Birthright Lottery and The Selective Opening and Closing of Citizenship

1. Introduction

The birthright lottery and the selective opening and closing of citizenship are two pivotal facets of modern nationality jurisprudence, both with far-reaching implications. The birthright lottery signifies the random allocation of individual destinies, largely based on the geographic location of one’s birth. Meanwhile, selective opening and closing of citizenship encapsulate the discretion individual nations retain in determining who can become their citizens. Both, however, are linked by key dimensions such as ethics, legality, and societal repercussions.

In this essay, we delve deep into an elucidative investigation of these phenomena through a scholarly lens. Reference points for our exploration range from Ayelet Shachar’s perspective on the randomness and inherent unfairness of birthright lottery to Christian Joppke’s critique of the intersection of citizenship and immigration. We draw upon T.H. Marshall’s balanced perspective on citizenship and social class. Insights from Yasemin Sosyal’s research provide us with a broader view on the potential limits of conventional nationality models, and the emergent postnational conception of citizenship. Moreover, we delve into Liav Orgad’s presentation of the ethical quandaries entailed in immigrant integration, as well as Szabolcs Pogonyi’s assessment of ethnically selective policies in Europe.

The aim is to enrich our understanding of the complexities and contradictions embedded within our current systems of citizenship. This is not just an academic exercise, but an attempt to illuminate the contours of an aspect of human existence that directly impacts billions of lives across the world.

Citizens from diverse backgrounds embracing their shared citizenship

2. The Concept of Birthright Lottery

The concept of the Birthright Lottery, as introduced by Ayelet Shachar in her eponymous 2009 work, ‘The Birthright Lottery’, introduces a rarely questioned aspect of our global society. The tendrils of this system reach out to every corner of the world, defining lives even before they have truly begun. The Birthright Lottery allocates rights, opportunities, and often, the very future trajectory of individuals purely based on the coordinates of their birth.

This system is deeply rooted in the principle of jus soli, a Latin term that translates to the ‘right of soil’. Under this system, a newborn’s citizenship is automatically bestowed based on the geographic location of their birth. Ostensibly fair and devoid of active discrimination, it, however, delivers an unfair allocation of resources, opportunities, and ultimately, determines life outcomes on what Shachar refers to as ‘an accident of birth’.

It subjects a vast number of the global population to hostile environments marked by scarcity, danger, and lack of opportunities while a privileged minority enjoy the fruits of economic development and stability. This disparity in the distribution of life chances embodies the everyday manifestation of the Birthright Lottery, creating stark inequalities, inherent injustices, and a world starkly divided along lines drawn in the proverbial sand.

Global map representing various national boundaries and citizenships

3. Citizenship and Immigration

Christian Joppke’s exploration of the interplay between citizenship and immigration, detailed in his 2010 work titled ‘Citizenship and Immigration: The Concept of Citizenship’, serves as an enlightening discourse into the transformative influence of immigration on the concept of citizenship. Immigration and citizenship on the surface are exclusive concepts; one represents transience and movement while the other implies permanence and a sense of belonging. Yet, in the intersection of these two, we find the catalytic transformation of societal structures, norms, and identities that form the backbone of modern nation-states.

Navigating this increasingly complex landscape of citizenship, Joppke picks apart the state’s role in mediating this relationship. A state’s policies unarguably determine the flow of immigration, and reciprocal implications manifest in the evolution of citizenship. Rights, duties, and the allegiance of its citizens are not static but are in continuous negotiation with immigration dynamics.

Joppke further challenges the conventional notion of birthright citizenship, puncturing its facade of impartiality. He brings to light the potentially exclusionary implications of an unchallenged acceptance of birthright citizenship. If one’s entitlement to citizenship rights is solely dependent on their geographical birthplace, the result is a system of exclusion that disavows the principles of equality and non-discrimination that are fundamental to the concept of citizenship.

Diverse group of immigrants representing multicultural citizenship

4. The Promise of Liberal Citizenship and Social Class

In ‘Citizenship and Social Class’ (1950), British sociologist T.H. Marshall navigates the complex dynamics of social class within the framework of liberal citizenship. According to Marshall, a critical, yet often overlooked, dimension of citizenship is its potential to serve as a balancing force against class inequality. The ethos of modern citizenship he argues, should inherently encompass principles of social justice and equality.

Marshall’s exploration foregrounds the latent power of citizenship to uphold social rights. The penchant to view citizenship in the realm of legal and political rights often eclipses its potential as a tool for socio-economic transformation. By focusing on social rights, Marshall identifies citizenship as an avenue for facilitating social mobility and combating entrenched class structures.

His notion of citizenship highlights an interesting paradox. While citizenship has the capacity to function as a great leveller, the reproduction of social class often starkly divides citizens in reality. This disjunction underscores the fallacy of viewing citizenship as merely a passport to rights, separate from wider socio-economic realities. Instead, as Marshall argues, citizenship should serve as an arena of justice, striving to alleviate the burdens of class divides, crystallising its essence as the instigator of progressive social transformation.

