Denizens -- The Aliens Who Become De Facto Citizens of the World

One little-noticed sign that the world -- almost despite itself -- is becoming a global civilization, is the emergence of a new legal status -- "denizenship."The term was invented by legal scholars in recognition of the fact that many countries now have residing within their boundaries great numbers of people who aren't exactly citizens, but who aren't exactly foreigners either. In Western Europe, many of these people are longterm residents who were recruited as guest workers and -- like the man who came to dinner-- stayed. They remain because they like it where they are, and because the "host" countries are not quite up to massive deportations.But if they don't go back, neither do they always apply for citizenship. Sometimes it is just too difficult to do. Sometimes they just aren't interested.Growing numbers of denizens are refugees accepted under pressure from international relief agencies.They are living anomalies. Their presence signifies that a number of things -- personal identity, democracy, the nations in which they live, and even the role of nation-states in the global community -- have changed in fundamental and probably irreversible ways.The status of denizenship has grown up as the host countries gradually, sometimes reluctantly, assumed some responsibilities for their resident aliens -- responsibilities that over time begin to appear indistinguishable from the responsibilities they have toward their own citizens. First of all, they had to extend to guest workers the protection of the law -- the right to own property, seek employment and run businesses, speak out on public issues -- as well as access to social services and to public education for their children. In some countries guest workers can be employed in the public service, even vote in local elections.Protecting the rights of denizens is not entirely a matter of national policy. It also has to do with obligations that countries have as signatories to the various treaties based on the post-World War II Universal Declaration of Human Rights.All those treaties, and international human rights law generally, had little impact on Western Europe and the United States until the huge transnational migrations of the 1970s and 1980s. Before then, governments were mainly concerned about protecting the rights of their citizens -- including citizens abroad. Today these governments find themselves paying more attention to aliens at home than to citizens in foreign countries.A whole new body of law has grown up around this shift and national governments have metamorphosed into a new role as agents of the international order. The focus of nationhood, in effect, is shifting away from issues of sovereignty and self determination toward global human rights independent of national boundaries.In his book "Rights Across Borders" David Jacobson writes, "What we are witnessing today is the transforming of the state and international institutions, of their function and of their very (ital.) raison, and human rights provide both the vehicle and object of this revolution."Meanwhile denizenship continues to change. In some countries, resident aliens already have the right to vote, and some political parties in Europe have called for allowing them to vote in national elections as well. Some cite the old American revolutionary battle-cry "No taxation without representation" to support their argument that people who are affected by a country's laws should have a voice in the making of them. What this means, of course, is that national citizenship doesn't have the same emotional charge that it once did for some people, nor does enjoy the royally privileged position in law that it once held. It may mean something, roughly the way registering to vote in a certain electoral district means something -- but it isn't the ultimate definer of personal identity.Another sign of this change is the increasing number of people who have dual citizenship, and of countries willing to recognize this status. And, of course, as national citizenship means less, so do national boundaries.The term "global citizenship" is still a somewhat inflated and idealistic one, as is the "universal personhood" praised by some human rights advocates. But denizenship is real and its status is now codified in international law. Instead of being the outcasts of the world, it suggests that resident aliens may be the true models of how people will define themselves in the twenty-first century.

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