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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 26, 2016

Wrongs, Rights and Regularization

  • Linda Bosniak EMAIL logo


In this paper, I examine arguments commonly made by both theorists and advocates on behalf of regularization of unauthorized immigrants in liberal democratic states. Most such arguments begin with the premise that the irregular immigrant has committed at least a pro tanto wrong against the state, but they then go on to maintain that this wrong should be regarded as overridden in some circumstances. I identify here both the initial premise of wrongdoing and several versions of the claim for its override. More broadly, I consider why the idea of immigrant wrongdoing is so central in these debates. Briefly put, the idea captures the normative force of the border once interiorized. The very existence of irregular migrants presupposes both exclusionary border rules and their incompleteness or failure. The wrongdoing frame becomes the default organizing response to this failure. Disputes over the meaning, significance, management and possible defeasement of immigrant wrongfulness demonstrate the enduring difficulties involved in accommodating states’ constitutive border norms with the more inclusionary norms prevailing within.


I benefitted from perceptive comments at various points from Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Peter Spiro, Itamar Mann, Sherraly Munson, Leti Volpp, Emily Ryo, Joseph Carens, Annie Stilz, Michael Goodhart, Joan Cocks, Matt Whit, Amalia Pallares, Hiroshi Motomura, Philip Cook, and participants in panels at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (2014) and Association for Political Theory Conference (2014), where earlier drafts were presented. Thanks also to MOPP’s editors and reviewers for helpful suggestions.


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Published Online: 2016-10-26
Published in Print: 2016-11-1

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