Tag Archives: Define American

Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?

NOTE: This article focuses on the United States, though some of its points may be more generally applicable.

In a blog post I’m currently drafting (which will hopefully be published shortly after this one) I note BK’s criticism of open borders advocates such as Bryan Caplan — pro-migration forces as they actually exist are opposed to all the keyhole solutions that might actually alleviate the concerns of moderate critics of open borders. By siding with these “pro-migration forces” open borders advocates make it appear that their advocacy of keyhole solutions to deal with the problems of migration is a mere rhetorical fig leaf offered to critics of open borders. Here’s an excerpt from BK’s comment:

Those changes [making keyhole solutions politically feasible] would require a big political effort, since pro-migration political forces are mostly very opposed to keyhole solutions since they expect to benefit politically from bringing in immigrants that will vote for them. And so, to implement a Singapore-style solution the key step would be to push to create the legal apparatus and will to enforce that apparatus *before* adding tens of millions of recent low-skill migrants to the electorate.

On the other hand, live immigration proposals of recent years have called for amnesty of all existing illegal immigrants in the U.S. with tens of millions more to follow via family sponsorships, and reduced enforcement to enable more low-skill migration. This would drastically change the political landscape, to the disfavor of keyhole solutions. Recall that support for immigration is the area where recent migrants are most different from locals.

So generalized pro-immigration ideological pushes strengthen the opponents of keyhole solutions more than they support keyhole solutions. And in practice Bryan and folk at this site do seem to use keyhole solutions primarily as a rhetorical fig-leaf to deflect opposition and shut down conversations.

Although BK doesn’t offer any specific links, I think he’s [NOTE: I have strong reason to believe BK is male, even though it’s not obvious from the comment text, so I’ll use “he” to refer to BK] mostly on point regarding the “pro-migration” and even more broadly the “pro-immigrant” forces (even if we ignore pro-immigrant restrictionists for the moment). Frankly, I think that a lot of the pro-migration and pro-immigrant forces aren’t interested in anything approaching open borders, and may not even be supportive of expanded immigration. In fact, I suspect that a lot of what motivates immigrants’ rights activists is territorialism, an ideology that, unlike citizenism, is interested in the welfare and protection of rights of all people who are within the geographical area of the nation, regardless of their citizenship status and of whether they are authorized or unauthorized. Added: A lot of immigrant rights’ activists are also susceptible to local inequality aversion, another obstruction to keyhole solutions.

I will look at a few groups that are often (rightly or wrongly) labeled as pro-immigrant and study how their efforts might help or hurt the development of keyhole solutions.

American Civil Liberties Union

A classic example of territorialism is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is at the forefront of defending the rights of immigrants, including “illegal” immigrants, via their Immigrants’ Rights Project. I’ve read through a number of pages on the ACLU website, and it seems to me that the ACLU takes no position on what immigration law itself should be. In fact, they concede that the US has collective property rights and can set more or less any immigration policy. The only thing they object to is inhumane deportations. From their Immigrants’ Rights Project page:

Our nation has unquestioned authority to control its borders and to regulate immigration. But we must exercise the awesome power to exclude or deport immigrants consistent with the rule of law, the fundamental norms of humanity and the requirements of the Constitution.

And they seem to take no position on the civil liberties and human rights of non-US people when they are not in US territory.

Now, you might say that this is just part of the “division of labor” that Nathan highlighted in this post. The ACLU is the American (US) Civil Liberties Union, which means that their scope is explicitly limited to what happens within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States. This means that, definitionally, qua organization, they cannot be concerned about the violation of rights of people outside the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, even if individuals at the ACLU feel strongly about these issues. Fair enough. Continue reading “Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?” »

Undocumented No Longer

I welcomed Obama’s “DREAM decree,” which just took effect on August 15th, with an article at The American entitled “A Face for the Faceless.” In it, I celebrated the career of Jose Antonio Vargas (life story, blog posts about him on Open Borders), characterizing his stance and that of the movement he is leading as civil disobedience:

By coming out publicly, Jose Antonio Vargas and many others have transformed the lawbreaking of illegal immigration into something heroic—civil disobedience. They have become, to adapt an exquisite phrase from writer David Bentley Hart, “a face for the faceless.”

Hart, describing the impact of Christianity on the culture of the late Roman Empire, writes that “to the literate classes of late antiquity … a rustic could not possibly have been a worthy object of a well-bred man’s sympathy,” and that the story, in the Gospels, of Peter weeping after he denied Christ on the eve of the Crucifixion, would “likely have seemed like an aesthetic mistake.” By contrast, in the Gospels and other Christian texts, “we see something beginning to emerge from darkness into full visibility, arguably for the first time in history: the human person as such, invested with an intrinsic and inviolable dignity, and possessed of an infinite value.” (Hart, p. 167)

To feel human sympathy for someone makes it much harder to abuse, exploit, or brutalize them, or in general, to do unto them as one would not have others do unto oneself. Over time, though sometimes with terrible tardiness, this new appreciation of human dignity has altered man and society, making charity more urgent and beautiful, making slavery first anomalous and then untenable.

