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  • Silas W. Allard (a1)

In her essay “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man,” Hannah Arendt famously wrote, “Nobody had been aware that mankind, for so long a time considered under the image of a family of nations, had reached the state where whoever was thrown out of one of these tightly organized closed communities found himself thrown out of the family of nations altogether.” Surveying the aftermath of the world wars, the same aftermath that eventually led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Arendt found that a person had to be emplaced—the subject of a political space—in the state-oriented order of geopolitics to be cognizable as a subject of human rights. The stateless, being displaced, were excluded from such a regime of rights and from the global political community. Bare humanity, Arendt argued, was an insufficiently binding political identity. As she wrote in her arresting language, “The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.”

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1 Arendt, Hannah, Imperialism: Part Two of The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 176.

2 See also, Malkki, Liisa H., “Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization,” Cultural Anthropology 11, no. 3 (1996): 377404; Agamben, Giorgio, “We Refugees,” trans. Rocke, Michael, Symposium 49, no. 2 (1995): 114–19.

3 Arendt, Imperialism, 179.

4 Ibid., 182.

5 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, preamble, G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, U.N. Doc. A/RES/217(III) (Dec. 10, 1948).

6 See, for example, Perry, Michael J., “Freedom of Conscience as Religious and Moral Freedom,” Journal of Law and Religion 29, no. 1 (2014): 125.

7 “[T]he term ‘stateless person’ means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, art. 1.1, September 28, 954, 360 U.N.T.S. 117.

8 Cf. Perry, Michael J., “The Morality of Human Rights,” San Diego Law Review 50 (2014): 775812. Some scholars, such as Perry, might argue that we have addressed, at least in part, the paradox identified by Arendt through the emerging consensus on the morality of human rights. This essay does not take up that debate, and I generally share Perry's convictions about the power of a human rights morality; rather, this essay points to the ways in which state-centric notions of sovereignty and law continue to trouble an ethic of common humanity and the ways in which some scholars of migration are addressing this issue.

9 Volf, Miroslav, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 6667.

10 Ibid., 67.

11 Ngai, Mae M., Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 10.

12 I use the term established community following Snyder (11–12), who borrows the phrase in turn from Van Hear, Nicholas, New Diasporas: The Mass Exodus, Dispersal and Regrouping of Migrant Communities (London: University College Press, 1998). As Snyder notes, “‘host’ community implies a welcome or hospitality which is not always present and ‘native’ or ‘indigenous’ people implies aboriginal people and excludes former migrants” (11). I would add that the terms sending and receiving society, while more accurate, obscure the fact that most societies both send and receive.

13 Volf, Exclusion & Embrace, 63 (citation omitted).

14 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, preamble.

15 Quoting Tracy, David, “The Christian Option for the Poor ,”in The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology, ed. Groody, Daniel G. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 119.

16 “The group is more arrogant, hypocritical, self-centered and more ruthless in pursuit of its ends than the individual.” Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 1, Human Nature (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 208.

17 In a more concrete example, Heyer notes that “[g]iven the relationship between the United States and sending countries in geographic, economic, and political terms, US citizens may be willfully negligent of or indirectly responsible for the conditions that give rise to undocumented migrations across their borders” (46).

18 Though not the principal concern of this essay, it is worth noting Snyder's thorough grasp of the social science research that emerges from the multidisciplinary field of migration studies. Migration is a complex phenomenon at once political, legal, ethical, anthropological, sociological, and theological. Despite efforts to locate or constrain migration to the migrant, it exists in a web of relations that extend from the international to the intrafamilial. Whether one starts from law or religion, an awareness of the wider literature is critical to grasping the complexity and nuance of the issue. In such a pursuit, Snyder is an excellent guide (see, especially, 51–84).

19 Gemma Tulud Cruz also takes up the church's unavoidable engagement with migration, as discussed below.

20 Quoting Weiner, Myron, The Global Migration Crisis: Challenge to States and to Human Rights (New York: HarperCollins College, 1995), 1.

21 Sojourner is one of the three biblical categories of outsider: stranger/alien, foreigner, and sojourner. According to Peter C. Phan: “A sojourner (Hebrew ger, Greek paroikos, and Latin alienus) is someone whose permanent residence is in another nation, in contrast to the foreigner whose stay is only temporary.” Phan, “Migration in the Patristic Era: History and Theology ,”in A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey, eds. Groody, Daniel G. and Campese, Gioacchino (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 48. Thus, the sojourner is someone who carries the memory and experience of movement into a new place.

22 “Age of migration” is a term coined by sociologist Stephen Castles and political scientist Mark Miller in their book of the same name. Castles, Stephen and Miller, Mark, The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World, 4th ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2009). The Age of Migration is a valuable resource for anyone working in the area of migration.

23 See, for example, the excellent volume edited by Daniel G. Groody and Gioacchino Campese, A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey, cited above in note 21.

24 In an illuminating presentation at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics titled “Proclaiming the Jubilee Year for Undocumented Migrants: Anti-Immigration Biopolitics and a Christian Theological Resistance,” Ahn helpfully clarified his position, suggesting that the politics of forgiveness is an alternative to the inequitable and unjust politics of punishment and the ineffectual politics of compassion.

25 Ahn is aware of this dynamic and aware that it may be challenging to some migrant advocates: “I am afraid that my fundamental approach may stir up some negative reaction among some migrant advocates. They might ask: ‘Who should forgive whom?’ Since my approach may well appear to put undocumented migrants in a passive, vulnerable, and powerless position, they might regard my approach as offensive. They should, however, be advised that my approach does not identify undocumented migrants as morally passive, vulnerable, and powerless people. To the contrary, what I am proposing in this book is to deconstruct their legally passive, vulnerable, and powerless position through the political appropriation of forgiveness” (7).

26 Young, Iris Marion, Responsibility for Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

27 Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 11.

28 REAL ID Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-13, 119 Stat. 231.

29 Immigration and Reform Control Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-603, 100 Stat. 3359.

30 Muzaffar Chishti, Claire Bergeron, and Doris Meissner, “At Its 25th Anniversary, IRCA's Legacy Lives On,” Policy Beat, November 16, 2011, 6,

31 See Chishti, Bergeron, and Meissner, “At Its 25th Anniversary, IRCA's Legacy Lives On”; Walter A. Ewing, “The Growth of the U.S. Deportation Machine,” Immigration Policy Center, April 9, 2014,

32 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, Pub. L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009 (1996).

33 USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272; Homeland Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135; 2005 REAL ID Act, Pub. L. No. 109-13, 119 Stat. 302.

34 Muzaffar Chishti and Faye Hipsman, “U.S. Immigration Reform Didn't Happen in 2013; Will 2014 Be the Year?,” Policy Beat, January 9, 2014, The Senate passed comprehensive legislation. See Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, 113th Congress (2014). The version introduced in the House, H.R. 15, was referred to committee on October 2, 2013, 159 Congressional Record H6173–74 (daily edition Oct. 2, 2013), but it was never voted out of committee despite a discharge petition by the bill's sponsor, Representative Joe Garcia, 160 Congressional Record H2653 (daily edition Mar. 26, 2014).

35 Quoting Carter, Jimmy, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 132.

36 Volf, Exclusion & Embrace, 65.

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