Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Moral Philosophy and Politics

Editor-in-Chief: Schefczyk, Michael

Managing Editor: Schmidt-Petri, Christoph

Ed. by Meyer, Lukas Heinrich / Peacock, Mark / Schaber, Peter

CiteScore 2018: 0.41

Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.565

See all formats and pricing
More options …

Wrongs, Rights and Regularization

Linda Bosniak
Published Online: 2016-10-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mopp-2016-0036


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.

Keywords: irregular migration; rights; justification; override


  • Amighetti, S. and Nuti, A. (2016). ‘A Nation’s Right to Exclude and the Colonies’, Political Theory 44 (4): 541–566.Google Scholar

  • Anderson, B. (2013). Us and Them: the Dangerous Politics of Immigration Controls (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

  • Bauböck, R. (2008). ‘Stakeholder Citizenship: An Idea Whose Time Has Come’, Migration Policy Institute Reports (April 2008).

  • Benhabib, S. (2012). ‘The Morality of Migration’, New York Times, 29th July, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/stone-immigration/ (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Berman, M. N. (2003). ‘Justification and Excuse, Law and Morality’, Duke Law Journal 53 (1): 1–77.Google Scholar

  • Blake, M. (2013). ‘Immigration, Jurisdiction, and Exclusion’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 41 (2): 103–130.Google Scholar

  • Bosniak, L. (2006). The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar

  • Bosniak, L. (2007). ‘Being Here: Ethical Territoriality and the Rights of Noncitizens’, Theoretical Inquiries in Law 8 (2): 389–410.Google Scholar

  • Bosniak, L. (2010). ‘Response’, in J. Carens (ed.). Immigrants and the Right To Stay (Cambridge: MIT Press), pp. 81–92.Google Scholar

  • Bosniak, L. (2012). ‘Arguing For Amnesty’, Journal of Law, Culture and the Humanities 9 (3): 432–442.Google Scholar

  • Bosniak, L. (2013). ‘Amnesty In Immigration: Forgetting, Forgiving, Freedom’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 16 (3): 344–365.Google Scholar

  • Bosniak, L. (2015). Book Review: Joseph Carens, The Ethics of Immigration (Oxford University Press, 2013), Ethics 125 (2): 571–576.Crossref

  • Bosniak, L. (2017, forthcoming). Review Essay: ‘Contextualist Immigration Justice,’ discussing David Miller, Strangers In Our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration (Harvard University Press, 2016), Ethics and International Affairs 31.

  • Bosniak, L. (2016). Draft on File with the Author. ‘Unapologetic’.

  • Buchanan, A. (2003). ‘The Making and Unmaking of Boundaries: What Liberalism Has to Say’, in A. Buchanan and M. Moore (eds.). States, Nations and Borders: The Ethics of Making Boundaries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 1–16.Google Scholar

  • Carens, J. (2010). Immigrants and the Right to Stay (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).Google Scholar

  • Carens, J. (2013). The Ethics of Immigration (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

  • Cohen, G. A. (2003). ‘Who Can and Can’t Blame the Terrorists?’ Columbia Law School, http://c250.columbia.edu/constitutions (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Cole, P. (2016). ‘Beyond Borders: Toward an International Right to International Movement’. The Critique, 6th January, http://www.thecritique.com/articles/beyond-borders-towards-a-right-to-international-movement-2/ (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Cornell, N. (2015). ‘Wrongs, Rights and Third Parties’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 43 (2): 109–143.Google Scholar

  • De Genova, N. (2013). ‘Spectacles of Migrant “Illegality”: The Scene of Exclusion, the Obscene of Inclusion’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 36 (7): 1180–1198.Google Scholar

  • Epstein, R. A. (1986). ‘Past and Future: The Temporal Dimension in the Law of Property’, Washington University Law Quarterly 64 (3): 667–722.Google Scholar

  • Espindola, J. and Vaca M. (2014). ‘The Problem of Historical Rectification for Rawlsian Theory’, Res Publica 20 (3): 227–243.Google Scholar

  • Feere, J. (2013). ‘The Myth of the “Otherwise Law-Abiding” Illegal Alien’, Backgrounder, Center For Immigration Studies, October 2013, http://cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/feere-illegal-myths.pdf (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Foer, F. (2014). ‘Let The Border Kids Stay: We Owe Them, After All’, The New Republic, 12th August, https://newrepublic.com/article/119021/border-crisis-let-child-migrants-central-america-stay (accessed on 23rd August 2016).

