World

Borders and Rights: Drawing Lines

Workers replace the metal sheets of the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, January 9, 2019. (Jorge Duenes/Reuters)
Setting conditions on residency and citizenship is not a violation of migrants’ human rights.

Typically in our immigration debate, “open borders” is a label that those who advocate tighter controls (or better enforcement) attach to people who don’t want it. Farhad Manjoo has broken this pattern by adopting the label for himself with enthusiasm, indeed evangelical zeal. Charles Cooke has criticized several aspects of Manjoo’s New York Times essay already.

While I largely agree with Cooke’s criticisms, I want to focus on another aspect of the argument. Manjoo writes:

When you see the immigration system up close, you’re confronted with its bottomless unfairness. The system assumes that people born outside our borders are less deserving of basic rights than those inside. My native-born American friends did not seem to me to warrant any more dignity than my South African ones; according to this nation’s founding documents, we were all created equal. Yet by mere accident of geography, some were given freedom, and others were denied it.

The immigration system does not “assume that people born outside our borders are less deserving of basic rights than those inside.” It is compatible with thinking (as we should think) that people born outside our borders are equal in worth, dignity, and moral status with U.S. citizens. The system Manjoo is decrying assumes only a) that the basic human rights that all people have by virtue of being human beings do not include living in the U.S., being a citizen of the U.S., voting in U.S. elections, participating in benefit programs run by the U.S government, having their interests pursued as vigorously by the U.S. government as it pursues the interests of citizens, and so forth; and b) that the U.S. government has very limited duties to see to it that people who are neither U.S. citizens nor U.S. residents are able to exercise their human rights.

Similarly, Americans do not have the right to emigrate to other countries regardless of their wishes, and those countries have no moral obligation to take us; if they refuse us, they do not thereby deny our basic human rights or treat us as lesser beings than their own citizens. On the other hand, those countries, and our country, have an obligation to make sure that their immigration systems treat people fairly. Thus a country that accepts immigrants should not bar people on account of their race; nor should it allow some people to cheat the system by entering unlawfully while others patiently obey the rules.

The principle of human equality, including equality between Americans and foreigners, has real bite; in my view, U.S. foreign policy has included very serious violations of the principle. But the principle does not entail the radical implications that Manjoo thinks it does.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More
World

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More
U.S.

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More