Laissez-faire and its discontents: US naturalization and integration policy in comparative perspective
In the 1990s and early 2000s, conflicts over citizenship and nationhood erupted in US naturalization policy, part of a recurring pattern since the eighteenth century. Since these most recent controversies, major immigrant-receiving countries in Western Europe, as well as Australia and Canada, have introduced or revised naturalization requirements, preparatory courses, and formal ceremonies for prospective citizens. The USA's approach to naturalization is, by comparison, less demanding. The US approach is undergirded by an essentially laissez-faire philosophy in which the nation admits large numbers of immigrants without much attention to skills, values, or English-language ability and who are expected to integrate without significant government assistance. While this laissez-faire philosophy represents a gain for core liberal principles, I argue that it may also reflect reduced social solidarity and contribute to the vitriolic conflicts over immigration that are now waged regularly at the local, state, and federal level. The essay concludes by considering several efforts in the USA to clarify the bargain of mutual expectations and obligations on the part of newcomers and citizens. © 2014 © 2014 Taylor & Francis.
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