Since I started my studies in political philosophy, I have been interested in the political theory of the family, and the political theory of immigration, broadly conceived. At the moment, I am pursuing questions at the intersection of both areas. In particular, I am interested in proposing feasible immigration and citizenship arrangements that are particularly sensitive to the interests of children. The motivation for this project springs from the realization that current immigration and citizenship arrangements are not only poorly equipped to protect children’s interests, but can also, at times, contribute to the vulnerability that the most marginalized children face in their lives.
One question that is very relevant for this overall project is the question of what grounds the right of children to acquire citizenship (I address this question in Ferracioli, forthcoming). Traditionally, political philosophers have paid little attention to the citizenship arrangements of liberal states, and have focused primarily on their immigration arrangements. Indeed, their focus has been on advocating for their preferred theory of justice in migration on the assumption that liberal states would also ensure that their citizenship laws and policies would not conflict with what justice requires, by for instance, ensuring that no one would be rendered stateless (But see Baubock 2006; Shachar 2009; Carens 2013 for exceptions). However, as I hope to show in the remainder of this discussion, current citizenship arrangements fail to track children’s interests even when they don’t lead to statelessness, and even when they don’t conflict with the demands of a just immigration arrangement.
To illustrate the problems with our current citizenship arrangements, consider the following citizenship principles that currently apply to children: (i) citizenship should be granted to those who have been born in the state (jus soli), (ii) citizenship should be granted to those who have at least one parent who is a citizen of the state (jus sanguinis), and (iii) citizenship should be granted to permanent immigrants who have legally resided in the state for a significant period of time (jus domicilii). There are compelling reasons for thinking that jus soli, jus sanguinis, and jus domicilii, whether employed alone or in combination, fail to do justice to children.
Consider first the principle of jus soli, which applies to children who are born within the borders of the state. The problem with this principle is that children do not always reside in the same state where they were born. Some children immigrate immediately to another state after birth and so are placed from the very beginning of their lives in a position where they lack full membership in the state that is arguably in a position to advance a number of their interests. Now it is certainly true that the adequate application of jus soli across the globe can prevent all children from growing up in a position of statelessness. The problem is that we should not only care about the predicaments that arise when one lacks citizenship altogether, but also care about the predicaments that arise for those who lack citizenship in their state of on-going residence. This is because citizenship provides reliable access to a number of rights that are important for children’s lives to go well (Ferracioli, forthcoming)
Consider next the principle of jus sanguinis. One problem with this principle is that not all children have a parent who is a citizen of the state where they reside. Even worse is the fact that some children do not even enjoy the benefits of a parent-child relationship, as it is the case of those who have lost their parents or have been abandoned by them. Yet, both the fact of lacking a citizen parent and lacking a parent all together can place children in a position of extreme vulnerability, which is of course made all more acute by the subsequent denial of citizenship on the basis of that vulnerability.
Finally, consider the norm of jus domicilii adopted by most states that accept that permanent immigrants should be granted citizenship after many years of legal residence. One problem with jus domicilii is that not all immigrant children who reside in a state do so after having been granted legal access to its territory, and so are typically not eligible for citizenship, no matter how long they have resided there (Bhabha 2014). Children who seek asylum in a state but are neither granted refugee status nor returned to their state of origin have a strong claim to enjoy reliable access to important rights and benefits in their state of residence and yet are typically not entitled to citizenship via jus domicilii. The same is true of children who ‘illegally’ cross international borders with their parents or other family members. These children cannot consent to such dangerous immigration projects, and yet, they are particularly vulnerable to suffering human rights violations as a result of the precarious socio-political position in which they and their families find themselves. Again, the very fact that renders these groups of children particularly vulnerable to all forms of abuse and violence (i.e., their lack of legal authorization to be in the territory) weakens their claim to enjoy secure access to important rights and benefits that come with citizenship.
Given these shortcoming, I believe that the right of children to citizenship should depend solely on the actual relationship between child and state, and not on their place of birth, family lineage or long-term residence. The idea is that a child’s claim to citizenship is distinct from that of an adult, and separate from that of her parent(s) (if she has one), and that any child who resides in a liberal state has a right to acquire citizenship there. The foundation of this right lies on the unique paternalistic relationship between child and a liberal state, a relationship that gives the latter a duty to act on what is in the former’s best interests. I have called this citizenship principle Jus Paternus (Ferracioli, forthcoming).
In future work, I hope to investigate the implications of giving center stage to this paternalistic relationship in our theory of citizenship rights. After all, our views of social justice, global justice and parental rights will change dramatically once we recognize that the state owes much more to its resident children that is currently assumed.
Baubock, Rainer. 2006. "Stakeholder citizenship and transnational political participation: a normative evaluation of external voting." Fordham L. Rev. 75: 2393.
Bhabha, J., 2014. Child migration and human rights in a global age. Princeton University Press.
Carens, Joseph. 2013. The Ethics of Immigration. Oxford University Press.
Ferracioli, Luara. Forthcoming. Citizenship for Children: By Soil, by Blood, or by Paternalism?
Shachar, Ayelet. 2009. The birthright lottery: Citizenship and global inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Luara Ferracioli is Lecturer in Political Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney