Immigration and Democracy

Professor of Law and Political Science Sarah Song

Immigration is one of the most polarizing issues in contemporary politics. It raises questions about identity, economic well-being, the legitimacy of state power, and the boundaries of membership and justice..

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How should we think about immigration and what policies should democratic societies pursue? Some contend that borders should generally be open and people should be free to migrate in search of better lives. Others insist that governments have the right to unilaterally close their borders and should do so. In Immigration and Democracy, Sarah Song develops an intermediate ethical position that takes seriously both the claims of receiving countries and the claims of prospective migrants. She argues that political membership is morally significant, even if morally arbitrary. Political membership grounds particular rights and obligations, and a government may show some partiality toward the interests of its members. Yet, we also have universal obligations to those outside our orders. Where prospective migrants have urgent reasons to move, as in the case of refugees, their interests may trump the less weighty interests of members. What is required is not open or closed borders but open doors. An accessible ethical framework that clarifies and deepens the ideas with which members of democratic societies can debate immigration, Immigration and Democracy considers the implications of a realistically utopian theory for immigration law and policy.