Thursday, May 17, 2007


This is inspired, in part, by this over at Sadly, No!.

The relationships between rights and citizenship, and citizenship and immigration, and rights and immigration (etc, etc) are, of course, far too complex to do justice to here. So, take this as a working-out of ideas, not as anything particularly sustained. But it strikes me as borderline xenophobic to try to move from "we owe more to citizens than to immigrants" (a perfectly legitimate partialism) to "there can be too much immigration" and "citizens get first dibs on the jobs". Call the partialism -> excess immigration move "argument #1" and the partialism -> jobs move "argument #2".

Argument #1 is actually the better one, insofar as the empirical claims it assumes are actually true. Argument #1 requires it be true that:
  • If immigration is increased beyond a threshold, x, then citizens will be harmed.
That claim, coupled with partialism, gets us the conclusion that there can be too much immigration. The problem is, though, that the truth of the claim is extremely questionable. It's by no means obvious that continually increasing immigration will harm citizens; and it's very likely false that continually increasing immigration will harm citizens simpliciter. That "simpliciter" is intended to mark the fact that the claim in question is true if and only if the background political and economic conditions remain fixed. (So, maybe it could easily be a "ceteris paribus".)

But why presume that? Certainly, if there were no fixed minimum wage, then an influx of immigrants would drive down wages (simple supply and demand calculation); but there are minimum wage laws. And that suggests that increased immigration, while it might lead to problems in one set of political and economic circumstances, doesn't have to in other circumstances. Since we can falsify the claim that argument #1 needs in order to go through, argument #1 is a bad argument.

Furthermore, we can go from partialism to the conclusion that immigration should be increased, as long as we vary the background conditions appropriately. In short, partialism on its own doesn't get you to any sort of limit on immigration -- it's empirical claims that get you there and, AFAIK, the data shows that you can favour or disfavour immigration largely at will.

On to argument #2, which is the worse one. I'm not entirely sure how to make it even go through: there seems to be an assumption in play that having access to jobs goes hand-in-hand with citizenship, but that's not actually true. Citizenship is sufficient for access to jobs, but it's not necessary, as people on work visas, landed immigrants, and permanent residents also have access to jobs. So, it has to be something like:
  • There is a hierarchy of access to jobs, ranking citizens first, then permanent residents, then landed immigrants, then those on visas, etc.
I don't see any reason to accept this claim as true, though. The point of something like a work visa is that it gives one access to the jobs market on an equal footing with citizens. Once you've cleared the legal hurdles to be granted the privilege to work in a given country, then everyone's (at least in principle) in a fair competition. There's no further ranking of people based on their status. (Putting aside, of course, the question of what to do with illegal immigrants.)

So, since that claim's implausible, how else to make the argument work? My only other thought is with this:
  • Citizens are harmed by not having jobs.
Given that claim, and partialism, then it might seem to follow that citizens should get first crack at the jobs -- but, actually, that doesn't follow at all. What really follows is that citizenry is a (possibly slight) reason in favour of someone's getting a job. If there were two exactly equal candidates, except that Candidate A was a citizen and Candidate B was a landed immigrant, then A's citizenry could be seen as a tie-breaker reason in A's favour. But, of course, that sort of situation rarely if ever obtains. Instead, employers are confronted by vastly unequal candidates; thus, any weight that would be afforded by citizenship would usually be overwhelmed by more salient reasons (e.g., formal qualifications, work experience, congeniality).

We could, of course, modify the partialism that's in play and simply define citizenship as presenting a more overwhelming reason than the minimal reading I've given it here. The consequences of doing so are clearly absurd, though. For example, if citizenship is more than just a tie-breaker reason, it would follow that when person A, a citizen, has a severe stomachache and person B, a landed immigrant, has a gunshot wound to the chest, we should weight A's need for medical treatment by his citizenship -- and thus possibly leave B to die, if A's suffering is sufficiently greater than B's. This result is absurd; so, I conclude that citizenship is, at best, a tie-breaking reason.

Given that citizenship is just a tie-breaking reason, though, then what is it worth? The answer, of course, is that citizenship isn't just a property which gives others reasons to treat us in particular ways; it also provides certain powers, not the least of which are the power to vote and the power to run for public office. The value of citizenship really resides in these two (I'd tend to favour the latter over the former).

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