Immigration, Citizenship and Consent: What Is Wrong with Permanent Alienage?
27 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2012 Last revised: 21 Mar 2016
Date Written: October 29, 2012
While liberal democratic states continue to jealously guard their power to restrict immigration, they have come to recognise a norm of granting citizenship to legally resident immigrants after a period of residency, usually five to ten years. The borders can be closed, but citizenship must remain open for those who have already arrived. Philosophers too tend to separate questions of immigration from questions of naturalisation. Those defending immigration restrictions acknowledge a duty to naturalise. Even Joseph Carens, the most prominent advocate of open borders, treats the two questions as distinct. He makes his argument for naturalization while assuming, for the sake of argument, that immigration restrictions are permissible.
This article critiques that consensus view. It argues that if it really were the case that states had moral discretion to restrict immigration, then states would also be entitled to permanently exclude voluntary migrants from citizenship. Voluntary migrants are those who are not forced to migrate. Unlike refugees or desperately poor economic migrants, they could lead a reasonably decent life back home. Since they migrate voluntarily, their choice to do so could be taken to signal consent to the terms of their admission were there no right to immigrate. It is only because the idea of a right to immigrate is plausible that we have reason to object to permanent alienage even in the case of voluntary migrants.
Keywords: naturalization, Joseph Carens, migrant rights, citizenship, open borders
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