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Immigration in the ideal – and in the real world

19by Gareth Morley

Joseph Carens, The Ethics of Immigration.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
384 pages.

Demographic politics are back. Migration from poor to rich countries may be the most polarizing issue of the 21st century for Europe and North America. We urgently need a way to think clearly about how a liberal-democratic state may treat people who move to it – and, more radically, on what basis, if any, it may stop them from coming in the first place.

While most people in the West think migrants have a right to be treated equally once they are here, there is a broad consensus that governments can, and should, keep people out if it is in their national interest to do so. In The Ethics of Immigration, Joseph Carens, a political theorist at the University of Toronto, argues that this widespread intuition is wrong, and that basic liberal democratic commitments require more or less “open borders.” His argument is provocative and very accessible. Carens has a knack for making technical immigration policy and even more technical philosophical debate interesting. Unfortunately, however, he embraces a style of “ideal theory” that renders his book much less useful for the genuinely tough issues of immigration policy than it could be.

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About the Author

Gareth Morley
Gareth Morley is a litigator with the British Columbia Ministry of Attorney General. (All opinions expressed are his alone, and do not reflect the views of the Ministry of Attorney General.)


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