James Bridle, as part of the Walker Art Center’s Artist’s Op-Eds series (perhaps the art scrooge has softened a little over the course of the project), writes in The Siege on Citizenship:
“If you’re born in the United States, no matter where your parents are from or what nationality they possess, you have the right to US citizenship. This principle is called jus soli, literally the ‘right of the soil,’ and it’s actually quite rare in the world: only the Americas implement it, mostly, without restrictions. In the rest of the world, the principle of jus sanguinis, the ‘right of blood,’ holds sway. What matters is where your parents are from and what rights they hold.”
Unrestricted jus soli in the United States, is further clarified by the 14th Amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” However flawed the notion of the American Dream mixed with the Horatio Alger myth, isn’t the jus soli foundation for that dream something to be praised? That it doesn’t matter who your parents are, but only that you were born/naturalized on the same soil as everyone else.
The picture gets less rosy when citizenship clashes with a changing world. Bridle continues:
“As we accelerate into the 21st century and the third millennium, citizenship, or the lack thereof, is going to be one of the defining issues. Look at the increasing ethnic and religious fractures of post-Imperial and post-Soviet nation-states, the coming age of sea-level rises and inevitable climate-change refugee crises, the rise of pan-global financial elites, and the increasing individual identification not with the nation-state but with digital space and corporate cloud-services.”
The inevitable climate-change refugee crisis has already resulted in the reality of restricted citizenship. India abolished jus soli on 3 December 2004, as a response to illegal immigration from Bangladesh. India’s neighboring country ranks as the country most vulnerable to climate change, according to global risks analysis company Maplecroft (does anybody else think of Mycroft from the BBC Sherlock series?). In October 2010, 500,000 people evacuated their homes after extreme storms and rising sea levels combined with loss of crop productivity could contributed to even more refugees looking for another country’s soil to call home.
There is a legitimate, rational basis for why a developing nation faced with the challenges of its own burgeoning population would eliminate jus soli. In fact, there are some convincing arguments against birthright citizenship in the U.S. in the context of debates over illegal immigration. But before we fight over who gets what rights, perhaps we should give proper appreciation to the right of the soil in the first place. Bridle, citing Hannah Arendt’s conception of citizenship, claims recognition by any state – the arbiter of rights – is a precondition for the protection of all rights. Thus, citizenship can be considered “The Right to Have Rights.” So isn’t it beautiful that in the United States, before the right to speech, the right to a fair trial, the right to vote – before every other right – there is the right of the soil. Jus soli.
This is Jeffrey signing off from the CNP. It’s been an informative, enlightening, and hopefully action-galvanizing blast. Good luck to the new year’s fellows and keep the Friday morning meeting tradition alive (it builds Midwestern values)!