I also explore the charge that Obama’s DREAM decree is a violation of the principle of “rule of law”: Continue reading “Undocumented No Longer” »

Why Jose Antonio Vargas Matters: Making Human Rights Real

I largely agree with what Vipul Naik writes about Jose Antonio Vargas and the Define American project. Philosophically, Vargas isn’t really a fellow-traveler of Bryan Caplan, Vipul Naik, and myself. He seems to still buy into arguments from the other side– as Vipul puts it, “people don’t have a right to immigrate, but once they’ve done so, they acquire various rights and privileges, and become part of the moral sphere of natives.” His position seems ultimately unstable, though possibly that’s true of everyone in the immigration debate except the open borders crowd on one end and some extreme restrictionists on the other. In his defense, though– even if this doesn’t come through in everything he writes or says– the terms of his own project seem to recognize the weakness of his position. For example, from the “About” section of the Define American site:

Our campaign is about asking: How do we define an American? Why do people come to this country? Who are the American citizens who help them? When it comes to undocumented immigrants, what would you do? As a teacher? A friend? A mother?

Define American, with your help, will answer those questions.

So Vargas isn’t saying that he has the answers; rather, he’s asking for help from… well, from whoever the audience of Define American is supposed to be… to find them. Maybe we’ll win him over to the open borders cause at some point.

More importantly, there’s something I think Naik doesn’t quite recognize, namely, that Vargas’s project is well suited to evoke in people the moral intuitions that underlie the concept of natural rights, also known as human rights. Rights seem a bit metaphysically mysterious and plenty of honest people have doubted their existence. But it’s part of human nature that we can recognize when human rights are being violated, when we are close enough to the victims to feel human empathy for them. We see the wrong, we feel injury and indignation, we feel that something deeper and more sacred is at stake than a mere cost-benefit analysis could account for, and our attempts to express, to justify, to articulate that indignation perennially bring us back to the idea of human rights. Vargas’s site emphasizes stories. That’s just what’s needed, because stories bring us close enough to the victims to feel the wrong of what’s being done to them. That the victims whose stories he tells are far from the worst-off victims of migration restrictions is a secondary issue.

A story by a Canadian is a good example: Continue reading “Why Jose Antonio Vargas Matters: Making Human Rights Real” »

My thoughts on Jose Antonio Vargas and Define American

Jose Antonio Vargas (life story) is an illegal immigrant from the Phillippines to the United States. Vargas is also a reputed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. In June 2011, Vargas outed himself as an illegal immigrant in the pages of the New York Times, and I learned about this when Bryan Caplan blogged about it. Vargas has also started a website called Define American, which “seeks to change the conversation on immigration reform.” Here’s his website and Wikipedia page.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Jose Antonio Vargas at the University of Chicago. UPDATE: Here is a news article about his talk and here is an interview with the author conducted during his visit for the talk.

Below are some of the thoughts I have about the talk and about Vargas’ views. [Caution: Since I didn’t take written notes or tape the talk, I might have misremembered some of Vargas’ statements]

  • Vargas spent a lot of his time talking about (illegal) immigrant rights, or about the plight of immigrants. But he spent very little time talking about immigration rights. Overall, his expressed moral philosophy seemed pretty territorialist — people don’t have a right to immigrate, but once they’ve done so, they acquire various rights and privileges, and become part of the moral sphere of natives. In Q&A, Vargas did say that he also supports expanded immigration rights for immigrants at all skill levels, but this wasn’t even mentioned (as far as I could make out) in his main talk. As the creator of the Open Borders website, I find the moral imbalance jarring. Of course, it’s possible that, as Bryan Caplan puts it, Vargas was simply engaging in understatement. But I wish he’d openly asked the question: Who’s worse off, somebody who foregoes the huge place premium of migration, or somebody who gets in, then has to put up with a low probability of deportation and harassment?

    In fact, the various videos that Vargas showed seemed, to me at least ,decidedly un-sympathy-inducing. He showed the video below (or some variation of it) to indicate the plight of immigrants:

    But in a world where large numbers of people are poor partly because of immoral restrictions on their right to migrate, the plight of the people depicted in the video hardly seems the worst thing in the world.

  • To be fair to Vargas, he did concede that he was better off immigrating to the United States. In fact, he admitted that both his mother and his grandfather agreed to have him sent to the United States, despite the risks of being undocumented, because they felt that even with those risks, he would have a better life in the United States than being documented in the Phillippines. And it seems, judging from his success as a journalist and now as an immigrant rights activist, that their judgment was correct. What Vargas didn’t do, though, was go the next step and say that immigration rights are a bigger issue than immigrant rights.
  • Continue reading “My thoughts on Jose Antonio Vargas and Define American” »