Thursday, November 29, 2012

Immigration and the Human Rights of Non-Americans

There are issues where I wish Republicans would be Republicans and not abandon their principles - particularly where they abandon those principles to bigotry.

I am not talking about little principles either - but principles that are presented as core and foundational beliefs - cast aside where tribal hatred takes control of the heart and mind.

These are the principles that all [people] are created equal and are endowed . . . with certain inalienable rights - and that governments are instituted to secure these rights. Rights are not a gift from government that those in power may give or take away as suits their interests. In fact, to conceive a right in this way is entirely incoherent. Rights in this sense impose limits to government.

Granted, I have an updated conception of rights that rejects the claim that only men have rights (and only white men at that). It also rejects the claim that rights come from a creator - they emerge when matter organizes itself in particular ways. Finally, it is not an intrinsic property, but a relational property identifying desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote. As such, the rights we have can be proved or disproved - they exist as a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion.

For example, the right to freedom of speech is found in the fact that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote (through punishments such as condemnation) an aversion to responding to mere words with violence. It is a fact that people have many and strong reasons to promote this aversion, and that they can do so by praising those who respect this limitation and condemning those who violate it. It does not come from God. Instead, it is found in the relationship between this aversion to responding to words with violence and the reasons for action that exist. It is very real, and when people ignore these facts they will suffer for it.

Governments are human inventions best put to use promoting that which people generally have reason to promote, such as rights to freedom of speech, a fair trial, and a liberty to live as one chooses when it does no harm to others.

However, when it comes to "foreigners" - the despised and contemptible "them" who is "not us", many Republicans (and not too few Democrats and Independents) adopt the attitude that "them" are - well, for all practical purposes - "them" are not human. Saying that "them" are human would imply that they have these rights. We can't possibly embrace that conclusion. To deny that they have these rights requires the assumption that they are something less than "human". Any "rights" they might be thought to have are a gift of government - to be granted or taken away at the convenience of those in power - "us".

Why is Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba - besides the fact that it would be odd at best to name a detention center in Illinois the "Guananamo Bay" detention center?

Because we have adopted a rule of thumb that the government is going to treat people within its borders as humans. We are going to assume they have rights. However, creatures outside of our national borders - those "things" that walk on their hind legs like humans but are distinctly sub-human - have no rights. As long as we can keep them outside of our national borders, they remain sub-human "things" that can be treated however it pleases us to treat them. We must keep them out, so that we can continue to treat them as mere things.

On subjects such as global warming, where Americans put the lives and well-being of others at risk - if those others are Americans we recognize certain moral limits. Well . . . some of us do. However, if the victims are those creatures living outside of the national boundary, whole cities and nations can be destroyed without the sense that it might be morally objectionable to do so.

One of the worst things that can happen is for those bipedal external creatures to sneak into our house, our nation, where they might actually fool us into thinking of them as real people. Against this, we authorize people to trap them (fortunately preferring live capture) and expel them.

America is a country that covers a huge amount of territory. If the economy is booming in my state, and crashing elsewhere, I can expect people to move from that state to mine, "taking our jobs" as it were. However, at the sane time, they add to our state's economy as consumers, investors, and tax-payers. The result is to level out the economies in this vast region. However, it levels the economy at a very high level.

China has experienced the same benefit. Europe has learned by these examples and substantially opened up movement among the member nations of the European Union.

The reasons for this are reasons a morally consistent and principled Republican would not only recognize, but embrace. If people have freedom, they create prosperity. If you take away their freedom, you create poverty.

However, when it comes the bipedal creatures external to the United States (and even certain bipedal creatures in the United States that look more like "them" then "us") the principles that a morally consistent Republican would embrace are cast aside.

"After all, they look different. They don't speak the right language. And you want to call them 'human'?"

Well, yes. Actually I do.

We should, in fact, be treating them as we would have them treat us if our positions were reversed.

Which is yet another principle that a morally consistent Republican should recognize and embraced - that gets thrown away whenever the subject turns to the sub-human bipedal "them" that live outside or have somehow wormed their way inside our national borders.


Unknown said...

I agree substantially with this, but doesn't the immigration reform debate go a bit farther than this?

For example, many people would object that it is not the fact that people from different countries are different from us that we want to expel them, but rather because they came here under false pretenses; they broke the law to come here, and for that they ought not be allowed in.

Now, how many people are here illegally, I admit that I do not know; furthermore, I would disagree that the punishment for coming illegally should necessarily be immediate deportation. However, someone could agree with what you wrote and still be in favor of strict immigration policies on the grounds that people who want to come here should all follow the same procedure, and people who don't do that should be punished somehow. They don't need to be racist or motivated by tribalism to make a case like that.

I think the ideas you wrote about in this essay make a strong case for an easier procedure for becoming a citizen, but do you think it follows from this that people who came illegally, without following the necessary procedure in the first place, ought to be allowed to stay anyway because of the benefits to society you mentioned?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

My post was not meant to discuss current immigration reform specifically, which admittedly brings in additional issues.

However, you wrote:

. . . someone could agree with what you wrote and still be in favor of strict immigration policies on the grounds that people who want to come ehre should follow the same procedures.

Technically, this is not true.

From the Republican principles on which this blog post was built, these "strict immigration policies" would count as bureaucratic red tape that gums up the free market.

It would be like attaching all sorts of expensive policies to - say - importing raw materials with which to manufacture some product. The Republican position would be to view all of this expensive red tape as an illegitimate barrier to free trade. It makes the activity much more expensive - regardess of whether you are importing lumber or laborers.

However, this does not answer the other question:

do you think it follows from this that people who came illegally, without following the necessary procedure in the first place, ought to be allowed to stay anyway because of the benefits to society you mentioned?

I do not find this to be an easy question to answer either way.

On the one hand, if we assume that the government had imposed huge costs on imported lumber, and lumber was being smuggled into the country, when those restrictions are lifted the tendency is to grant that the lumber smuggled into the country can stay.

On the other hand, the "moral hazard" argument does have weight. If we set up a system where those who break the law gain an advantage over those respect the law, we set up a culture that - for all practical purposes - rewards and thereby promotes a willingness to break the law while it punishes and thereby inhibits a desire to obey the law.