Abstract

The American dilemma was once distinctively American, rooted in the particular history of the United States and in the conflict between liberal principles and exclusionary practice. The contemporary American dilemma takes a different form, arising from the challenges that emerge when international migration confronts the liberal nation-state. Solving the earlier dilemma called for extending and deepening citizenship so that it would be fully shared by all Americans. However, that more robust citizenship is only for Americans, who alone can cross U.S. borders as they please. Consequently, rights stop at the national boundary, where the admission of foreigners is controlled and restricted. Because entries are rationed, migration policies select a favored few, creating new forms of de jure inequality that separate citizens from resident aliens and distinguish among resident foreigners by virtue of their right to territorial presence. Thus, the encounter between citizens wanting to preserve their national community and newly arrived foreigners seeking to get ahead yields an inescapable social dilemma, one that America shares with other rich democracies.

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