Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

Immigration Policy and Identification across Borders

Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

Immigration Policy and Identification across Borders

Article excerpt

IMMIGRATION POLICIES can express disrespect for members of society, non-members, or both. Proponents of the traditional state sovereignty view on immigration have generally held that only policies in the first and third categories could be moral wrongs--it is morally regrettable, perhaps, but not morally impermissible for a state to implement immigration policies that express disrespect for outsiders.

One problem with the state sovereignty view, I argue, is that it is insensitive to the ways in which members and nonmembers relate to one another. The "external relationships" of members, relationships they stand in with nonmembers, make it the case that the treatment of nonmembers can affect or express attitudes about members themselves. Some of these relationships are what we might call "relationships of closeness," such as family and romantic relationships. In this paper, I focus instead on "relationships of likeness," or more specifically, relationships between members and nonmembers that hold due to a shared quality or set of qualities on the basis of which members identify with nonmembers. These relationships of likeness make it the case that immigration policies that discriminate against nonmembers also often discriminate against members, and while this point has been recognized to some extent, its full implications have not been appreciated.

Some theorists who defend the state sovereignty view, in fact, have tried to curtail the permissive implications of the view for policies that are racially, ethnically, or otherwise discriminatory by appealing to discrimination against members. One argument of this kind that Christopher Heath Wellman has used to defend the state sovereignty view was originally given by Michael Blake. (1) Blake argues that, because immigration policies that discriminate against nonmembers typically also make invidious comparisons between members, discriminatory immigration policies can be morally impermissible even by the lights of the state sovereignty view. Blake did not intend for this argument to undermine the state sovereignty view, nor did Wellman think it did. However, I argue that the fact that states generally cannot implement discriminatory immigration policies without expressing disrespect for their own members, contra Blake and Wellman, is a serious problem for the state sovereignty view.

As Wellman acknowledges in later work, Blake's argument may be unsatisfying for at least two reasons. (2) First, it seems odd to think that the White Australia policy, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Donald Trump's recent executive orders on immigration have only been wrong in virtue of discriminating against insiders. Second, the argument is silent about the use of discriminatory immigration policies when the groups that these policies discriminate against are not already present. If there are no people of Mexican descent in a given society, that society can discriminate against Mexicans seeking admission, for all the argument says. For these reasons, Wellman states that, while he is most drawn to this strategy for explaining why discriminatory immigration policies are morally wrong, he is not fully satisfied with it. (3)

In this paper, I argue that the domestic implications of discriminatory immigration policies are far-reaching and undermine, rather than support, the state sovereignty view. Once we grasp the full extent to which immigration policies are constrained by the principle of equal respect for members, a principle that contemporary forms of the view are committed to, we will see that the view cannot hold on to one of its main distinguishing features--the wide latitude it ascribes to societies in determining and implementing their immigration policies. On considerations of domestic justice alone, my argument shows that the state sovereignty view cannot serve as a satisfactory framework for the normative assessment of immigration policies. Notably, this argument differs from those offered by critics of the view that favor open borders, who have often challenged its partiality toward members. …

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