 23. Stokes-DuPass sat down with Holy Family University to discuss her new book, immigration in the media, and what it means to be a citizen.
HFU: The February Art Gallery revolves around the title “Nationalism: Belonging/Not Belonging.” What resonates with you when you hear that title?
NSD: “Our book, Citizenship, Belonging and Nation-States in the Twenty-First Century, talks about the role of Nation-States, and specifically countries as governments who determine or create the conditions for belonging and not belonging. It is going to be really interesting to see how the artists interpret that. Think about anybody who has ever traveled to another country. Once you get in that country, there is usually an immediate feeling of belonging or not belonging, feeling welcomed or not welcomed. The book talks about policies that are enacted by governments to make migrants feel as if they belong to that new society or if they are excluded from that society.”
HFU: Looking specifically at the United States and the idea of belonging or not belonging, is that something that you believe as a country we excel in, have room to grow, or is something that is continually evolving and you never get to the greatest level of acceptance?
NSD: “I think it is all of the above. The United States has one of the most open citizenship policies in the world. We are one of the few countries that have a citizenship law that says if you were born on the soil in the United States, you are automatically a citizen. That is very unusual compared to the rest of the world. With that said, there is a chapter in the book on the United States that talks about some of our challenges, specifically about migrants coming in and citizenship being granted to those deemed ‘most deserving’ and in ‘good moral character.’ There have been points where we have limited who can come in. A lot of that is shaped by whatever geopolitical events are happening. If you look at our own history with Mexican immigration, we have had a push-pull relationship, where we have had a labor need and invited Mexican migrants over the border. Then, when we have a robust economy, we kind of say ‘ok, get back out.’ In some of our policies there is room for improvement. The one game-changer today is that the world is focused specifically on Muslim immigrants who practice Islam. The focus is on coupling immigration with national security, which has a new appeal, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, in the post-9/11 era.”
HFU: A lot of our would-be presidential candidates have talked about immigration, making controversial statements that ultimately made the topic a hot-button issue. What are your views about how immigration law is portrayed in the media?
NSD: “The topic is being displayed in a very polarizing way. All of these policies could work in varying degrees. Building a wall to block the border is not practical. I do think we have to couple national security interests with labor interests. One of the things, especially in the western world that we are dealing with, is that we have an aging population—a graying of America. Our population is aging and people are having fewer children and a number of our social and pension systems are reliant on young people paying into the system to support those who are pensioners. This is true for the United States and most of Western Europe. Immigration can address some of that because most of the people who are migrating come from cultures that marry younger and tend to have more children. Another piece of the puzzle is globalization and labor. Manufacturing in this country has declined significantly. There are certain countries that could be nice ‘sending countries’ for certain occupations. A lot of our nurses come from the Philippines. We have had immigration visa policies that are specific to group needs. We have also done this with India when we need doctors and physicians on work-approved visas.”
HFU: The panel discussion on February 23 is about your new book, Citizenship, Belonging and Nation-States in the Twenty-First Century. Can you tell me more about the book and some of its major themes?
NSD: “Political scientists and sociologists are the two main groups who have focused on citizenship studies. Political scientists have always focused on what citizenship can do—the conveyance of right, duties, and obligations. Sociologists have typically focused on access to citizenship, the assimilation process, and issues of discrimination associated with citizenship status. The book says that it is all of those things, and the one entity that controls all of them is the nation-state. Both disciplines have forgotten Nation-States in that conversation. They have moved towards this idea that Nation-States aren’t as important because we have all of these new actors, the European Union, and non-governmental organizations that now have transcended the Nation-State. We argue that the Nation-State is still the primary actor that controls all of the conditions associated with belonging or not belonging. Each chapter of the book is taking that conversation and to a different part of the world and looking at how the Nation-State in Syria, Qatar, and the Netherlands function.”
HFU: To someone who has never heard of the term, how do you define what a Nation-State is?
NSD: “This is where a political scientist would say that the nation is specifically defined as the government. The state is the government coupled with institutions that can make laws—an organized political community. When you put the concepts together, it shows that it is not just a form of government, but it is also a system of institutions that can enact policy and that can, and usually is, considered a form of identity.”
HFU: One of the major themes throughout your book deals with citizenship. In this day and age, how do you define citizenship?
NSD: “Citizenship is a status, and we stick with a very traditional definition in the book. It is a status and form of identity that is conveyed by the Nation-State. The status is important because it gives you legitimacy within that society. The best example is Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are American citizens. They have a very different form of citizenship than those who are born on the main land, but because they are a Spanish-speaking demographic, we tend to lump them in as an immigrant population. Puerto Rican citizenship is a great example because their Governor sits in Congress but has no voting rights. Residents of Puerto Rico have no voting representation in Congress, they have no electoral vote in presidential elections, but they participate in national service, meaning they can be drafted into the army. It is a strange form of U.S. citizenship and both exists in our present-day U.S. society.”