Ayelet Shachar


At the heart of contemporary immigration debates lies a fundamental tension between the competing visions of "a nation of laws" and that of "a nation of immigrants." This is particularly evident in the American context. The nation-of-laws camp maintains that people who have breached the country's immigration law by entering without permission (or overstaying their initial visa) cannot overcome this "original sin," even if they have lived on its territory peacefully and productively for decades thereafter. The nation-of-immigrantsmilieu counters by reminding us that immigration is a vital component of the national self-definition of immigrant-receiving societies such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - the "flesh of our flesh," as noted historian Bernard Weisberger once put it.

For illustrative purposes, this Article will focus on the United States, which annually accepts the largest intake of immigrants in the world. No less significant, the United States is currently in the midst of an acrimonious debate over immigration reform. Canada, too, might see similar debates erupt in the future given the rise of temporary workers admissions that have skyrocketed in recent years.s If some of these temporary entrants remain beyond the terms of their initial visa, Canada might witness the establishment of a population that settles in the country for years yet remains prohibited from the protection of citizenship, for the regulations that govern the initial admission are specifically designed to bar the option of ascendance to citizenship and the fundamental protections (such as those against deportation) that come with it.