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Immigration and refugees

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S107-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2006
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

Immigration has emerged as one of the most controversial issues for liberal states in the current era of economic globalization. Debates over the entrance of non-citizens are contentious partly because they are often driven by feelings widely seen as morally illegitimate, such as racism. But controversy also emerges because border controls raise complex ethical issues about the constitution of political communities and boundaries of justice. Contemporary debates over admissions evince a profound conflict between the claims of immigrants, who, in a world of great inequality, may have powerful reasons for seeking a new state, and host societies, whose members see controlling entrance as necessary to preserve their way of life. Despite the centrality of this clash to modern politics, many of the ethical issues raised by immigration have only recently begun to command the attention of philosophers.

Control over immigration is usually seen as a constitutive feature of modern statehood. Yet the early theorists of the emerging European state and international order, such as Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, paid very little attention to questions of immigration. Eighteenth-century theorists of international society, including Kant and Vattel, touched briefly on questions of entrance, articulating accounts of responsibilities to individuals seeking asylum. A century later, Henry Sidgwick discussed immigration more systematically, contrasting nationalist and cosmopolitan perspectives on the topic, before affirming the prerogative of the state to decide admissions. In the last two decades, philosophers and political theorists, influenced by growing migration pressures and the expanding post-1945 rights culture in the West, have subjected the view that states have a moral prerogative to admit and reject whom they choose to increasing scrutiny. A number of scholars have even advocated the abolition of all migration controls.

Citing this article:
Gibney, Matthew J.. Immigration and refugees, 2006, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S107-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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