I’ve been invited to give a TED-style talk tonight on whether there’s a right to free movement. Given the format, I don’t have a text and I’ll be speaking to a series of slides. But here are the basic points I’ll be making, for better or worse. (There’s no great claim to originality here, and my final slide will tell people to read Carens. Lots of undotted “i”s and uncrossed “t”s too.)
At the present time, they key norm governing the international migration regime is that states have a discretionary right to allow or not allow non-members onto their territory and to grant such members rights of residence, or not. The global refugee and asylum regime is a partial exception to this rule, but only a partial one because states have voluntarily agreed to be bound by the provisions of the Convention and could, if they chose, renounce it.
Clearly, most politicians and most voters, at least in rich countries, believe the norm is justified, with a lot of public debate focusing on whether the refugee regime is too permissive. Any party that tried to run on a policy favouring more open borders would get slaughtered at the polls, because more people think that democratic electorates have the right to exclude. But just because most people believe something, doesn’t make it true. And past consensuses on slavery, women’s suffrage and against gay marriage now look like the moral abominations they are.
But border and citizenship regimes have a prima facie case to answer because of the fatefulness of citizenship for life chances and the way in which they coerce people. Whilst some people are lucky enough to be born in, say, Belgium, others have the comparative misfortune to end us as citizens of Burundi or Bolivia. Some people get the valuable citizenships of states with wealth and which respect human rights; others end up with North Korea or Eritrea.