by Linda Bosniak. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. 248pp. Cloth. $27.95 / £17.95. ISBN: 9780691116228.

Reviewed by Kif Augustine-Adams, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University. E-mail: adamsk [at]


Linda Bosniak’s stated purpose in writing THE CITIZEN AND THE ALIEN: DILEMMAS OF CONTEMPORARY MEMBERSHIP is “to advance the conversation” between two bodies of scholarship regarding citizenship: the “inward-looking” view and the “boundary-conscious” approach (p.2). The inward-looking body of citizenship scholarship embodies a sense of universalism, of broad inclusion. With its major concern being “the internal life of the political community,” formal membership in the community is both presumed and unquestioned (p.2). The inward-looking view has often been the domain of political philosophers, social theorists, and civil rights activists. The quality of citizenship is foremost.

The “boundary-conscious” approach, in contrast, focuses on the definition of community in the first place (p.2). It is the exclusive nature of community – most often the nation-state whose boundaries ration membership, that receive the most attention (p.2). Immigration scholars and those who study the nature of the nation-state demonstrate a boundary-conscious approach. Membership in and access to the desired political community is neither presumed nor often available at all. The boundary-conscious approach challenges the purported universalism of the inward-looking view with a border. Access to citizenship, rather than its quality, is the first question.

As a practical matter, Bosniak’s task is harder than she initially lets on. Given the general lack of engagement that she describes between two very well-developed bodies of scholarship, she must first create the conversation in order to advance it. Bosniak does a fine job of both in this slim, well-documented volume with 140 pages of text and sixty-two pages of endnotes. In the process, she plumbs the basic question of “citizenship of, and for, exactly whom?” along with citizenship’s whats, wheres, and hows (pp. 1, 15). We may presume to know what we mean by citizen, but Bosniak’s explication makes clear the variety of ways the term is deployed: to identify a certain degree of belonging, to explain a group of rights, to describe legal status, to signify boundaries of membership of a nation-state and more. Conversing cogently with respect to citizenship requires knowing how citizen and citizenship are used, particularly given that so many use the terms in different ways. However deployed, the idea of citizenship is a powerful concept and, not surprisingly, invariably a positive one. Bosniak makes clear the “great honorific” of citizenship (p.28).

The central contribution that Bosniak makes to citizenship scholarship is her [*241] willingness to explicitly confront the tensions inherent in a liberal, inclusive notion of citizenship which is, in reality, bounded by the exclusiveness of the nation-state. Depending on which side of the scholarship, or life experience, or border one is on, either the difference between citizens and aliens, or the similarity, becomes paramount. Recognizing this divide, Bosniak proffers a twist to the great honorific of citizenship: She contemplates the alienage of citizens and the citizenship of aliens. Many citizens – individuals with formal legal membership in the political community – do not receive all the purported benefits of citizenship; they are “second-class citizens” (pp.10, 30). The idea of second-class citizenship is not new, but by framing the discussion in terms of alienage, Bosniak brings the inward-looking approach to citizenship into dialogue with the outward-looking, boundary-conscious approach.

Discussing the citizenship of aliens builds the discourse even more directly. Simply articulating the idea of “alien citizenship” invites a double-take. Bosniak demonstrates the reality of alien citizenship – the access that certain aliens enjoy to some legal, social, and economic benefits – through a variety of US Supreme Court cases including PLYLER v. DOE, MATTHEW v. DIAZ, and GRAHAM v. RICHARDSON. Aliens physically present within the territory of the United States receive significant benefits that non-citizens outside US territory do not. Citizenship of aliens highlights that not all aliens are completely out. Aleinage of citizens highlights that not all citizens are not completely in.

Bosniak’s discussion of the citizenship of aliens centers around the territorial presence of aliens within the United States. That territorial presence complicates the question of borders. Does the alien leave the border behind when she physically crosses into the United States or does she carry the border with her in her body? How does or should the federal government’s plenary power with respect to immigration affect regulation of an alien once admitted (p.99)? Relying on Michael Walzer’s work, Bosniak describes two models of membership – roughly equivalent to the inward-looking and boundary-conscious approaches to citizenship. The separation model substantially limits the government’s ability to regulate aliens once admitted to the territory. The domains of community membership and territorial personhood domain are strictly separated (p.75). The border stays behind and government may not regulate the alien substantially differently than the citizen. The convergence model suggests a significant overlap between membership and territorial personhood. The alien carries the border with her into US territory, such that government regulation of her as an alien is simply part of regulation of the internal community (p.75). The nomenclature of the two models is somewhat unfortunate because the separation model is actually more inclusive. Aliens are to be treated more, rather than less, like citizens. Aliens are less separate, more included. In the convergence model, however, aliens may be treated distinctly as their [*242] physical presence does not necessarily justify or provide for more complete inclusion in the community.

Bosniak saves the best for last. The final chapter is the most intriguing and most directly addresses the moral dilemmas that citizenship and borders present. The book is really about the morality of a membership model based on the nation-state and the borders it enforces, both internally and externally. Bosniak recognizes the political impracticality of calling for open borders: borders are here to stay (pp.123, 136, 138). She does nonetheless compel us to consider whether it is possible to reconcile the universal impulse of liberal citizenship with the exclusive realities of the nation-state. Most of us presume that “the interests of our conationals or coresidents are rightfully privileged over those of national or territorial ousiders” (pp.134-135). What, if anything, justifies that presumption, particularly when citizenship status for the vast majority of the world’s population is not transmutable (p.135)? Is there a principled basis for distinguishing between citizens and aliens or between those territorially present and those not so present? Bosniak does not offer any justifying principle, concluding instead that “However ostensibly committed we are to norms of universality, we liberal national subjects are chronically divided over the proper location of boundaries – boundaries of responsibility and boundaries of belonging” (p.140). Alienage and citizenship are flip sides of the same coin.

GRAHAM v. RICHARDSON, 403 U.S. 365 (1971).

MATTHEW v. DIAZ, 426 US 67 (1976).

PLYLER v. DOE, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Kif Augustine-Adams.