Undocumented Children, Enabled by Technology, May Challenge Nationalism in Coming Decades


One third of the world’s children have no birth certificate or other proof of citizenship.  I was shocked by an NPR interview this morning that made this statement.  Unicef has a lot more specific information on the vast numbers of children without papers, citizenship, or any benefits at all (link)(link).  Someday those children will be adults, probably a quarter or more of the world’s adults, and will represent a lot of power and influence, a lot of potential voters and customers, an army just waiting for a way to organize and some leaders to organize it.  The implications are staggering, and intriguing.

We’re talking about a huge number of people – probably in excess of two billion.  If a sufficient number of the world’s citizens are without documentation, and therefore without a country, what impact will this have?  In time these children will be young adults and, by all current calculations, the world will be no better, and possibly a lot worse, for most people than it is now.  What will happen if they all decide to join together and create a “world citizenship”, and how will national governments respond?  Two billion people represents one heck of an army, even if all they do is start marching or sitting down in roadways. 

Internet access will continue to proliferate, even for the homeless and destitute.   Libraries provide free or nearly-free internet access in the United States now.  Most of the rapidly overpopulating developing countries are investing in cellphone technology, and cellphones are increasingly web-enabled.   Thus, as technology improves, more and more people in the world will have internet access.  Internet access will allow people at lower and lower strata in society to connect with each other, to develop their own politics, and to coordinate their actions. 

Could web-enabled activism unite the undocumented and create a “world citizenship”?  In one to two decades these lost children will represent over one quarter of the world’s adult population, even with the current efforts to register them in many countries.  What will happen when they find ways to connect with each other, band together, and coordinate their efforts to establish better positions for themselves as individuals and groups?  How will national governments respond to these masses of people who have no allegiance to specific governments, recognize how they have been neglected and mistreated both in the causes and results of their status, and now want equal rights with documented people, and to live educated and secure lives?

Admittedly this seems far-fetched, but … isn’t it possible?  Are most of today’s lost children going to not survive to adulthood?  Even if that were (sadly) so, there would still be hundreds of millions of undocumented people, possibly equal to the entire current population of the United States, with a lot of dissatisfaction and struggle behind them.  Not knowing where telecommunications will go in the next decade or two, but seeing where it has come in the previous twenty years, I have to think people could connect in fairly large grassroots movements.  It’s interesting to think about, and will be interesting to watch.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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3 responses to “Undocumented Children, Enabled by Technology, May Challenge Nationalism in Coming Decades

  1. I don’t know about prospects of ‘world citizenship’ – there are certain language and socio-economic barriers besides the fact that undocumented or illegal is not a permanent immutable characteristic, but bonding over the web is happening already for a lot of undocumented students, especially in the United States. Check out sites like DreamActPortal, DreamActivist.org, ADreamDeferred.org and OneDream2009.org … Governments are allowing undocumented students to forge identifications beyond the nation-state, race, culture etc. by placing these students in the waiting rooms of history. I am one of them and I do consider myself a citizen of the world, but that comes with a certain level of education as well. You can email me if you want to chat more. Cheers.

  2. I just needed to add that I did write a postgraduate paper on this and concluded that while we challenge conventional understandings of American nationalism by challenging what it means to be American, there was no real threat to the state because most students yearned to ‘belong’ and ‘assimilate’ rather than lead a life in the margins of society.

  3. Excellent point, and thanks so much for your comments. They add substantially to the discussion.

    Of course, my thoughts are not bound by time, and speculate on possibilities that could come about (or not) in a couple (or even ten or twenty) decades, but it is very interesting to hear of young people breaking out of “the waiting rooms of history”. If one accepts that the media and business will continue to homogenize the world as far as commonizing language and culture, it is possible that the nation state will someday be reduced in importance in comparison to membership in the world community. Another indication is in the large number of corporations with more economic power than all but a handful of the most developed and wealthy countries. Those corporations do business across borders constantly, and lowering the barriers associated with those borders would be highly desirable to most of them. Moving workers more flexibly across national borders would also be a positive step for business, and would be enabled by any kind of formal “world citizenship” or lowering of barriers to worker mobility currently imposed by national governments.

    Thanks again for your comments.

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