Immigration has become a hot topic as the number of illegal border crossings to the US remains at a record high, at about 2.8 million so far in the 2023 fiscal year. This has become an especially contentious political issue as many states typically governed by the Democratic Party, which are usually deemed more migrant-friendly, have been overwhelmed by the pressure of undocumented migrants. New York City mayor Eric Adams, for example, caused backlash when he asserted that the migrant crisis will “destroy New York City” on Sep. 6 in a town hall. The political implication of this issue remains important. However, in this article, I hope to take a step back and focus on the moral framework through which we view this issue, and argue for recognizing that restrictions on immigration are much less justifiable than the common consensus might suggest.

We can start by setting a premise that I hope is self-evident: every person should be considered equal regardless of their nationality. Based on this premise, we will consider the reality of international travel or migration in our world right now. For most people in the world, the passport that you hold, issued by the country in which you were born, determines your citizenship. This is a geographical fact a person has no control over whatsoever, and this unwillingly chosen citizenship status will then go on to determine where you are entitled to live. For example, a citizen of India is entitled to live in India and not in the United States without a visa. A citizen of Spain, who by extension is also a citizen of the European Union, is entitled to live in a EU country like France. A US passport holder is allowed to travel to 173 nations or territories visa-free. That number is 46 for Pakistani passport holders.

Therefore, the freedom of movement across borders is significantly lower for certain people compared to others simply because of their birthplace. This level of freedom to migrate is usually proportional to quality of life, as wealthier nations tend to have more visa-free agreements with other countries. Nationals of wealthier countries also tend to have a much easier time immigrating to other countries, as there is less access to consulate service and funding available for applying to visas in less well-off nations. This seems to be in direct contradiction with our premise, as it is exponentially more difficult for people holding a less powerful passport to enter into a territory of their choice. Often, this distinction is one of life and death, as people flee from persecution or economic depravity of their hometown.

Furthermore, it is difficult to see how governments have the authority to restrict its border in the first place in most cases. To justify that a government has the fundamental authority to restrict the inflow of people into its border, we need to prove that the land the government is controlling justifiably belongs to the government. Not only that, but the justifiability needs to be to a degree where it has the right to reject people from coming into the land. It is difficult to see how that could be the case, as a government usually merely claims control over land, instead of giving any convincing account of how the land is supposed to belong to them, rather focusing on setting a foundation of bureaucratic networks. Even in nations where governments are elected through democratic processes, it is difficult to explain how the power of this democratic process could extend to people who don’t have a say in this matter. This is because the person trying to get into a country doesn’t yet have any ability to participate in the democratic system they are trying to enter. Presumably, democratic systems are more legitimate because they prevent coercive governments from imposing their unpopular will on the people. Given that everyone, not just citizens of certain nations, should be entitled to engagement in democratic processes, the undemocratic nature of border control undermines the argument itself. Thus, it is very hard to see how the democratic structure of a government could justify authority over national borders.

This is certainly not a complete survey of the philosophical arguments one could have over the morality or immorality of immigration control. However, in many ways, the justification of immigration control has become a circular argument: Why do you get to control who gets who comes in and who stays out? Because I live in a state protected by the government? What does the basic premise of the state mean? The power to control who comes in and who stays out. So, why is a state able to do that? Well, I’m not so sure.

There are many arguments that support the legitimacy of a immigration control system which I am not going to explore here. This is a very complicated issue that involves philosophical reasoning, political practicality, as well as the implementation of policies. I hope that I at least unsettled your assumption a bit by putting forward a forceful argument from one side. Hopefully, we can keep this conversation going.