The Moral Dimension of Immigration Policy

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September 1, 2015 by Anders Ingemarson

As Donald Trump is garnering support for expanding his condo, resort, hotel and golf course empire with “Trump wall” around our country (we gotta keep them Canucks out), the timing is good to take a look a the moral dimension of immigration policy. What follows is my opening statement from the “Doing Immigration Right” panel that I was on at the Centennial Institute a few months back. It was tailored to the mostly conservative, anti-immigration leaning audience—hence the choice of examples and appeal to take ownership—but the underlying principles, including the separation of state and immigration, know no party borders.

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“Many conservatives criticizing illegal immigration appear to forget the moral dimension of the law. They forget to ask themselves “Is this law good; is it ethical; is it moral?” or “Is it bad; unethical; immoral?”

“The standard for morally evaluating a law is set forth in the Declaration of Independence. It states that “all men are created equal” and that we have “inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration embraces the fact that rights are inseparable from being human—that’s what inalienable means—and that they apply equally to all of us. Our inalienable rights can be violated, and are being violated on a daily basis. But they cannot be taken away from us.

“Conservatives understand this distinction in many areas. Take the gun control battle. Conservatives have no problem identifying new gun control laws as immoral because they violate our right to bear arms, which is an application of our inalienable rights.

“Another example: In the 1950s and 60s conservatives were at the forefront of the de-segregation battle. They didn’t have a problem recognizing that the racial segregation laws in place in the southern states were immoral because they violated the inalienable rights of blacks. And among today’s conservatives, I haven’t met anybody who has a problem making the same distinction. And there are numerous other examples where conservatives correctly object to and fight for changing current laws on moral grounds.

“But when it comes to our current immigration laws, many conservatives don’t seem to apply the same moral yardstick. Why is that? I think there is widespread confusion over the concept of rights. Many conservatives believe that “all men are created equal” and “all men have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” only applies to citizens and “legal” residents of the United States. They think the Declaration of Independence, being an American founding document, applies to Americans only.

“This is a mistaken view. The fact that the United States is the only country founded on the respect for inalienable rights doesn’t mean that Americans are in sole possession of rights. “All men are created equal” doesn’t end at the Atlantic shore or the Pacific coast. “Inalienable rights” apply no less south or north of than within our borders. It doesn’t matter if you’re born in Toronto, Tijuana or elsewhere on this planet. Your birthplace is of no significance.

“If conservatives fully understood that these concepts are universal they would realize that laws preventing people from coming here to pursue their happiness are immoral because they violate their inalienable rights.

“By this standard, ask yourself: Are our current immigration laws all that different from the segregation laws that conservatives fought to repeal back in the 50’s and 60’s?
Isn’t it just a different form of segregation? Instead of a sign saying “whites only”, we have put up a sign saying “American citizens and ‘legal’ residents only.” Instead of racial segregation, we have segregation based on birthplace. I would argue that in principle there is no difference. Morally, there is only one position one can take on immigration: It should be free, with a couple of very limited exceptions. We should end segregation based on birthplace.

“It is important to realize that the massive government involvement in our lives has created an environment of hostility towards immigration. But we should not blame immigrants for our domestic failures: the creation of an omnipresent welfare state violating our inalienable rights by forcing upon us retirement schemes (Social Security), healthcare schemes (Medicare, Medicaid), drug schemes (The “War on Drugs”), education schemes (“public” education), and so on. Let’s focus our energy on replacing those programs with rights respecting alternatives, not on immigrant bashing.

Advocating for free immigration on moral grounds does not necessarily mean supporting opening the proverbial flood gates over night; it has taken us a while to get into the current mess, so we have to allow some time to untangle it. The plan presented in the Centennial Institute’s policy brief would be a very reasonable starting point.

“Conservatives are supposedly champions of our founding documents. This includes being champions of “all men are created equal” and “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It should be a no-brainer for conservatives to own immigration. That the left has gained the upper hand is nothing short of tragic. It is time to honor the proud conservative tradition of being out in front in ending segregation, whether it be racial or based on birthplace. I urge you to get on the free immigration bandwagon. It is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do.”

One thought on “The Moral Dimension of Immigration Policy

  1. […] we’ve previously argued limiting immigration is immoral because it violates a person’s individual rights which know no borders. Hence our position that […]

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