  • Freeman, R. (2007). ‘Back To the Future: The Historical Dimension of Liberal Justice’, in M. du Plessis and P. Stephen (eds.). Repairing the Past? International Perspectives on Reparations for Gross Human Rights Abuses (Oxford: Intersentia), pp. 29–51.Google Scholar

  • Fung, A. (2013). ‘The Principle of Affected Interests and Inclusion in Democratic Governance’, in J. Nagel and R. Smith (eds.). Representation: Elections and Beyond (Philadelphia: University Pennsylvania Press, pp. 236–268.Google Scholar

  • Gardner, J. (2013). Offenses and Defenses: Selected Essays in the Philosophy of Criminal Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

  • Gur-Arye, M. (2011). ‘Justifying the Distinction between Justifications and Excuses’, Journal of Criminal Law and Philosophy 5: 293–313.Google Scholar

  • Hohfeld, W. (1919). Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).Google Scholar

  • Kanstroom, D. (2012). Aftermath: Deportation Law and the New American Diaspora (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

  • Katz, L. (2010). ‘The Moral Paradox of Adverse Possession: Sovereignty and Revolution in Property Law’, McGill Law Journal 55: 47–80.Google Scholar

  • Kukathas, C. (2016). ‘Are Refugees Special?’, in S. Fine and L. Ypi (eds.). Migration in Political Theory: The Ethics of Movement and Membership (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 249–268.Google Scholar

  • Meisels, T. (2003). ‘Can Corrective Justice Ground Claims of Territory?’ Journal of Political Philosophy: 11 (1): 65–88.Google Scholar

  • Miller, D. (2007). National Responsibility and Global Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

  • Miller, D. (2015). ‘Justice in Immigration’, European Journal of Political Theory 14 (4): 391–408.Google Scholar

  • Miller. D. (2016). Strangers in Our Midst (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).Google Scholar

  • Motomura, H. (2014). Immigration Outside the Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

  • Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, State and Utopia (New York: Basic Books).Google Scholar

  • Nyers, P. and Rygiel K. (eds.) (2012). Citizenship, Migrant Agency and the Politics of Movement (London: Routledge).Google Scholar

  • O’Keefe, E. (2014). ‘Jeb Bush: Many Illegal Immigrants Come Out of an Act of Love’ Washington Post, 6th April, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2014/04/06/jeb-bush-many-illegal-immigrants-come-out-of-an-act-of-love/ (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Pevnick, R. (2011). Immigration and the Constraints of Justice: Between Open Borders and Absolute Sovereignty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar

  • Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press).Google Scholar

  • Rawls, J. (1996). Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press).Google Scholar

  • Raz, J. (1999). Practical Reason and Norms, 3rd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar

  • Rosenbloom, R. E. (2011). ‘Remedies For the Wrongfully Deported: Territoriality, Finality and the Significance of Departure’, Hawa’ii Law Review 33: 139–192.Google Scholar

  • Shklar, Judith N. (1992). The Faces of Injustice (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).Google Scholar

  • Smith, R. M. (2010). ‘Constitutional Democracies, Coercion and Obligations To Include’, in J. K. Tulis and S. Macedo (eds.). The Limits of Constitutional Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 280–296.Google Scholar

  • Smith, R. M. (2011). ‘Living in a Promiseland?: Mexican Immigration and American Obligations’, Perspectives on Politics 9 (3): 545–558, 0(quoting Smith, in Tulis and Macedo 2010).Google Scholar

  • Smith, R. (2012). ‘National Obligations and Noncitizens: Special Rights, Human Rights and Immigration’, 28th September, DRAFT: New School, Conference.

  • Souter, J. (2014). ‘Towards a Theory of Asylum as Reparation for Past Injustice’, Political Studies 62 (2): 326–342.Google Scholar

  • Stilz, A. (2013). ‘Occupancy Rights and the Wrong of Removal’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 41 (4): 324–356.Google Scholar

  • Stolzenberg, N. M. (2010). ‘Facts on the Ground’, in E. Penalver and G. Alexander (eds.). Property and Community (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 107–140.Google Scholar

  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2003). A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States, Strangers No Longer Together on the Journey of Hope, Issued by USCCB, 22nd January, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/strangers-no-longer-together-on-the-journey-of-hope.cfm (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Waldron, J. (1992). ‘Superseding Historic Injustice’, Ethics 103 (1): 4–28.Google Scholar

  • Waldron, J. (2003). ‘The Supersession Thesis: The Process and Legacy of Settlement’, Minerva Institute of Human Rights, Conference on Israeli Settlements and Related Cases.

  • Waldron, J. (2006). ‘Supersession and Sovereignty’, New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, Paper 406, http://lsr.nellco.org/nyu_plltwp/406 (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Walzer, M. (1983). Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books).Google Scholar

  • Wellman, C. H. (2011). ‘Freedom of Association and the Right to Exclude’, in C. H. Wellman and P. Cole (eds.). Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude? (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 13–158.Google Scholar

  • Wenar, L. (2005). ‘The Nature of Rights’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (3): 223, 227.Google Scholar

  • Wenar, L. (2013). ‘John Rawls’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/rawls/ (accessed on 15th August 2016).

  • Young, I. (2011). Responsibility for Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2016-10-26

Published in Print: 2016-11-01

Citation Information: Moral Philosophy and Politics, Volume 3, Issue 2, Pages 187–222, ISSN (Online) 2194-5624, ISSN (Print) 2194-5616, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mopp-2016-0036.

Export Citation

©2016 by De Gruyter.Get Permission

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Linda Bosniak
Ethics & International Affairs, 2017, Volume 31, Number 01, Page 93

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in