immigration mini-series: on open borders

    Question 1: Should there be open borders?

It is ambiguous to concede an answer, to the question of whether there should or should not be open borders between sovereign states, in either the affirmative or otherwise. It needs to be made explicit that a tension does exist, whether it may be desired or not, between real, political and electorally sensitive immigration policy and subsequently open borders, and theory. Theoretical discourse may offer an answer that is the polar opposite of what reality dictates. Nonetheless, both of these implications will be briefly discussed in the case of open borders.

Joseph Carens’ article, Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders, written in 1997 in the Review of Politics, maintains that there is “little justification” for keeping ‘oppressed people’ out. What is not obvious will be made explicit. Carens is a proponent of open borders, but more importantly finds the problematic of restricting the freedom of movement of humans, both within sovereign states and across them, to be a departure from liberal principles of justice. He argues his claim by invoking, among others, Nozickean principles of personal property and statehood, references that furthermore appeal to features of a Nozickean world: a “minimal state whose sole task is to protect people within a given territory against violations of their rights.” To further argue his position on open borders, the Rawlsian “veil of ignorance,” and Carens’ own interpretation of the ‘utilitarian argument,’ are also presented as theoretical discourse in favour of (even if implicitly) treating “all human beings, not just members of our own society, as free and equal moral persons.”

The obsession with a perceived fear, or what may be called ‘hyper manic speculation,’ that immigration should be read as disease, is not overlooked by Carens. His critique of the inconsistent argument against open borders that an overabundance of cultural difference will decapitate the ‘character’ of a given community is worthy of reiteration:

“…it might destroy old ways of life, highly valued by some, but it would make possible new ways of life, highly valued by others.”

Furthermore, the implied assumption (or fear rather) that everyone will move once the borders are open is both unfounded and outrageously ridiculous. “Most humans do not love to move,” and if they do so, “their concerns are rarely frivolous.”

It is obvious then that Carens is in favour of open borders. What should also be noted is that he reaches this conclusion by appealing to liberal understandings of justice. It is more than obvious then, that his theory of what is and isn’t justifiable from a strictly moral and philosophical perspective, is rooted in his own interpretation of what liberalism is or how it should be understood. However, Meilender aside, Carens’ argument is compelling enough to consider. It reminds current citizens (read all humans) of the frailty of the pretense of privilege: that the lottery of birth can somehow be regulated and controlled.

*This is reality.


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Filed under academia, borders, carens, critical, democracy, freedom, government, hansen, human rights, hypocrisy, ignorance, imperialism, liberalism, liberty, life, neocolonialism, pathologies, philosophy, Policy, politics, population, postcolonialism, property, questions, sovereignty, symbols, terror, Uncategorized, university

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