Samuel D. Schmid

Political scientist

Boundary Politics: How Democracies Respond to the Immigration Trilemma

Book Project

This book offers the first comprehensive analysis of alleged trade-offs between immigration regimes and citizenship regimes across democratic countries. It demonstrates these trade-offs are best understood as a trilemma, and shows how liberal democracies respond.

Rooted in the long-standing normative debate on the topic, Boundary Politics explains how the openness to legal immigration, the enforcement of those immigration regimes, and the inclusiveness of citizenship for long-term immigrants are related in liberal democracies. I argue that, when we systematically tease out the empirical implications of the normative debate, these three policy dimensions constitute an immigration trilemma for liberal democracies that want to continue to be worth their name. On the one hand, to uphold the rule of law, liberal democracies cannot maximize openness for immigration and inclusiveness of citizenship while simultaneously abandoning enforcement. This undermines cosmopolitan aspirations to create inclusive democracies with open borders and minimal enforcement. On the other hand, however, liberal states also cannot maximize their citizenship exclusiveness and enforcement while also closing labor immigration to an extent that does not allow them to sustain the welfare state and economic growth, and that does not respect judicial constraints in regulating family reunification and asylum.

By focusing on 23 Western democracies from 1980 to 2019 and by combining quantitative analysis with in-depth process tracing case studies followed by targeted case comparisons, Boundary Politics demonstrate that this trilemma exists. The core argument is that the politicization of immigration in democratic elections and the legislative power of nativist parties explain variation in the policy responses across and within liberal states. While politicization without tangible power of nativist parties yields open immigration regimes and inclusive citizenship regimes without the minimization of enforcement, politicization combined with tangible nativist power leads to exclusive citizenship regimes but semi-open immigration regimes that are strongly enforced. Showing that that there is a limit to both cosmopolitan normative theories that seek openness and nativist aspirations for control and closure, the arguments and findings of the book make important contributions to and bear crucial implications for both the empirical and the normative literatures on the topic.

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