Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, January 21, 2005

Unfortunately, when it comes to immigration, most Americans are on the wrong side:

Many adults in the United States want the government to implement tougher immigration controls, according to a poll by TNS released by ABC News and the Washington Post. 76 per cent of respondents believe the U.S. is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants out.

Even now, my mother-in-law, who has a job, a husband, and an apartment in Russia, couldn't get a visa in order to attend her only daughter's wedding. Our immigration restrictions are already insanely tight, and are damaging our economy and our image in the world, and yet most people want to make the problem worse. It's important to remember that our democracy has never been absolute. The power of the people has always been constrained by the common-law tradition represented by the courts, as well as by civil disobedience on the part of conscientious individuals.

Like segregation in the past, immigration today is the issue on which the will of the people must be defied. I salute George W. Bush and the 7 million illegal immigrants on our soil for doing so.


  • The will of the people must be defied? Is that really what you want to say?

    Incidentally, did you read the recent article in the Independent Review on cultural protectionism?

    By Blogger Nato, at 6:19 PM  

  • Yes, I meant it, the will of the people must be defied.

    Think about desegregation. Most white Southerners in the 1950s and 1960s wanted segregation to continue. The federal government intervened in defiance of their desires and forced the South to integrate. This was the right thing to do because segregation was unjust.

    Or again, most Americans probably would have approved of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This policy was nevertheless wrong and the courts should have prevented it from occurring. If, today, the majority of Americans wanted to prohibit flag burning, or the sale of Mein Kampf or the Bible or the Origin of Species, the courts would rightly defy the will of the people.

    So it is with immigration restrictions, our society's greatest extant injustice, and, as with segregation and Jim Crow, an injustice intimately linked with restriction of the franchise. (If foreigners could vote in US elections, immigration restrictions would soon be eliminated.) Our border laws are unjust, and it is immoral to collaborate in their enforcement.

    If the will of the people must be defied, who should defy it? Not the courts in this case: judges, as judges, must enforce the law, even if the law sanctions immigration restrictions or slavery. Constitutional provisions and the common-law tradition sometimes give judges grounds to overturn particular unjust laws (and not-so-unjust laws, for that matter) for the sake of the broader consistency of the law, but their calling is not to overturn all unjust laws. Elected representatives like Bush may defy public opinion, at the risk, of course, of alienating their constituency and losing elections later. (This is called leadership.) But the ultimate answer to "who is to defy the will of the people?" is: You and me. All of us. Do so by hiring an illegal immigrant or renting a flat to one, by being friendly to them and welcoming them, and by making it clear to them, should the subject come up, that you are on their side, that you would never turn them in to the police, that they are welcome in our country.

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 7:26 AM  

  • I didn't mean to imply that I thought your statement wrong; I merely wanted to be sure it wasn't an intentional bit of rhetorical overreach. Also, I wanted to make sure it was via appeal to (true) morality rather than something else.

    You and I agree on the existence of an independent, objectively-true moral system (I avoid using the word "code" as it encourages pernicious oversimplification) and that said system is ideally the source and justification of laws. Any law that contravenes morality must (normatively speaking) be changed and even contravened, assuming the evil of contravention qua contravention* is less than the evil of obedience to immorality.

    That said, I love the Bill of Rights and subsequent (as well as previous) prohibitions of the domain in which laws can be made because it's a excellent admission of and method of mitigating the fact that our moral judgement is imperfect.

    So I think we're fundamentally on the same page here. Of course, our moral and epistemic appraisals are different enough that the rest of the pages look pretty different.

    *Here I'm referring the steady erosion of rule of law caused by repeated and widespread disobedience thereof. Elision of unjust laws from our daily lives creates a spillover effect that can reduce regard for just laws and ablate their effectiveness. Of course if someone's response to an evil contains more evil of its own, that's wrong too, but in a more obvious way.

    By Blogger Nato, at 5:09 PM  

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