New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



Michigan Law Review, Vol. 106, No. 1111, 2008


In "Americans in Waiting," Hiroshi Motomura traces the multiple ways in which law and policy have framed the relationship between immigrants and the body politic. He ultimately calls on Americans to honor the very best of our traditions by treating lawful immigrants as American citizens in waiting, presumptively entitled to all the prerogatives of membership. His vision, while compelling, comes up against a difficult problem. In a globalizing world marked by large-scale migration and transnational forms of association, we do indeed still need robust conceptions of national, geographically anchored citizenship to promote social cooperation. But the political institutions, such as citizenship, that support strong frameworks of belonging have shown themselves unable to fully absorb the influx of migrants with plural loyalties. The public opinion on which these frameworks depend often resists the inclusion of too many new members. In both the United States and Europe, we see evidence of an admissions-status tradeoff, or the dynamic whereby the acceptance of large numbers of immigrants is accompanied by parsimonious treatment of those immigrants, including through the withholding of legal status. The global phenomena of large-scale migration and transnational loyalties fragment national political communities, making it more difficult for the very institutions that traditionally have promote social cohesion to respond effectively to that fragmentation, rendering realization of ideals like Motomura's elusive. After developing this argument, I conclude by offering some thoughts on how to broach these tensions in a way that is true to Motomura's vision of immigrants as Americans in waiting, primarily by calling for a reinvigoration of local forms of territorial belonging.

Date of Authorship for this Version

July 2008