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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .


Immigration as a Democratic Challenge: Citizenship and Inclusion in Germany and the United States
Ruth Rubio-Marin

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000
270pp. Index. Biblio. Pb.: £13.95; ISBN 0-521-77770-4. Hb.: £37.50; ISBN 0-521-77152-8.



This book puts forward a well-argued and strong claim in favour of the incorporation of immigrants into the political community of their host countries. The normative grounds for such a claim rest within the notion that states committed to a liberal democratic order ought to regard as full members of their political community all those who reside in their territory on a permanent basis. The concept of a liberal democratic order is conceived here as a system which is not simply democratic to its own demos (Dahl's first option) but is above all democratic in relation to everyone who is subject to its rules (Dahl's second option). Direct subjection to the laws justifies the need for long term residents to participate in the democratic process.

The modalities for automatic incorporation of permanent resident aliens follow the path of full inclusion and the path of automatic membership. The main claim argues for full inclusion, that is, the enjoyment of equal rights and duties for all subjects to the law (path of full inclusion). If it is proven that such an enjoyment is best fulfilled through the recognition of the status of national membership (this might not be necessarily the case) then the secondary claim provides that such a status ought to be granted automatically to all of those who, according to the main claim, deserve full equality in the enjoyment of rights (path of automatic membership). The valid application of automatic membership is subject to two conditions: that there are strongly sufficient reasons to prove the necessity of keeping the full enjoyment of rights and duties attached to the status of nationality and that nationality is granted unconditionally.

Having put forward a strong normative case for the inclusion of permanent resident aliens and having analysed the main objections raised against inclusion, the author goes on to compare two case studies to analyse the constitutional implementation of the normative claim: the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America. Such case studies present strong similarities given that these countries have a large immigrant population and are both committed to a liberal democratic order sanctioned in their constitutions and also strong differences given that they incorporate different immigration traditions and conceptions of citizenship and nationality. Germany has never regarded itself as an immigration country and the resistance to accept the immigration phenomenon has been connected to the particular development of nationhood in Germany, where linguistic and cultural nationalism has preceded the territorial consolidation of the German state: nationality rather than residence has therefore become crucial as the essential criterion to define the political community. Such an experience is in strong contrast with that of United States where immigration has historically been perceived as integral to the formation of the state.

In the United States residence, rather than national citizenship, allows for the enjoyment of constitutional status, with the significant exception of core political rights such as suffrage. In particular, the federal structure of the US has allowed for a schism to develop between political and societal membership in the law. At a federal level a concern with the political dimension of the national community has prevailed whereas at state level the societal dimension has been more relevant. The perception of the United States as an immigration country is connected to the relatively straight provisions for naturalisation and the concept of ius soli citizenship, which has enabled the automatic granting of citizenship to children of immigrants born in the territory. However, the naturalisation option has often meant that one common justification for the exclusion of aliens from the enjoyment of equal rights and freedoms has been that 'alienage' in the US is far from an immutable status. The presence of such provisions might explain why the lack of full residential or political rights by settled immigrants has not been viewed as worrisome. However, occurrences such as California's Proposition 187 (a measure approved by popular referendum in the state of California declaring aliens' ineligibility for public services and benefits including access to state schools and health care) has underscored the vulnerable status of immigrants in times of perceived economic uncertainty.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the schism between the societal and political sphere of membership has materialised around the separation in the law between personal and social freedom and equality, central to Germany's commitment to a social state based on the rule of law, and the effort to grant resident aliens some protection that has been connected to it, and political freedom and equality, which have applied exclusively to citizens as such. Germany's traditionally restrictive laws on access to citizenship, whereby the system of birthright citizenship or ius sanguinis has meant that citizenship has been granted exclusively on the basis of descent and that naturalisation has been the exception rather than the rule, meant that resident aliens and their successive generations have been disenfranchised and increasingly alienated in their country of residence. However, the 1990 Aliens Act and the 1992 Asylum Compromise are trends towards the reformation of a system which has lost its reason d'Ítre with the unification process in 1990. Of particular relevance, and subsequent to the publication of this book, is the reform of citizenship regulations which has come into force in January 2000 and has introduced elements of ius soli citizenship by allowing persons born in Germany of foreign long-term residents to gain citizenship at birth (although it is required to renounce previous citizenship at the age of 23 years old). Moreover, within the framework of the IT specialists relief programme, special provisions have been initiated in 2001 to allow special residence and work permits for highly qualified experts in the field of communication and information technology (although it must be said that such provisions are still far from generous). At the supranational level, mention could also be made of European Union provisions to allow suffrage in local elections by making all European Union residents eligible to vote. As the author correctly points out, at stake is the sanctioning of two competing visions of Germany: the first focusing on the German nation-state as the foundational political community and the ultimate locus of democratic sovereignty and the second focusing on a state committed to a liberal and pluralistic democracy and to an open form of statehood sanctioned in the Basic Law and which demands the redefinition of German citizenship in more inclusive terms. Notwithstanding the political difficulties encountered in passing such reforms, most notably in the form of opposition for the Christian Democratic opposition party, the trends are indeed encouraging.


Marina Arlati



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