What is a citizen? Legally, there is usually no requirement to live in, participate in, or adhere to the values of a country to be its citizen. In fact, it is often very difficult, if not outright unthinkable, for a country to revoke an individual’s citizenship. Most native citizens will be have been born on their nation’s soil, but it is often possible to be a citizen without either being born there (immigrants), or perhaps without ever having lived there (2nd generation citizens).
Regardless of their understanding of law, many vocally embrace their status as a ‘citizen’. This is because our idea of citizenship encompasses the tangible, social aspects: pride, community, contribution, national values. The reality is that it is a government ordinated mechanism that, at it’s worst, assigns legal and illegal labels onto people based on their ability to adhere to arbitrary bureaucratic procedures.
It’s easy to see the necessity of these rules for the sake of national security, if nothing else, but recent examples of these mechanisms backfiring, or at worst, being used for malicious purposes, have troubling implications.
Take the UK’s Windrush Scandal. Under an imperative to create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants, the Home Office inadvertently detained and stripped the rights from many black Britons who had been living in the country for decades, on the false pretence that they- legal immigrants of the Windrush generation- were illegitimate.
The operation was riddled with admin errors and mismanagement but even when the system is functioning properly it is prone to exploiting people based on ethnicity and race; the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy has yet to be challenged, and visa checking algorithms have unfairly targeted minorities. If this is what citizenship means, it needs to be rethought.