“Finally, one of the most complex and controversial issues within the literature on the morality of immigration is what criteria a state may permissibly employ to distinguish among applicants for admission. Countries might use either a lottery or a first-come, first-admitted waitlist, but they might also screen the applicants and give preference to those whose language, culture and/or skill sets make them most likely to assimilate in the host state’s economy and political culture. But what if a country’s immigration policies differentiate among applicants on the basis of race, sex, religion or country of origin? What if a country flatly refused to even consider applications for immigration from Asians or Africans, for instance?
As with so many issues in this area, Walzer’s (1983) treatment of this question is seminal. In this case, though, many have recoiled at his conclusions. To see why, consider his take on “White Australia,” Australia’s erstwhile practice of recruiting immigration from England while explicitly prohibiting immigration from non-European countries. Walzer writes, “Assuming, then, that there actually is superfluous land, the claim of necessity would force a political community like that of White Australia to confront a radical choice. Its members could yield land for the sake of homogeneity, or they could give up homogeneity (agree to the creation of a multiracial society) for the sake of the land. And those would be their only two choices. White Australia could survive only as Little Australia.” (Walzer 1983: 47) Walzer may well be right that Australia had a duty to share its vast land with those who needed it, but it is striking that he had no principled objection aimed specifically at Australia’s racism. If Australia did not have so much territory, then Walzer apparently would not object to their excluding immigrants on the basis of their race.
A number of critics agree that Walzer’s analysis is misguided, but there has been no consensus as to precisely where and why it goes off the tracks. Consider, for instance, the conflicting accounts offered by David Miller, Joseph Carens and Michael Blake. Miller’s take is interesting, because he accepts Walzer’s arguments and conclusion that political communities enjoy a general right to design and enforce their own immigration policies. Unlike Walzer, though, Miller stops short of concluding that states can exclude potential immigrants on whatever grounds they like. As he puts it, “I have tried to hold a balance between the interest that migrants have in entering the country they want to live in, and the interest that political communities having (sic) in determining their own character. Although the first of these interests is not strong enough to justify a right of migration, it is still substantial, and so the immigrants who are refused entry are owed an explanation. To be told that they belong to the wrong race, or sex (or have the wrong color) is insulting, given that these features do not connect to anything of real significance to the society they want to join. Even tennis clubs are not entitled to discriminate among applicants on grounds such as these (Miller 2005: 204).
Miller’s analysis will be attractive to many, but some may worry that it is too quick. What would we say about a white woman who refused to even consider marrying someone outside of her race, for instance? We might well condemn her racism as deplorable, and we should not be the least bit surprised if non-whites were sorely offended by her attitudes, but presumably we would stop short of saying that she had a duty to marry a black person. And if a white person is within her rights to refuse to marry anyone who is not white, then why is not a predominantly white political community not equally entitled to reject potential immigrants on the basis of their race?”
– Christopher Heath Wellman, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/immigration/#RecImm
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