The Rights of Migrants

61 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2009 Last revised: 24 Aug 2017

See all articles by Adam B. Cox

Adam B. Cox

New York University School of Law

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: April 15, 2009


Why do states provide migrants rights associated with citizenship? Existing accounts typically answer this question in terms of obligation - of a duty on the part of states to confer citizenship. Moreover, scholars tend to lump together the bundle of rights conventionally associated with citizenship when they answer this question. In contrast, this Article disaggregates the rights associated with citizenship, asks what both states and migrants want, and inquires into how the suite of rights associated with citizenship might advance those interests. States want to encourage migrants to enter their territory and to make country-specific investments, but have an interest in being able to remove immigrants or make their lives less comfortable if circumstances change. However, migrants will not enter and make country-specific investments if the state can easily remove them or change the conditions in which they live. Accordingly, the "optimal contract" reflects the trade-offs between commitment and flexibility. We discuss ways in which basic rights to liberty and property, political rights including voting, and other rights may embody the optimal contract in different circumstances.

Keywords: migration, immigrants' rights, contract theory, precommitment, immigrant voting

Suggested Citation

Cox, Adam B. and Posner, Eric A., The Rights of Migrants (April 15, 2009). New York University Law Review, Vol. 84, U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 461, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 264, Available at SSRN:

Adam B. Cox (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-0425 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)


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