The “simple logic” of immigration control

by Chris Bertram on May 19, 2021

In a recent column in the Times (paywall), James Kirkup, Director of the Social Market Foundation and writer for various right-wing outlets, argues that “liberals” should be more accommodating of the state’s desire to enforce exclusionary immigration policies and that, if only they were, a more open policy would be feasible. But, given, public anxieties about immigration and the stubborn refusal of the likes of us to co-operate, the public were going to put people like the UK’s authoritarian Home Secretary, Priti Patel, in charge. Our non-co-peration, or even resistance, is, supposedly self-defeating.

One thing he says is this:

There’s a simple logic about immigration: unless you believe your country should have no borders and be entirely open to anyone in the world, you must accept that the state needs to be able to remove uninvited people. I accept this as someone who has long argued for a liberal, open migration policy.

This rhetorical move gets made a lot by advocates and apologists for immigration control. I remember a similar point being made to a representative of the Stansted 15 on BBC Newsnight. Either the state gets what it wants, or … open borders.

But it is a rhetorical move that needs to be resisted, because you don’t have to be an advocate of open borders to believe that the actual policies being enforced by the state are cruel, unjust and unjustifiable to the point where reasonable people have the right, and possibly sometimes the duty, to disobey, even to resist and sabotage them.[^1] Moreover, when they are sufficiently unjust as a general rule, it is reasonable of people to believe that any particular act of enforcement will be unjustifiable and that the burden of proof is on the other side.

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