The United States is entering a new era of progressive state citizenship, with California leading the way. A growing number of states are providing expanded rights to undocumented immigrants that challenge conventional understandings of citizenship as binary, unidimensional, and exclusively national.

In Citizenship Reimagined, Allan Colbern and S. Karthick Ramakrishnan develop a precise framework for understanding and measuring citizenship as expansive, multi-dimensional, and federated – broader than legal status and firmly grounded in the provision of rights. Placing today’s immigration battles in historical context, they show that today’s progressive state citizenship is not unprecedented: US states have been leaders in rights expansion since America’s founding, including over the fight for black citizenship and women’s suffrage. The book invites readers to rethink how American federalism relates to minority rights and how state laws regulating undocumented residents can coexist with federal exclusivity over immigration law.

In particular, the book

  • Establishes a precise rights-based framework for multidimensional citizenship, drawing insights from comparative politics and mapping indicators for future empirical work
  • Provides a novel formulation of rights, including the right to develop human capital, right to free movement, and the right to identify and belong
  • Traces the intersection between citizenship and federalism throughout US history, explaining how social movements, parties, and courts have interacted within the context of federalism to shape the contours of citizenship rights over time
  • Offers a vision for progressive state citizenship that will interest policy makers and activists and is relevant to understand immigrant rights as well as other group rights




Elizabeth F. Cohen, Syracuse University

US states have always played a pivotal but poorly-understood role in creating and enforcing the country’s immigration policies. Citizenship Reimagined sheds light on this process, revealing how states identify and exploit their power to shape the political status of non-citizens. Amid a crowded field, Colbern and Ramakrishnan have given immigration and federalism scholars a rich array of concepts, history, and up-to-the moment empirical research that will propel both fields forward in important new directions. This book is an essential resource.

Willem Maas, York University

Demonstrating that US states restrict or expand rights in cases ranging from civil rights for African Americans to women’s suffrage to immigrant rights today, this book convincingly illuminates the multilevel nature of citizenship and the crucial role of state-level advocacy. California’s dramatic transformation from regressive to progressive policies coupled with opposite moves elsewhere highlight the enduring tension between state and national citizenship.

Manuel Pastor, USC Dornsife

This provocative and important volume challenges us to rethink both theory and practice. Reframing citizenship in terms of five dimensions of rights and access, the authors stress how states can use (and have used) progressive federalism to expand belonging and opportunity. Offering a special focus on California’s recent pioneering efforts to promote immigrant integration, the authors chart a path for the development of policies and models that can be scaled to the national stage. Carefully researched, convincingly argued, and remarkably well-written, this is a must-read for immigration scholars and for those concerned with how social movements can leverage local power for broader change.

Daniel J. Tichenor, University of Oregon

Citizenship Reimagined is an extraordinarily important and timely book. Colbern and Ramakrishnan provide us crucial insights about how democratic membership is governed at the state level in this era of partisan and ideological polarization. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the politics of race, ethnicity, and immigration are shaped by American federalism.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Citizenship in a federated framework
3. National and state citizenship in the American context
4. State citizenship for blacks
5. Worst to first: California’s evolution from regressive to progressive state citizenship
6. State citizenship and immigration federalism
7. Enabling progress on state citizenship