Joseph Carens on the ethics of immigration: part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier post where I began discussing The Ethics of Immigration by Joseph Carens (Oxford University Press, 2013). The item numbering continues from the previous post.

#7: Reasonable accommodations by and for migrants

Chapter 4 of Carens’ book covers an aspect of migration that is related to, but at the same time largely orthogonal to, the question of open borders. Specifically, Carens considers what reasonable accommodations migrants and non-migrants should ideally make for each other for harmonious living. Much of this discussion is not specifically related to migration policy or even to politics — though people with an expansive view of the state’s role would infer many political prescriptions from it, those of a more libertarian or voluntaryist nature could simply consider these as soft guidelines for the actions of individuals and organizations.

Importantly, Carens argues the following (the summary presented below is my own — Carens does not list these points together the way I’m doing — and therefore the act of summarizing may reflect to a large extent my own judgment of what is most important):

  • He argues that the democratic ethos goes beyond majority rule, to reasonable accommodation of people’s differences where possible. Such reasonable accommodation is not simply limited to non-violation of people’s legally guaranteed basic rights, but also to not making people unduly uncomfortable or inconveniencing them without appropriate justification. To some extent, this involves migrants accommodating the beliefs and adjusting to the conventions of the majority, even when it conflicts with their personal religious or cultural beliefs. At the same time, non-migrants also have a responsibility to make reasonable accommodations towards migrants where this does not impose huge costs.
  • Generally, Carens says, it is reasonable to expect migrants to do most of the adjusting — after all, they are the ones who chose to move. For instance, they may be expected to acquire (and provide to their children) a working familiarity with the main language of the region, follow the rules of the road, and be respectful to the dress choices and habits of natives. Carens argues that in prcatice, migrants do do most of the adjusting. At the same time, there is a nonzero level of responsibility (in the loose sense) for non-migrants to accommodate migrant preferences. For instance, he argues, natives should not be critical of migrants for talking in the non-native language when conversing among themselves in public, though they may have a reasonable expectation that migrants will attempt to converse in the native language when interacting with natives.
  • Carens argues in favor of being flexible to make exceptions to general rules. He is critical of the idea that rules must be enforced rigidly on everybody, and also opposes the ideal of formal equality. He cites the example of holidays here. In a country influenced heavily by Christianity (even if people are not devoutly Christian), Sunday is likely the day off for most businesses. This works best for Christians who attend Sunday services. For Muslims or Jews, whose religious observances are on Friday and Saturday respectively, this could pose an inconvenience. Carens rejects the option of: (a) a formal “equality” where the holiday date is shifted to a completely unrelated day, such as Tuesday, to be “fair” between religions, or (b) making all three days holidays (insofar as that might not be economically feasible). However, he argues that businesses and institutions can show some flexibility to their employees who hold the alternative religious beliefs, for instance, by giving Muslims a few hours off on Friday. There are no hard-and-fast rules here — the type of accommodation would depend on the employer and employee, but the general principle should be one of looking for possible accommodations.

Here is a quote from Carens:

The challenge for this chapter is to say something about the sort of democratic ethos that is needed in a political community if citizens of immigrant origin are to be fully included . Here a caution is in order. In public discussions of immigration, it is a recurring theme that immigrants and their descendants should accept democratic values and practice democratic virtues. Suitably qualified, that is a reasonable expectation, as we shall see. But an equally reasonable and perhaps more important expectation is that other citizens also accept democratic values and practice democratic virtues . All too often, the assumption seems to be that the majority of citizens already possess the values and virtues that are needed for a democracy to function properly. But that is frequently not the case. Democratic principles require the inclusion of immigrants, and the inclusion of immigrants requires the majority of citizens to embrace the implications of the principles and values that they profess. This will often entail developing attitudes and dispositions that many citizens do not yet exhibit, at least in the requisite degree. I will say more about these requirements as the chapter proceeds. People sometimes speak of the need for democratic states to engage in a more “muscular” assertion of their values and to demand adherence to those values from people living in their societies. If that is indeed what is called for, a lot more of the muscle should be applied to the nonimmigrant majority of citizens than is commonly acknowledged.

Carens, Joseph (2013-09-19). The Ethics of Immigration (Oxford Political Theory) (p. 64). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

#8: Communitarian versus contractarian views of citizenship

Carens makes a theoretically deep point about communitarian and contractarian views of citizenship. In most political philosophizing (cf. social contract theory), the set of people (citizens) is fixed in advance, and their relationship and mutual obligations with the state are considered in that context. Carens believes that bringing migration into the picture helps us step back. We see that citizenship is not really the fundamental source of moral or social obligation, but a consequence — a formalization of a particular level of connection with the community. Carens says that social membership precedes citizenship — that citizenship (or the right thereto) is a consequence of being a part of the community, rather than a formal grant of citizenship creating a right to such a community. Carens also emphasizes the idea that social membership matters morally.

