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Protecting citizens in hard times: citizenship and repatriation pressures in the United States and France during the 1930s

Abstract

Economic crises have historically left immigrants vulnerable due to their insecure positions in the labor market and tenuous social and political ties to host country populations. During the Great Depression, citizenship status also emerged as a key factor determining the rights and protections offered to foreign-born populations in the two main receiving states of the interwar period: the United States and France. This article investigates the ways in which citizenship began to intrude into areas of social and political life where it previously held little relevance. To explain this phenomenon, it draws upon and supplements theories on the relationship between the formation of states and the making of modern national communities, focusing on the expanding powers of nation states within and across international borders after World War I. In both France and the United States, there were notable expansions in their power to control migration and fund social assistance programs. Similarly, sending states were also expanding their power to provide “remote protections” for their citizens abroad through bilateral labor treaties or expanded consular support. As states began to do more things with greater capacity, new and firmer boundaries were forged between citizens and noncitizens as well as between sending and receiving states. A key consequence of this was unprecedented pressure to repatriate. Contrary to much of the previous scholarship on this subject, this article stresses the evolving powers of both sending and receiving states and the corresponding elevation of citizenship status as key enablers of repatriation.

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Notes

  1. For a systematic version of this general argument, see Brubaker (2011).

  2. This formulation is inspired by A. Zolberg’s work (2003) on consular “remote control,” or the increasing use of consulates to restrict migration at the source, rather than the destination. As I show below, sending state “protection” in actual practice was not always to the benefit of their citizens, especially in the case of Mexico.

  3. Cross (1983, p. 203) estimates that number of foreign wage earners dropped from 1,079,993 to 689,898 between 1931 and 1936, a 36 % decrease that far exceeded the 12.8 % drop in employment among French workers in similar occupations.

  4. On the other hand, Wimmer (2002, 2013) is attentive to international influences (e.g., learning and imitation, domino effects, and periodic impositions from a burgeoning twentieth-century international system.) on the rise of modern nation states, particularly in later periods of nation state formation.

  5. To avoid any potential confusion, by focusing on state power and citizenship, my purpose is not to argue that other social categories such as class, race, or gender did not matter or were washed away during these years by nationalist currents. I harbor no illusions that discriminations and inequalities of various forms did and still do temper the practical significance of shared citizenship. While I do conclude that membership in the nation state or the activities of central state authorities were indeed often decisive during this period, racial discrimination, for example, often mediated how state power was exercised at the local level.

  6. See Lowe (1921, 1935) for a compendium of labor immigration treaties that bring the relative absence of bilateral treaties concluded with the United States into sharp relief. Important exceptions included the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China and the “Gentleman’s Agreement” of 1907 with Japan.

  7. Compared to the previous 3-year period (1927-1929) deportations had increased by two-thirds.

  8. State-by-state listings of these laws were compiled by Fields (1933).

  9. Fox (2012, p. 48) has noted that as of 1930, “… among foreign-born Mexicans, only 8 % had naturalized, compared to 56 % of southern and eastern Europeans and 73 % of northern and western Europeans.”

  10. Fox (2012, p. 187) cites Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins, who speculated that approximately 40,000 Mexicans were repatriated by relief authorities between 1930 and 1935.

  11. This letter, dated July 22, 1932, is reproduced in its entirety in Balderrama (1995, pp. 186–188).

  12. My translation. The reproductions of the complete text of the treaties in French are available in Ponty (1988, pp. 395–407).

  13. For example, in Paris the unequal distribution of unemployment funds led the Czechoslovak population to petition their diplomatic representatives in September 1933 (Marès 1989).

  14. One goal of the communist CGTU was to educate noncitizens of their rights (Perry 2004, p. 360).

  15. The use of political denaturalizations in the United States also reached its peak during the interwar period, as recently documented by Weil (2013).

  16. According to the Annuaire statistique de la France, recorded repatriations followed a pattern of initial surge (39,000 in 1930 to 84,000 in 1931 to 100,000 in 1932), followed by a decline (45,000 in 1933, 38,000 in 1934), followed by another less dramatic increase (68,000 in 1935).

  17. In putting these new directives into practice, French authorities at the local level faced numerous constraints. See Lewis (2007, p. 132) for a discussion of Marseille and Lyon.

  18. Author’s calculation based on figures presented in multiple volumes of the Statistical Abstract of the United States.

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Acknowledgments

For helpful comments and suggestions, I want to thank Rogers Brubaker, Michael Mann, Andreas Wimmer, Bill Roy, César Ayala, Roger Waldinger, Marie Berry, Josh Sadlier, the participants of the UCLA Comparative Social Analysis Workshop, and the Theory and Society reviewers. All errors are, of course, my own.

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Correspondence to Matthew J. Baltz.

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Baltz, M.J. Protecting citizens in hard times: citizenship and repatriation pressures in the United States and France during the 1930s. Theor Soc 44, 101–124 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-015-9243-x

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Keywords

  • Sending and receiving states
  • Interwar period
  • Migration control
  • State formation
  • Noncitizens
  • Social assistance