13.1 Should states be morally free to reject as many immigrants, including refugees, as they choose?

1. Does state sovereignty mean that the members of political communities have no duties to those beyond their borders when it comes to immigration?

  • State sovereignty is regarded as one of the core principles of international order. Inscribed in international law, it entails that all states retain the right to decide who has permission to enter their country. Thus, while people are able to move freely in the sense that they have a right to leave their contemporary country of residency, this does not result in automatic right of entry elsewhere.
  • Finally, the notion of sovereign determination of entry is linked to arguments of security. This is often linked to claims that sovereignty is not merely a right to rule over a particular territory, but is moreover a duty that the state (the sovereign) has in relation to its own population. This includes providing welfare and security to its citizens, including their protection from potential external threats. Such arguments are further backed by those, who maintain that political communities must reserve the right to determine their own membership to ensure that the provision is possible both in number and type of inhabitants.
  • On the other hand, many claim that the freedom of movement, including the right to entry, is as vital a (universal) human right as any other and thus must be granted to all humans equally by all states. 
  • This is supported by those, who, in a manner of structural critique, argue that denial of entry into Western welfare states reaffirms a feudal logic, whereby status is determined by birth-right. The notion of sovereignty, as discussed above, thus might be refuted on the terms that it structurally institutionalizes global inequalities and poverty and violates negative duties to outsiders, whereby unnecessary suffering must be prevented.

2. Is freedom of movement as important as other human rights?

  • A more detailed discussion of this question may be found in the bullet points above. What is clear from the discussion, however, is that conflictual opinions on the matter are embedded in contrasting views on the importance of state sovereignty vs. universal human rights. In some cases this may be linked to discussions on communitarian vs. cosmopolitan ethics in international ethics. However, this might not necessarily be the case: communitarian ethics might not always deny the usefulness of universal human rights, but may claim that the process and manner of their implementation is culturally specific and cannot be developed along a universal blue-print which is the same for all countries; etc.

3. What values should we employ to make decision about immigration asylum?

  • Again, such discussions are embedded in discussions about the nature of international ethics. Both the conflicting views between communitarian and cosmopolitan ethics, and positive and negative ethics have been discussed in the bullet points above. The underlying questions to be asked are thus:
    • Do we prioritize local values or universal values? If the latter, then who determines these values?
    • Do we prioritize the granting of rights (positive ethics) or merely the protection from unnecessary violation and abuse (negative ethics)? Is the differentiation between positive and negative rights in relation to 'insiders' and 'outsiders' respectively, legitimate/ethical?