Morality and Migration

“The Morality of Migration,” by Seyla Benhabib for the New York Times:

In announcing the Department of Homeland Security’s policy directive on June 15 stating that undocumented migrant youths who meet certain conditions would no longer be deported, President Obama said that “It was the right thing to do.” What he did not say was whether he meant “the right thing” legally or morally.

Obviously, he considered the action to be legal, even though this invocation of his administration’s power drew strong criticism from many, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But the president’s grounds for believing it moral were much less clear…

Migrations pit two moral and legal principles, foundational to the modern state system, against each other. On one hand, the human right of individuals to move across borders whether for economic, personal or professional reasons or to seek asylum and refuge is guaranteed by Articles 13 and 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, Article 21 of the declaration recognizes a basic right to self-government, stipulating that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”  Under the current regime of states, that fundamental right includes control over borders as well as determining who is to be a citizen as distinguished from a resident or an alien…

Why not advocate a “world without borders” then?  From a moral point of view, no child deserves to be born on one side of the border rather than another, and it is deeply antithetical to our moral principles to punish individuals for what they cannot help being or doing.  Punishment implies responsibility and accountability for one’s actions and choices; clearly, children who through their parents’ choices end up on one side of the border rather than another cannot be penalized for these choices…

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