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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Some further thoughts on immigration controls

I've decided to take the bait from Fernando's post below on immigration controls.  As a Canadian here on the Free Trade visa, I'm generally very appreciative of the free movement of persons notion. (Of course, thanks to Wendi, I'll eventually be a Green-carder...ok, no jokes; her decision to accept my proposal, I hope, was not its own form of humanitarian intervention.)  But regarding your post, Fernando, let me raise a few questions that suggest the need for some limits on your robust enthusiasm for borderless worlds:
1) in response to your second point about conditioning entry upon curtailing eligibility for welfare, I would think that there's two problems raised.  First, even if ex ante the conditional entry would be a good decision because it would deter "weak" economic migrants, there's going to be a lot of people who ex post will think that a relatively prosperous society should not allow people to starve (or die of readily treatable illnesses) if they can't find work and find subsistence wages and benefits. (Maybe you think private charities will pick up the slack here?) So preventing the influx of all economic migrants might be a pre-commitment strategy to avoid that "tragic choice" of enforcing an agreement that no want to have enforced ex post. (Maybe there's some room for acoustic separation between the conduct and decision rule, but I can't figure out on the fly how you do that).

Second, not allowing welfare benefits to the destitute immigrants may embolden and encourage higher levels of crime.  I, for one, am glad that at least in most parts of the United States, fiancees don't generally risk having their ring fingers cut off by crooks to get the ring.  That's a relatively frequent occurence in parts of South America (from what I've heard).

2) I don't think the communitarian arguments are inherently xenophobic. 

Others may disagree with me, but you (I think) probably agree that a state like Israel is not obligated to take all economic migrants (from poor African or Arab states--why not?) to take advantage of the relative economic success of Israel.  (Indeed, it was the demography "time-bomb" that likely motivated Sharon's decision to give Gaza to the PA to run).  If it's permissible for Israel to be selective, and Israel is entitled to give preferential treatment for Jewish immigrants over non-Jewish immigrants, what principle separates Israel's decision from the desire by other liberal democracies who wish to exercise caution before opening the gates to all who would enter? Historical contingencies? Well, every nation has those to greater or lesser degrees.  That's the invention of national identity. 

I think your position comes down to the fact that you, as a libertarian, don't much care for democracies, majoritarian will, when those values conflict with economic or social choices by individuals.  Fine.  But what about the freedom of association rights of individuals, and the importance of self-government in the concept of liberty you cherish? Can't culture or national identity play into that valuation of liberty without being intrinsically xenophobic? Relatedly, isn't there a difference between trying to develop a culture that is proud of itself and its heritage and character without it denigrating or fearing the cultures of others?  Can't that be a project worth caring about and pursuing? I'd recommend Yael Tamir's book on Liberal Nationalism (Princeton 1994) if you haven't read it. (I'm not persuaded it by it entirely, but I think it raises difficult questions worth considering.)

Posted by Dan Markel on November 29, 2005 at 01:17 AM in Dan Markel | Permalink

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» Bush Tackles Immigration Reform -- But Will It Tackle Him? from The Moderate Voice
President George W. Bush is moving to an item on his agenda that he has tried to deal with before but postponed due to opposition within the Republican Party itself: the thorny issue of immigration reform. The [Read More]

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