Much of the conventional historiography and contemporary debate on immigration to the United States has been framed in reference to the institution of national citizenship. In recent years, however, a growing number of critics have raised questions about the actual performance of liberal notions of citizenship as a guarantor of social democracy in a changing world. Some theorists have highlighted the increasingly arbitrary and capricious nature of distinctions between "citizens" and "non-citizens" in cosmopolitan, multicultural settings where the forces of economic globalization have made daily, intimate interaction between people of different legal statuses commonplace. Others have juxtaposed the institution's historical and contemporary role as a mechanism of social sorting, control, and discipline against its potential as a means of political emancipation. Yet another group of social critics has begun to explore long-ignored dissenting voices in the debate over immigration and citizenship by exploring the views of groups and individuals who have been defined as aliens and outliers.
This essay builds on insights drawn from this critical scholarship to explore some of the political and social dynamics between "citizens" and "non-citizens" in a period of intensive globalization at the turn of the last century. By analyzing this important early period, the article attempts to explore genealogies and draw parallels between historical debates over the contested nature of membership in the United States in the last century and the current controversies swirling around issues of undocumented migration, globalization, and the implications of demographic change and cultural conflict over time.