Citizens negotiating social class differences for equality and justice

5. Limits of Citizenship

In ‘Limits of Citizenship: Toward a Postnational Model of Membership’ (1994), Yasemin Sosyal explores the concept of citizenship in a globalising world, offering a novel perspective which challenges the territoriality of citizenship. Sosyal argues that the traditional construct of citizenship, confined within national boundaries, adopts an myopic view of human identity and allegiance which may not resonate with the realities of an increasingly interconnected and globalised world.

She critiques the exclusive and often discriminatory nature of national citizenship, revealing its propensity to erect barriers that divide rather than unite the human race. She further argues that citizenship as a national institution may actually limit our ability to uphold the principles and ideals of human rights on a global scale.

Sosyal advances a compelling case for a ‘postnational’ model of citizenship, which transcends geographic borders and national identities. She envisions a form of membership that is rooted in the recognition of universal human rights and the shared interests of humanity. Postnational citizenship, according to Sosyal, represents a more inclusive, equitable, and cosmopolitan interpretation of the concept.

Her argument encourages us to reconsider the territorial mold of citizenship and invites us to envision new models that resonate with our ever-evolving global society. By acknowledging the potential limits of traditional citizenship, we could unlock a more inclusive and equitable approach to political and social membership.

Global citizens advocating for a postnational mode of citizenship

6. The Ethical Dilemmas in Immigrant Integration

Liav Orgad’s 2019 publication ‘The Citizen Makers: Ethical Dilemmas in Immigrant Integration’ delves into the nuanced and ethically challenging process of transforming immigrants into citizens. The process, which Orgad terms as ‘making citizens’, inevitably opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical dilemmas.

Orgad critically questions the ethical implications and dilemmas posed by integration policies and practices. The crux of the discourse lies in the balancing act that states must perform: on the one hand, the desire to maintain a cohesive national identity, and on the other, the promotion of diversity and multiculturalism. Achieving the right balance between these two often-antagonistic goals is fraught with ethical dilemmas.

Moreover, he problematizes the conventional national narrative proposing a homogeneous identity by presenting it as a potential tool for alienation rather than integration. Orgad argues that overly rigid expectations of cultural assimilation may lead to social exclusion and discrimination against immigrants.

These dilemmas necessitate measured solutions and strategic transformations in integration policies. Orgad’s exploration presents a timely investigation into the ethical dilemmas in immigrant integration and urges for reforms in how states ‘make’ citizens. His work underscores the need to create inclusive, diverse, and ethically sound platforms for integrating immigrants into the societal fabric whilst preserving their cultural identities.

Immigrants integrating into a new country while retaining identities

7. Ethnically Selective Policies in Europe

Szabolcs Pogonyi’s ‘The Right of Blood: Ethnically Selective Policies in Europe’ (2023) reveals an intriguing facet of citizenship: the notion of jus sanguinis or citizenship by descent – a stark contrast to the principle of jus soli discussed earlier. The traditional citizenship policy pegged to lineage introduces another dimension into the already intricate landscape of citizenship.

Jus sanguinis posits that one’s nationality is dependent not on the place of birth, as is with the concept of birthright lottery, but is rather inherited through one’s bloodline. The heritage or lineage of an individual hence becomes the prime determinant of their status as citizens. This notion has been the foundation of many ethnically selective policies across Europe.

Pogonyi observes that these policies, while embodying a seemingly neutral mechanism of defining citizenship, may cloak an undercurrent of ethnic preference and discrimination. They risk fueling ethno-nationalism and perpetuating a vision of the nation defined by ancestry rather than shared values or collective experience.

By underscoring the controversial narratives built into such systems, Pogonyi stimulates a critical revisit to the very concept of citizenship. His work pinpoints yet another layer of complexity in citizenship policies, prompting us to contemplate how these could be reconciled with the ideals of inclusion, diversity, and universal human rights.

Graphic representation of ethnically selective policies in Europe

8. Conclusion

The intersection of the birthright lottery and selective citizenship policies presents a complex matrix of moral, philosophical, and legal quandaries. This confluence is a battlefield for clashing ideologies, values, and ethical paradigms worldwide. Unraveling these contradictions and navigating these complexities demand a deep, comprehensive understanding and careful analysis of these issues.

Moving towards a more equitable system of citizenship necessitates a systemic reimagining of current citizenship schemas. The analysis presented in this essay, spanning from the birthright lottery to ethnically selective policies, indicates that a more inclusive understanding of citizenship is required – one that respects individual rights, fosters social justice, and seeks to undermine structural inequalities wherever possible.

Simultaneously, it is imperative to recognize and appreciate the globalizing forces that continually shape and reshape our conceptions of identity and belonging. Incorporating taking into account global human rights concerns and evolving understandings of transnational identities can serve as an essential compass for this journey.

These insights not only illuminate the multifaceted realm of citizenship but also act as an invitation to respective policymakers, scholars, and global citizens to actively participate in a shared project: the creation of a more inclusive, equitable, and just world through the evolution of our collective understanding of citizenship.

Conceptual image representing equitable global citizenship policies

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