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Immigrants and the Right to Stay

Immigrants and the Right to Stay

Joseph H. Carens
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Immigrants and the Right to Stay
    Book Description:

    The Obama administration promises to take on comprehensive immigration reform in 2010, setting policymakers to work on legislation that might give the approximately eleven million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States a path to legalization of status. Commentators have been quick to observe that any such proposal will face intense opposition. Few issues have so divided the country in recent years as immigration. Immigrants and the Right to Stay brings the debate into the realm of public reason. Political theorist Joseph Carens argues that although states have a right to control their borders, the right to deport those who violate immigration laws is not absolute. With time, immigrants develop a moral claim to stay. Emphasizing the moral importance of social membership, and drawing on principles widely recognized in liberal democracies, Carens calls for a rolling amnesty that gives unauthorized migrants a path to regularize their status once they have been settled for a significant period of time.After Carens makes his case, six experts from across the political spectrum respond. Some protest that he goes too far; others say he does not go far enough in protecting the rights of migrants. Several raise competing moral claims and others help us understand how the immigration problem became so large. Carens agrees that no moral claim is absolute, and that, on any complex public issue, principled debate involves weighing competing concerns. But for him the balance falls clearly on the side of amnesty.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28928-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. I The Case for Amnesty
    (pp. 1-52)

    Miguel Sanchez could not earn enough to pay the bills in his hometown. He tried for several years to obtain a visa to come to the United States and was rejected every time. In 2000 he entered on foot with the help of a smuggler. He made his way to Chicago, where he had relatives and friends, and started working in construction, sending money to his father. Sanchez worked weekends at Dunkin Donuts and went to school in the evening to learn English. In 2002 he met an American-born U.S. citizen who lived in his neighborhood. They married in 2003,...

  4. II Forum

    • Mae M. Ngai
      (pp. 55-64)

      Joseph Carens offers a persuasive case for granting amnesty to unauthorized migrants. He argues that liberal democracies should acknowledge the social ties that migrants establish over time, which make them de facto members of society, even if they lack formal legal status. The longer migrants stay in the United States, the stronger their moral claim to remain. In effect, Carens says, the better answer to the misalignment of social inclusion and unlawful status is legalization, not deportation.

      Carens writes from the standpoint of the ethical commitments that undergird liberal democratic societies. I would like to add a historical argument. The...

    • Carol M. Swain
      (pp. 65-72)

      Joseph Carens argues that states should exchange large-scale amnesties, case-by-case adjudications, and mass deportations for an immigration policy that rewards length of residence by granting special status to those illegal immigrants who have lived in the county the longest without detection. Long-term violators, he argues, have gained special membership rights and ought to be allowed to stay because it would be cruel and immoral to ask them to leave. Although Carens readily concedes that allowing long-term law-breakers to remain could be considered unfair to other immigrants, he contends that their years of residence make them members of our community worthy...

    • Douglas S. Massey
      (pp. 73-80)

      Joseph Carens has advanced a strong moral argument in favor of amnesty for irregular migrants in the United States. I agree with the need for some kind of legalization program and share his ethical concerns. The current immigration crisis, however, stems from deeper U.S. policy failures that must be addressed, or the problem of undocumented migration will simply recreate itself.

      The core of the U.S. immigration dilemma is Mexico. Of the roughly eleven million people in the United States with undocumented status, about 60 percent—some 6.5 million people—come from Mexico. The next closest case is El Salvador, with...

    • Linda Bosniak
      (pp. 81-92)

      In any policy debate on the rights of undocumented noncitizens in liberal democratic societies, I will happily enlist Joe Carens to represent me. I agree with him that community membership must be treated as grounded in social fact rather than formal state-given status. I agree that to treat a group of residents as nonmembers undermines liberal democratic commitments, and that both principle and common sense require regularization of out-of-status immigrants. Still, I believe that his core argument—that time matters morally—raises more complications in this setting than he allows, and this is what I will explore here.

      On Carens’s...

    • Jean Bethke Elshtain
      (pp. 93-102)

      Joseph Carens’s defense of amnesty for irregular migrants is written with generosity of spirit and purpose. It helped me understand why incessant repetition of the term “illegal immigrants” is so grating, being one aspect of an increasingly pointless debate pitting often-hysterical anti-“illegals” on one side and advocates of open borders—who insist that people can come and go as they please and receive the full provision of services and panoply of rights available to legal citizens, minus citizenship obligations—on the other. Anyone troubled by the extreme rhetoric on both sides of this debate will greet his essay as a...

    • T. Alexander Aleinikoff
      (pp. 103-112)

      Joseph Carens describes several individual cases that are poignant and worthy of remedy. But exactly why the United States—its Congress or people—have a moral obligation to assist undocumented migrants is under-argued. Carens refers to a number of possible lines of analysis but never settles on a particular argument; he is letting the obvious inhumanity of the treatment of Miguel Sanchez, Margaret Grimmond, and Hiu Lui Ng do the work for him. It is “morally wrong,” we are told,

      to force someone to leave the place where she was raised, where she received her social formation, and where she...

    (pp. 113-114)
  6. Back Matter
    (pp. 115-116)