This is important because Carens uses it as a basis (implicitly — he pieces the theory together after examining all the individual cases) for arguing about why people are entitled to citizenship. People such as:

  • children born to citizens, permanent residents, or temporary workers, or even to irregular migrants (his word for illegal/undocumented) who are staying long enough,
  • anybody who’s stayed for a few years as a child,
  • anybody who’s stayed long enough as an adult.

He also argues that levels of social membership aren’t in the binary category of citizen versus non-citizen. Permanent residents who have enough roots to call the place their home deserve most of the same rights as citizens, including the right to return and the right against deportation, even if they haven’t lived long enough to become citizens. He also argues (alluded to in earlier points) that most laws should be the same for temporary workers and irregular migrants. Some exceptions he makes:

  1. Temporary workers may be exempted (optionally or mandatorily) from work-related social programs, and for a limited period (maybe the first couple months) ineligible for welfare or unemployment insurance. He says that if temporary workers are required to participate in work-related social insurance programs (so as not to make them cheaper to employers than permanent employers) the non-redistributive component of the program (i.e., the part that they would in expectation get paid back were they to stay longer) should be returned to them on their departure. What he’s suggesting seems to be a lot like my co-blogger Nathan Smith’s DRITI — except he’s using existing social insurance taxes rather than adding a new set of taxes.
  2. Some restrictions on employment opportunities for irregular migrants.
  3. Non-permanent residents may be barred from government offices that involve sensitive matters of national security.

The communitarian approach followed by Carens is different in focus from Steve Sailer’s preferred foundation for citizenism. Sailer defines citizenism as the doctrine that government policy should be biased in favor of current citizens and their descendants. Now, to be clear, Sailer, like many citizenists, does consider community loyalty and ties to be an important component of citizenship — hence his proposal that prospective immigrants be required to spend 100 hours doing community service outside of their ethnic group in order to receive citizenship. But Sailer, and citizenist restrictionists at large, view community belonging as a necessary but not sufficient condition for a non-citizen to become a citizen. Carens thinks that being a part of the community for a sufficient length of time — without having done anything special (such as Sailer’s community service proposal) for it per se — entitles one to citizenship.

#9: Firewalling government services from immigration enforcement

Carens argues that for irregular migrants, all of their basic human rights (protection of life, liberty, etc.) should apply in theory and in practice. His suggestion for making sure they apply in practice: establish a firewall between all agencies tasked with protecting basic human rights or basic services, and the immigration enforcement. In other words, these agencies are required not to report any information about irregular migration status to immigration enforcement authorities, and any information that is reported via these agencies cannot be treated as evidence. He points out precedents:

  • There are restrictions on the information that the Internal Revenue Service can share with immigration enforcement agencies in the United States, though it’s unclear how strongly these restrictions apply in practice (see here).
  • Some “sanctuary cities” in the United States, such as San Francisco, have policies of the sort Carens advocates.
  • There are rules in criminal cases that evidence collected through illicit means cannot be used, and similar rules can apply in immigration cases.

Carens also says that the children of irregular migrants should have the right to a free public education, just as the children of temporary workers do (this is conditional to such a right existing for citizens, but Carens assumes that that follows from “democratic principles”).

Carens also says that after people have resided for some length of time, they become part of the society, and should be regularized. He suggests 5 years as the length of time after which people deserve to be regularized as permanent long-term residents. This applies both to temporary workers on a regular migration status and to irregular migrants.

So what can governments do to enforce the status quo? Carens says that border security would be acceptable in principle — provided it can be done in a way that doesn’t add to human tragedy (border-crossing deaths, etc.), but that often the human toll of border security makes it unacceptable. But his main proposal is the restrictionist favorite of attrition through enforcement: heavy penalties for employers who hire irregular migrants. He has an interesting twist though: if an employer has hired an irregular migrant, that particular migrant has a right to the wages for that worker and to legal recourse if the wages are denied (and the enforcement of this legal recourse channel has a firewall with immigration enforcement). Also, he says that employers should not be allowed to report their own workers’ irregular status.

Carens offers one argument in favor of blaming employers: they are part of the society, so they can be held to the standard of the laws of that society, whereas migrants aren’t part of the social contract. Nonetheless, I find his arguments unconvincing. Why single out employers as the one group to be punished, while doing the very opposite — firewalling — for all the other groups? Carens says that if immigrants aren’t able to find employment, they’re likely to leave (the attrition-through-enforcement idea) but this applies to housing, and plausibly to education for children, and other services Carens thinks should be firewalled. Carens arguably sees the right to work as somehow less fundamental than all the other rights, at least when he’s putting on his status quo hat, and this seems reminiscent of anti-market bias.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I’ll look at the case Carens makes for family reunification and reforming the system for refugee asylum and resettlement.

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