The ethics of immigration enforcement: How far may states go?

Borja Nino Arnaiz

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The ethics of immigration has largely remained on the abstract level, prescribing ideal principles for non-ideal circumstances. One striking example of this tendency is found in the ethics of immigration enforcement. Many authors contend that even though immigration restrictions are legitimate in principle, enforcement renders them illegitimate in practice. In this article I argue, in response to this claim, that if one supports immigration restrictions, one should also support immigration enforcement, even if it entails the use of physical force. Not enforcing immigration restrictions is unjust to law-abiding migrants, undermines the rule of law, and amounts to virtually open borders. In order to illustrate the case, I will draw upon the enforcement of tax law. My argument is that if states are allowed to go to great lengths in the enforcement of tax law, there is no reason why they should not be allowed to go to comparable lengths in the enforcement of immigration law. This analogy will provide us with the moral baseline with which to judge the permissibility of immigration enforcement. The proposal takes the rights of migrants seriously, only the right to immigrate is not one. The article also anticipates some potential objections and responds to them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of International Political Theory
Early online date8 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Aug 2023


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