Why bor­ders are un­eth­i­cal

Talk dis­man­tles xeno­pho­bic ar­gu­ments

The McGill Daily - - News - Nora Mc­cready The Mcgill Daily

On Thurs­day, March 9, Mcgill stu­dents and com­mu­nity mem­bers gath­ered for a lec­ture co-hosted by the In­sti­tute for Lib­eral Stud­ies and the Re­search Group on Con­sti­tu­tional Stud­ies. The lec­ture was given by Peter Ja­worski, an As­sis­tant Teach­ing Pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, who ex­plored the ques­tion of whether na­tions have an eth­i­cal obli­ga­tion to open bor­ders around the world.

Ja­worski be­gan with a per­sonal his­tory of his im­mi­gra­tion ex­pe­ri­ence. He was born in com­mu­nist Poland and be­came a refugee in West Ger­many at the age of six. In 1992, af­ter three years of liv­ing as a refugee, Ja­worski and his fam­ily im­mi­grated to Canada, and then again to the United States.

“In De­cem­ber of 2016 I be­came a per­ma­nent res­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica. So you can see that [...] I’ve been im­mi­grat­ing most of my life,” said Ja­worski. “This is why this issue mat­ters so much to me.”

Lib­erty, or the right to cur­tail it?

Ja­worski be­gan his ar­gu­ment by ex­plain­ing the pre­sump­tion of lib­erty, on which his later ar­gu­ments would be premised.

“We can just be­gin with the as­sump­tion that peo­ple have the right to do what­ever it is they want to do, and if you want to stop them [...] you have to give a good rea­son for why you have the right to stop them,” said Ja­worski. “If we ac­cept the pre­sump­tion of lib­erty then clearly bor­ders re­quire moral jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

“We live in a world of sov­er­eign states, in a world of bor­ders,” he said. “So you might be­gin this dis­cus­sion [...] with a dif­fer­ent as­sump­tion, namely, the right to en­force bor­ders.”

“It’s still true that some rules are morally jus­ti­fied and some are not. [...] Hav­ing a right to do things like en­force bor­ders doesn’t mean that any en­force­ment of bor­ders is morally right­ful.” Ja­worski con­tin­ued, claim­ing, “We over­es­ti­mate the weight of the rea­sons that we think we have for hav­ing bor­ders.”

Why keep peo­ple out?

Ja­worski then out­lined four com­mon ar­gu­ments given for en­forc­ing na­tional bor­ders: cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, anx­i­ety over job avail­abil­ity, fear of crime, and so­cial in­sur­ance.

Ja­worski pointed out that xeno­pho­bic fears around, on the one hand, job avail­abil­ity, and on the other, crime and so­cial in­sur­ance ac­tu­ally con­tra­dict one an­other. If immigrants are in fact ‘steal­ing jobs,’ they must be earn­ing wages, which would pre­clude the ne­ces­sity of sup­port­ing them­selves through wel­fare or crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

Where should bor­ders be?

Ja­worski con­tin­ued by tak­ing the above ar­gu­ments made in fa­vor of strong na­tional bor­ders to their log­i­cal con­clu­sion: “If cul­ture, jobs, crime, and so­cial in­sur­ance are really good rea­sons to have bor­ders, then they should de­ter­mine where we put those bor­ders.”

Dis­play­ing a map which broke North Amer­ica down into cul­tural re­gions in­stead of coun­tries and states, he pointed to the hypocrisy of us­ing cul­tural dif­fer­ences as an ex­cuse for bor­der se­cu­rity.

“This is an at­tempt to iden­tify groups of peo­ple who share sim­i­lar cul­tural out­looks,” he ex­plained. “No­tice that the cul­tural sim­i­lar­i­ties don’t neatly fol­low where the bor­ders ac­tu­ally are. In fact, where we have bor­ders now sep­a­rates sim­i­lar cul­tural groups.

“If cul­ture really mat­tered that much to us,” con­cluded Ja­worski, “then there should be move­ments for peo­ple to set up bor­ders along cul­tural lines.”

Who gets to stay?

