Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude?

Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude?

Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude?

Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude?

Synopsis

Do states have the right to prevent potential immigrants from crossing their borders, or should people have the freedom to migrate and settle wherever they wish? Christopher Heath Wellman and Phillip Cole develop and defend opposing answers to this timely and important question. Appealing to the right to freedom of association, Wellman contends that legitimate states have broad discretion to exclude potential immigrants, even those who desperately seek to enter. Against this, Cole argues that the commitment to the moral equality of all human beings - which legitimate states can be expected to hold - means national borders must be open: equal respect requires equal access, both to territory and membership; and that the idea of open borders is less radical than it seems when we consider how many territorial and community boundaries have this open nature. In addition to engaging with each other's arguments, Wellman and Cole address a range of central questions and prominent positions on this topic. The authors therefore provide a critical overview of the major contributions to the ethics of migration, as well as developing original, provocative positions of their own.

Excerpt

Immigration occurs when someone moves to one country from another. Importantly, one is an immigrant only if one plans to stay indefinitely in the new country. Tourists, international business people, and students who study abroad also travel internationally, for instance, but they are not immigrants because their visits last for only relatively short periods. Immigration is theoretically significant because of the way in which it pits the claims of the state as a whole against the individual rights of both citizens and foreigners. One cannot affirm a state’s right to control traffic over its territorial borders, for instance, without thereby denying that outsiders have rights to freedom of movement that entitle them to move from one country to another. State dominion over immigration limits the rights of insiders as well, because it implies that they lack discretion over their own property, insofar as they may not unilaterally invite foreigners onto their own land.

In addition to being theoretically significant, immigration is clearly practically urgent, because, for a variety of understandable reasons, people value the right to cross political borders. The desire to be with a loved one, the pursuit of economic opportunity, and the need to escape political persecution are only three of the most common motivations people have for migrating to a new country. And with the recent increase in global economic inequality and the emergence of international terrorism, the stakes (and the rhetoric) on both sides of the debate have escalated sharply. The push for open borders has intensified as . . .

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