Deportation, assimilation, and Piers Morgan

I recently came to learn about a petition to the White House to deport UK citizen Piers Morgan from the United States. The petition has been the subject of news articles on BBC (UK), Business Insider (US) and has even earned a mention on Piers Morgan’s Wikipedia page (permalink to current version of page).

In case you’re wondering what this is about, Piers Morgan is a UK citizen currently working in the United States for CNN (a news network). On a show that he hosted, he made some disparaging and deprecatory comments about gun rights. The petition argues that these comments constitute an attack on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and that Morgan should be deported for this hostile action. Here’s the full text of the petition:

British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment. We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.

Although some might dismiss the petition as a mere publicity stunt, I think it’s illustrative of a number of things related to immigration and restrictionist concerns about immigrants’ failure to assimilate. The stereotype of the “failed to assimilate” immigrant in the minds of many is an unskilled worker who doesn’t know English and doesn’t have the right skin color. Even VDARE, which tends to oppose immigration in all shapes and forms, can be sympathetic to the plight of English-speaking immigrants from the UK who are pursuing higher education — Lauren Bell is a case in point.

But the deportation petition for Piers Morgan, a person who meets all the outward criteria for assimilation — English-speaking, well-educated (with a college degree according to Wikipedia), high-skilled, high-earning, and looks just like an ordinary American (in terms of skin complexion) — reveals that concerns about assimilation and the foreignness of immigrants are more than just skin deep. Despite the outward markers of assimilation, Morgan’s hostility to the American tradition of the Second Amendment is reason enough for him to be deported, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

To see this, consider what would happen if a US citizen (of any race or ethnicity) had made statements similar to those that Morgan did. Morgan’s opponents would likely have called for his employer to fire him, for advertisers and viewers to boycott his shows, or even for people to flood CNN with angry letters against Morgan. But one thing they wouldn’t have suggested was deportation. And, in fact, there are lots of US citizens who have expressed sentiments similar to Morgan. Angry denunciations of gun rights in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting have been quite common.

Despite the fact that most Americans’ commitment to free speech is largely lip service (see the State of the First Amendment surveys and judge for yourself), it is still true that Americans, generally speaking, accept (resignedly) that their opponents, however abominable these opponents may seem, have legal rights to free speech and the only legitimate tools to counter them are by peacefully urging their employers, advertisers, supporters, and viewers to not give them a platform — i.e., by more speech, and by the exercise of the rights of association and exclusion. When it comes to foreigners, however, disagreement is a sign of failure of assimilation and of not being fit to live in the country, and there is a tool to deal with dissident foreigners that would never be used to deal with equally obnoxious citizens — government coercion in the form of forced deportation.

PS: For those wondering whether constitutional protections such as the First Amendment apply only to citizens, the answer is that these protections apply to all people in the territory of the United States. Here’s a quote from a paper discussing the issue (quote from Page 370, HT: Chris):

The Constitution does distinguish in some respects between the rights of citizens and noncitizens: the right not to be discriminatorily denied the vote and the right to run for federal elective office are expressly restricted to citizens. All other rights, however, are written without such a limitation. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection guarantees extend to all “persons.” The rights attaching to criminal trials,including the right to a public trial, a trial by jury, the assistance of a lawyer, and the right to confront adverse witnesses, all apply to “the accused.” And both the First Amendment’s protections of political and religious freedoms and the Fourth Amendment’s protection of privacy and liberty apply to “the people.” [emphasis mine]

PS2: Anti-immigration site VDARE has a piece by Washington Watcher on Piers Morgan titled Deport Piers Morgan—Along With About 8 Million Hispanic Immigrants?

PS3: I forgot to mention this in the main post, but I’ve written previously about the morality of viewpoint-based immigration restrictions in a blog post titled free speech absolutism versus viewpoint-based immigration restrictions.

PS4: A legal expert offers an opinion, saying that Piers Morgan’s remarks cannot be used to deport him as per US law.

4 thoughts on “Deportation, assimilation, and Piers Morgan”

  1. I would call the suggestion to deport Piers Morgan for this absurd, but how would I justify that judgment? Deportation is violence and therefore presumptively wrong. Violence can be justified by a retribution motive. Is gun control advocacy the kind of offense which could justify retribution? Even if you accept that having a gun is part of natural rights, which is doubtful, the fact that Piers Morgan is not proposing to violate gun rights himself, but rather urging another to do it, seems to make it untenable to argue for deportation as a self-defense measure.

    The First Amendment is part of a particular social contract, not of natural law. To that extent, it does seem tenable to make its protections only applicable to citizens, though it’s up to legal historians to figure out whether that was the intended meaning or not. The First Amendment aside, we would have to figure out what would be justified under natural law. The “offense” in this case consists in encouraging an agency constituted by and answerable to the American people to do something that (supposedly) violates their rights. Again, to justify deportation as a self-defense measure in this case seems like a ludicrously abusive overreach, but there may be a certain validity in the structure of the argument. I don’t think I could justify a blanket rejection of all arguments of this type.

    1. In general, non-citizens in the US are entitled to all constitutional rights not explicitly reserved for citizens, including the First Amendment:

      The Volokh Conspiracy has considered the question of deportation for speech before:

      It seems the landmark case here is Harisiades v. Shaugnessy, where the courts held that one could be deported for being a member of the Communist Party. However its actual implications are unclear since at the time it was held that membership of the Communist Party wasn’t protected under the First Amendment.

      Interestingly, it seems that the US government may prevent entry of a non-citizen for speech which has been made or is likely to be made, even if such speech would be protected by the First Amendment (Kleindienst v. Mandel).

      I think the argument for deportation as self-defence by itself can make sense. But in a democracy like the US where freedom of speech is sacrosanct (as opposed to most other democracies which are relatively more open to speech restrictions), to label an act of speech an attack worthy of personal violence such as deportation seems to fit the definition of “cruel and unusual punishment” to me. Of course, “cruel and unusual” doesn’t apply to deportation, since that’s considered an act of administrative and not criminal law, but the principle holds all the same nonetheless from a moral standpoint.

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