Ja­worski con­tin­ued with an­other log­i­cal as­ser­tion fol­low­ing from the ini­tial ar­gu­ments that he was try­ing to break down: “If cul­ture, crime, jobs and so­cial in­sur­ance are good rea­sons to keep peo­ple out then they should be just as good rea­sons to kick cer­tain of us in­sid­ers out.”

Yet Canada, he pointed out, has not pro­posed a cit­i­zen de­por­ta­tion plan for those in­di­vid­u­als who com­mit crimes or take dis­pro­por­tion­ate ad­van­tage of wel­fare. Sim­i­larly, some Cana­di­ans hold re­li­gious be­liefs that are at odds with other fel­low cit­i­zens and this has yet to in­spire a move­ment to re­de­fine bor­ders.

“Why not get right at the heart of the prob­lem and de­cide to limit free­dom of re­li­gion?” he asked rhetor­i­cally, im­ply­ing that, should anx­i­ety around a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gious group be taken to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion, this would be an­ti­thet­i­cal to our so­ci­ety’s nom­i­nal com­mit­ment to the fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights of speech and be­lief.

Con­cern­ing the fear that immigrants would flood the work­force, Ja­worski ar­gued that this was non­sen­si­cal.

“There are two ways to in­crease the size of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion,” he said. “The first is to im­port peo­ple into Canada. The sec­ond way is to [...] make new Cana­di­ans. It turns out that here in this coun­try just any­body can have a baby. [...] You don’t need a li­cense, you don’t need to fill out any pa­per­work. It doesn’t mat­ter what your so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus is.”

“For­eign­ers come and they take our jobs and that’s [...] a rea­son to keep them out,” Ja­worski con­tin­ued. “Some Cana­di­ans have ba­bies and what hap­pens when those ba­bies grow up? They take our jobs.”

He used a sim­i­lar ar­gu­ment to con­tend that the drain­ing of so­cial in­sur­ance is not a valid rea­son to en­force na­tional bor­ders.

“If you want to know about net-tax con­sumers,” Ja­worski told his au­di­ence, “con­sider ba­bies. They are com­pletely un­pro­duc­tive. [...] But that’s [con­sid­ered] OK be­cause we talk about that like it’s an in­vest­ment.”

Old ha­tred, new tar­get

Ja­worski ref­er­enced an­other pop­u­lar ra­tio­nal­iza­tion for an­ti­im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment: the no­tion that the threat from abroad has never been so large as it sup­pos­edly is to­day. Af­ter dis­play­ing a num­ber of po­lit­i­cal car­toons from dif­fer­ent mo­ments in the his­tory of the U.S. and Canada, he drew the au­di­ence’s at­ten­tion to the sim­i­lar lan­guage of ha­tred that has been di­rected at so many dif­fer­ent groups through the years.

Af­ter quot­ing speeches by var­i­ous politi­cians vil­i­fy­ing immigrants and eth­nic mi­nori­ties over the cen­turies, Ja­worski fin­ished his lec­ture by con­nect­ing this pa­rade of his­tor­i­cal fear tac­tics with a ref­er­ence to the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. Show­ing a pic­ture of a bowl of Skit­tles, he ref­er­enced a now-in­fa­mous tweet by Don­ald Trump Jr., son of the cur­rent U.S. Pres­i­dent, which likened Syr­ian refugees to the candy in a de­hu­man­iz­ing and wildly in­nacu­rate at­tempt to por­tray them as a po­ten­tial men­ace to Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

Scare­mon­ger­ing rhetoric around immigrants and refugees from the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions, Ja­worski ar­gued, is sim­ply the lat­est form of un­founded and il­log­i­cal big­otry which we have been di­rect­ing at for­eign­ers for cen­turies, as a way to jus­tify re­stric­tive bor­der se­cu­rity.

In con­clu­sion, Ja­worski ex­plained that while he ac­cepts the ex­is­tence of bor­ders for ad­min­is­tra­tive pur­poses, he firmly be­lieves that all bor­ders should be open, and that peo­ple should be able to live wher­ever they choose.

“We over­es­ti­mate the weight of the rea­sons that we think we have for hav­ing bor­ders.” –Peter Ja­worski As­sis­tant Teach­ing Pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity

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