Sofia Näsström

Sofia Näsström (home page)
Associate Professor
Department of Government
Uppsala University, Sweden

The Right to Have Rights: From Migration to Integration

Citizenship is essential for living a democratic life. Yet, today many democratic countries witness people in their midst who lack full citizenship status. A growing number of migrants, refugees and stateless persons live under laws over which they have no democratic say. This condition does not only make them vulnerable to domination; the problem is that their exclusion from the political domain runs the risk of affecting the self-understanding of both citizens and non-citizens in a way that is detrimental to the preservation of a democratic society. Integration becomes difficult to achieve when democracies produce civic stratification in the form of differentiated systems of rights and inclusion.

In response to this problem, scholars, practitioners and activists have started to make appeal to a new right: the right to have rights. This right does not only refer to a civil, political or social right, or to the right to nationality inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also invokes a more fundamental right of human beings to belong to an organized political community and count as a citizen among others. Still, while the right to have rights frequently is invoked to criticize practices of political exclusion, its status as a right is to date unclear. Its legitimacy is not fully recognized in national and international law, and many scholars are therefore preoccupied with analyzing its puzzling status vis-à-vis the nation-state system.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the normative basis of the right to have rights. The fact that struggles around border politics are increasing, and many countries are establishing new institutions and administrative procedures by which to cope with pressures from migration on their democracies and welfare systems indicates that appeals to the right to have rights are not going to vanish in any time soon. They constitute a mainstay of contemporary political life. At the same time, critics contend that the right is insufficient to achieve successful integration. It is either over-inclusive (non-citizens such as temporary migrant workers need social rights, not a right to citizenship), or under-inclusive (citizenship should not be a right, but a mandatory obligation for all non-citizens). In this paper I argue that these critics have misunderstood the normative status of the right to have rights, and that it offers valuable resources for thinking the shift from migration to integration in a new key.

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