Citizenship and voting
This week I am giving a lecture on the changing meanings of citizenship, so I was struck by an article in The New York Times that reports on a controversial new measure on Missouri that requires people to show proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. This measure is aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from voting, but it is criticised for excluding from the vote poor Americans who cannot furnish proof of citizenship because they don’t have passports.
This is another reminder of three facts: (1) that though the United States is a young country, its political system, among those existing, is almost uniquely old; (2) that despite 9/11, despite Guantanamo, in some important ways civil liberties have been taken less; and that (3) despite America often being identified with globalization, its citizens are less internationally mobile than those of many other rich countries.
In Europe, the mere idea that an illegal immigrant would vote is absurd. In most countries, illegal immigrants don’t even dare to go into the streets, lest they be apprehended by the next police officer and sent into detention. In the US, despite the spread of immigration detention (the NYT recently ran a story on the death of a man in immigration detention), the idea that ordinary police should join immigration agents in ferreting out illegal migrants is still widely rejected. In Europe, it simply goes without saying. The idea that ordinary citizens may not possess proof of their citizenship is similarly bewildering; every state except Britain has long made internal identity cards compulsory, and Britain has recently joined.