Most of Kukathas’ examples come from European immigration policy. But many of the same issues arise in the United States. Just last year, for example, the Obama administration decided to perpetuate racial profiling in the enforcement of immigration law. The most liberal administration in recent memory – headed by the first African-American president – decided to continue a policy of large-scale racial discrimination because Department of Homeland Security officials insisted that there was no way to enforce US immigration restrictions without it.
This should be objectionable to left-wing critics of racial discrimination in law enforcement. But it should be equally troubling to conservative advocates of “color-blind” government. If we truly believe, as Chief Justice John Roberts puts it, that “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” we cannot allow a giant exception to this principle when it comes to immigration law enforcement.
Mandatory e-verify – a popular proposal for preventing employers from hiring illegal immigrants – is a serious danger to the freedom of natives, as well. Similarly, efforts at mass deportation of illegal immigrants – such as that proposed by Donald Trump – inevitably inflict extensive civil liberties violations on natives.
Some advocates of immigration restriction fear that unchecked immigration might itself be a threat to the freedom of current American and European citizens. I have argued that such concerns are usually overblown and, even where valid, can often be addressed by means less draconian than consigning would-be immigrants to lives of poverty and oppression in the Third World.
But, at the very least, the potential threat posed by immigrants should be weighed against the severe restrictions on natives’ liberty created by immigration restrictions. I don’t deny that there might be extreme cases where forbidding immigration by some groups is the only way to prevent even greater evils. But before we advocate immigration restrictions as a tool for protecting freedom, we should carefully consider the risk that the cure will exacerbate the disease.
UPDATE: I initially neglected to include a link to Kukathas’ article. I apologize for the omission, which has now been corrected.