Restricting Immigration in the Name of Self-Determination
David Miller

April 19, 2018, 4:15pm - 6:15pm
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne

Jim Potter Room, Old Physics
The University of Melbourne
Melbourne 3010
Australia

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Among the arguments made in favour of controlling immigration, there is one that appeals to the self-determination rights of the citizens of the receiving state.  The intuitive thought is that in order to be politically self-determining, citizens must be able to decide collectively who joins their society, and in particular who will become citizens in future.  But in recent political theory the self-determination argument (SDA) has faced a number of challenges.  This paper considers and responds to five of these.

1.  The SDA is a non-starter.  Once we understand what self-determination means, it is clear that it can provide no grounds for controlling immigration.

2. The SDA relies upon an unrealistic view of self-determination as involving authentic ‘self-creation’.  On a more realistic view it could only provide grounds for controlling immigration in extreme circumstances.

3. The SDA overlooks the fact that, at least for purpose of immigration policy, the boundaries of the ‘self’ cannot be regarded as pregiven, but may need to be widened to include prospective immigrants.

4. The SDA assumes that the right of self-determination can justify not only restrictions on entry to the demos, but also restrictions on entry to the territory that the demos claims to control; but this is not so.

5. The SDA, if it were valid, would provide good reasons not only to control inward movement, but also to expel innocent people who were already resident in the society.  But since we know that such deportations are impermissible, the SDA cannot be valid.

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