14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 18 July 2017 — In an earlier article I argued that migration is an individual right; an expression of the desire for freedom to improve one’s quality of life. At that time, I wanted to emphasize the libertarian defense of open immigration, taking care to clarify that open immigration is not the equivalent of uncontrolled immigration. It does not imply guaranteeing the right to eligibility for citizenship, social benefits or other governmental services.
I defined open immigration only as the right of people to freedom of movement to enter a country by places established for inspection, where specific reviews are made to protect the nation from diseases, enemies, and crimes. People have the right to cross a border seeking freedom and happiness. But borders mean something.
People have the right to cross a border seeking freedom and happiness. But borders mean something.
Here I want to focus on the ethical aspect of open immigration based on the book by Michael Huemer Intuition Ethics. Let’s start with an experiment of reflection. Imagine that Juan, hungry and poor, goes to the local market to buy food with the little money he has. There, the salesman is happy to do business that allows Juan to meet his needs.
You, knowing Juan’s intentions, forcibly interrupt his movement, to prevent him from reaching the market. Unable to reach it, Juan remains hungry.
Your conduct is morally wrong because now you are responsible for Juan’s hunger. This reflection provides an analogy to the government’s restriction of immigration. Note that potential immigrants would like to travel to a country where there are entrepreneurs eager to hire them for mutual benefit. And governments use armed border guards to prevent by force those people from entering the country to work. But note also that your treatment of Juan would not be morally permissible even if some of the following conditions were present:
- If you want to prevent people who are already in the market having to compete with Juan for the products of food stores.
- If you are concerned that Juan influences the culture of the market in ways you disapprove.
- If you were concerned that, given your program to help the poor, you would have to give Juan free food by taking it away from others who are in your program.
These considerations are analogous to: (1) Immigrants taking jobs from low-skilled native workers. (2) Immigrants changing the local culture. (3) Immigrants using government services. These considerations do not justify their actions to prevent Juan from reaching the market. Their actions are immoral from the point of view of moral realism. However, there are other moral focuses.
Moral realism holds that some values are objectively true. That is, the truth of those values does not depend on one’s attitudes. But not everyone accepts moral realism. Relativists, for example, consider that what is right or wrong must be determined by what society approves or disapproves. For a relativist, the truth depends on the culture of each person. Others, like the subjectivists, consider that what is good, bad, right or wrong, depends on people’s attitudes.
Libertarians, always distrustful of authority, defend open immigration with the premise that governments must adopt the same ethical standards as people
Libertarians, always distrustful of authority, defend open immigration with the premise that governments must adopt the same ethical standards as people. In contrast, based on some variant of the “social contract” theory, non-libertarians believe that governments are exempt from the moral restraints that apply to people. Under the theory of the social contract we all have implicitly agreed to grant the government the right to the monopoly use of force in exchange for protection. We have accepted, in an implicit contract, that the Government acts immorally.
But social contract theory does not provide a satisfactory explanation for why the government should be exempt from the moral rules that apply to the rest of us. These rules imply a commitment to the moral equality of individuals, a supreme respect for individual dignity and rights, and reluctance to use force or coercion. In other words, these libertarian values demand that Juan be allowed to come to the market without hindrance.
José Azel is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and author of the book Mañana in Cuba.