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The Morality of Immigration Policy, 45 San Diego Law Review 865 (2008)


What does morality dictate with respect to U.S. immigration policy? How strong is the case for making instrumental considerations, specifically national economic self-interest, even more important in immigration policymaking than such considerations are now? What would such a policy look like? Which competing values would such a policy compromise or undermine?

These are the main questions that I tackle in this Article. In doing so, I present the two standard types of moral arguments: deontological and instrumental-consequentialist. I devote the bulk of my analysis to the latter, however, because I find that the former has comparatively little power to resolve debates over immigration; deontological analysis does not lead us in any particular policy direction. It may call our attention to some of the competing values that immigration implicates, but it provides little or no guidance as to what these values mean on the contested ground of immigration policy debates, much less about how we should trade them off against one another. To be sure, empirical evidence about the actual consequences of our current and alternative immigration regime have their own deep indeterminacies, which I shall discuss in some detail below. But this evidence can at least enlighten us about the terms of trade among the competing consequences and values and can thereby help to narrow somewhat the remaining areas of dispute.

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