Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Immigration: Should the Rules Change?

The Challenge

"Let no one be in doubt that the rules of the game are changing. If you come to our country from abroad, don't meddle in extremism." So declared British Prime Minister Tony Blair in announcing new measures to restrict immigration for anyone espousing terrorism or violence. But do the rules need to change? And is it fair if they do?

What's at Stake

We live in a globalizing world in which the movement of people, goods, and money across borders is an unstoppable reality. To be sure, this rapid movement is especially driven by economic concerns. The poor of the world are moving toward work and sustenance wherever they can be found. These economic realities are inevitably political and cultural realities. A feeling of political powerlessness drives migration: The poor have little political power to stop their loss of a livelihood in one place, and so they look for work across borders. A feeling of political powerlessness also drives the reaction to this migration: The residents of a country to which many immigrants come often believe that their own political and legal system has broken down and allowed an uncontrolled flow of resource-sapping strangers into already-crowded streets. But perhaps the cultural realities of immigration provide the greatest source of strain. How commensurable are the belief
systems of immigrants with those of the longtime residents of a country? How compatible are peoples of different color, dress, and daily manners? Is the Western model of democracy compatible with peoples from anywhere?

Critical Questions

  • Should different rules apply to immigrants and to citizens?
  • To what extent should immigrants be expected to assimilate to the values and culture of their adopted countries?
  • How far should nations go to accommodate the different views and traditions of immigrants?
  • How far should democracies go to tolerate the views of extremists?
  • What ethical principles ought to be part of legislative attempts to address immigration issues?
  • Is immigration an opportunity for the renewal of a nation or a threat to its identity?

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