“Patriotic” immigration controls

I listened to a bizarre argument against immigration the other day. Mark Krikorian, who runs the Center for Immigration Studies and who is a frequent contributor to National Review, was interviewed by the Hoover Institute’s Peter Robinson about his book The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal.

Krikorian makes the argument that immigration hurts poor Americans, and that it should be restricted on those grounds. Robinson asks him why he isn’t interested in the increase in well-being of the immigrants who move to move to the United States. Here is Robinson’s question in full:

Robinson: You’re saying that the bottom quintile, the 20 percent poorest American citizens are disproportionately hurt, in absolute terms, they’re worse off than they would be if we did not have immigration, so the question would be, what is the moral argument on which you prefer the well-being of the bottom quintile of American citizens, who, although they may be worse off are still better off than the poor folks in Mexico? What is the argument that permits you, in good conscience, to prefer the well-being of these working-class folks in El Paso over the poor folks in Ciudad Juárez who want to move to El Paso?

An excellent question indeed. I was interested to hear Krikorian’s response, which turned out to be less than impressive:

Krikorian: It’s called patriotism. We have a greater obligation to Americans than we do to foreigners. That is a moral statement. It’s not a factual statement. You can disagree with that. There are a lot of people who do. The Wall Street Journal does. They don’t see what one philosopher calls the “concentric circles of obligation” where your own family is most important to you, then you’re countrymen, and then humanity as a whole. We have to have priorities.

I do agree with Krikorian that relationships should play a role in determining how we treat people. It’s probably a good rule of thumb to give special consideration to your immediate family members over strangers. They provide you with a ready-made support network when you are lonely, when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, or if you have to move from one apartment to the other.

It’s difficult to see how countrymen are similar to family members in this sense. A person in New York is every bit as much a stranger to me as someone in New Delhi.

Further, it’s mysterious why governmental jurisdictions should enter into the equation. Why not make moral worth dependent upon business relationships instead of political ones? If I work for a transnational company – such as Wal-Mart – shouldn’t I give greater weight to the concerns of my fellow employees in Beijing than I do to someone who works at a competing firm in my own country?

There is one obvious solution to the problem of immigrants hurting poor citizens, and that is to strip the poor citizens of their citizenship. If there are people who are making you waste money on raiding fruit orchards and senseless wall-building to keep them happy, why not just kick those people out of the “circle” so you don’t have to care about them anymore? That would seem to be congruent with Krikorian’s moral reasoning.

P.S. Robinson later asks Krikorian if he argues for stricter immigration control on utilitarian grounds, and he flatly says “no.” What, if any, moral system he is using is anyone’s guess.

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4 Responses to ““Patriotic” immigration controls”

  1. David Says:

    While there may be a distinction between moral facts and non-moral ones, it also bothers me to see him seem to say you can disagree on moral facts without having a notable disagreement, that it’s something like a disagreement in taste.

    It being practical to give special consideration — which may have moral consequences — and any of those people deserving actually stronger weights seem like different things.

  2. Mark Turner Says:

    I think it demonstrates how poorly our democracy functions. If the bottom 20% is hurt, why do they not note this and call their leaders to question. They should not need Krikorian to notify them that this is a negative factor economically to them. The reason the democracy does not function for the bottom at least 40% of the citizenry is they do not have anywhere close to the resources of time or money to become an effective political force. Therefore what political activity they do muster tends instead to be reaction to gut feelings about whoever seems to be screaming into their world the loudest when they have a chance to exercise their vote. I should know since I am included in this group. My time is mostly spent trying not to descend into the bottom 10%.

  3. Andy Hallman Says:

    While there may be a distinction between moral facts and non-moral ones, it also bothers me to see him seem to say you can disagree on moral facts without having a notable disagreement, that it’s something like a disagreement in taste.

    Exactly. I’d expect the director of one of the leading immigration think tanks, not to mention a contributor to the flagship conservative publication of the day, to have a more developed moral philosophy than “I favor Americans because I’m patriotic.”

    It being practical to give special consideration — which may have moral consequences — and any of those people deserving actually stronger weights seem like different things.

    I’m a little confused by your use of the term “deserving” here. What I think you mean is that we can have a philosophy where we give everyone’s life equal weight without being required to treat them all equally.

    For instance, it may be justifiable on utilitarian grounds for me to help poor people in my neighborhood over more destitute people in India, not because their lives have more value but because I can do more good in my own town than I can by sending money to an aid agency.

  4. Jerry Says:

    Andy, When my wife analyzes something as thoroughly as you have done here, her co-workers tell her she thinks too much. So watch out for that!

    I didn’t know you were a blogger in political philosophy. I’ll have to read your archives. Facebook finally led to something worthwhile!

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