Dimension 5:
Right to Identify and Belong

Finally, governments can also enact policies that expand or contract the right to identify and belong. This feature of citizenship is too often conflated with other concepts such as nationalism, patriotism, or symbolic images of the nation-state’s heritage.

Often missing in these perspectives is how the state itself can create a sense of belonging for its citizens. Similarly, urban scholars and human rights scholars conflate race, ethnicity, and pan-ethnicity by emphasizing cross-border communal identities or local identities in their concepts of citizenship. We seek to preserve this important dimension of belonging but to recast it in a rights framework, with states playing an active role in enacting a range of policies that either expand or contract the right to identify and belong.

Federal, state, and local government policies can either expand or contract the right to identify and belong, especially those that expressly address racial and ethnic identities, language, and histories. For example, states and localities can expand access to this right by removing alienating language from laws and removing English-only provisions and policies. They can also grant identification documents that, in addition to having functional uses like driving or access to banking (affecting the right of free movement and right to human capital development), also establish a proof of identity and right to belong in the jurisdiction. Finally, expansions in the right to identify include official government acts, statement, or apologies that seek to recognize past policy discriminations and to acknowledge groups as being valued.

Immigrant Right to Identify & Belong: Top 5 States

California (score of 18)
Nevada (score of 4)
Illinois (score of 3)
Washington (score of 2)
Delaware (score of 2)

Key Facts

  • 4 states have passed laws or resolutions that remove alienating language in order to become more inclusive of undocumented immigrants.
  • 3 states provide undocumented residents access to driver’s licenses to be used as identification documents.
  • 1 state has passed both laws and resolutions that formally apologize for past exclusions of undocumented immigrants.