The United States has granted reparations for a variety of historical injustices, from imprisonment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Yet the nation has never considered reparations for 150 years of discriminatory immigration and citizenship policies that excluded millions based on race, gender, and political opinion—including some who are alive today. This article argues that the United States can atone for these transgressions by granting “reparative citizenship” to those individuals and their descendants, following the lead of several European countries who have recently provided such relief for those wrongly expelled or excluded in the past.

Reparative citizenship could take many different forms. The executive branch could unilaterally implement a narrow version of reparative citizenship by instructing immigration officials to loosen evidentiary standards and grant discretionary remedies to victims of discriminatory policies. A more expansive version would require amending the Immigration and Nationality Act to re-allocate the 50,000 green cards currently given out through a lottery system to historically excluded groups. Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Poland, Portugal, and Spain have adopted both approaches in granting citizenship to the descendants of Jewish citizens expelled in the past, as well as to individuals denied citizenship based on gender or political opinion. The United States should do the same.

Amanda Frost, Reparative Citizenship, William & Mary Law Review (2024).