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The Case for Restrictive Borders

John Rawls, Michael Walzer, Stephan Macedo

Well, maybe we should be more careful about our immigration policy. After all, immigration is complicated.


Completely open borders that allow anybody to enter a country can hurt the country’s very own people and justice. Although allowing global free trade may improve the wellbeing of the world’s poorest, the domestic wage inequality increases as low skilled workers’ wages decrease and higher-skilled workers’ wages increase (Friedman) The domestic worst-off and poorest class are put at a disadvantage because of a country’s open immigration policy. So, who do we care about: our country’s poorest or the world’s poorest? 

Copy of Black and White Community Helper
What now?

Isn’t it natural to care about your family and friends before a random foreigner from across the world? These undeniable relationships represent special obligations between one another. This is exactly where Rawls, Walzer, and Macedo come into play.


Rawls would say that the government has the duty to secure domestic justice and equality for the nation’s people first and foremost, and these principles of domestic justice should guide the national interest of a just state. Walzer agrees. The idea of distributive justice, which is essentially justice properly distributed among citizens, presupposes bounded nations that commit to serving their own people. They uphold that citizens have special obligations to each other that should shape immigration policy. So, in the appropriate circumstance with justified reasons, a nation could restrict immigration. 

Macedo brings an additional layer involving civic obligations. His rationale is: you and your fellow citizens need to follow your country’s laws and live under the influence of your country’s institution, giving rise to civic obligations. Because citizens are coerced by the same institutional and political structure, the government has the duty to respect the special civic ties among citizens first -- before accommodating foreigners.

But, that does not mean states solely focus on their citizens, and no other affairs. Macedo and Rawls propose that states still have moral obligations to the poor abroad. These moral obligations may entail a state’s fair share of assistance, a principle proposed by Appiah. States would provide their “fair share,” but not at the expense of their own citizens. Such duties owed to our fellow citizens are special and may take priority.

So, under what circumstances do you think it is justified to have restricted borders? Is Trump's Muslim Ban appropriate as a protective measure for the United States?

Keep thinking as you dive into our upcoming debate article!

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