Closed Borders: An Ethical Issue for Globalization

Updated on April 15, 2018
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This article reflects on ethical considerations of immigration policies in the Globalization Era.

Today’s immigration crisis is a product of the colonialist-era border system. The modern era is rapidly changing from the cookie cutter states to an interconnected network of states. Moreover, the current immigration policy is not a matter of ‘just changing our mindset’, when it comes to setting borders. There is an argument to be made about the ethics of these policies, which incriminate millions of immigrants for attempting move across the country borders. The current immigration policy assumes that people are a means to an end; that it is unethical to allow people to freely come and go as they choose. Proof of this rhetoric can be seen in the mega ICE detention centers which started to achieve political agendas—on both sides of the isle. This utilitarian rhetoric allows for great injustice within our border control and enforcement system. I argue that we must shift our rhetoric towards Kantian ethical system, which assumes that people are a means to themselves. I argue that as the world transitions to Globalization, governments must adopt immigration policies rooted in Kantian ethics in order to inherit the real fruits of Globalization. One policy that must be considered to achieve Globalization an open border system. An open border policy will give amnesty to all immigrants, and allow them to be transnational. Only through the adoption of Kantian ethics, can the real fruits of Globalization be realized.

An open border policy is consistent with the universally acknowledged principles of Globalization. In Kant’s Categorical imperative, one criterion of an ethical policy is the action in which it takes must pass a universal law test. A universal law test considers, “whether it could indeed take the form of a law, and consequently whether I could through my maxim at the same time give such a law as this: that everyone may deny a deposit which no one can prove has been made” (Rohlf 1). Kant argues that for the policy in question to be ethically permissible, the policy ought to be one that is in the interest of everyone, devoid of personal agenda. In the context of immigration, the policy should derive from ideas that are generally or universally accepted. In this post-colonial world, the ideas of Globalization are increasingly becoming a universally accepted standard for policy.

An open-door immigration policy is consistent with the universal movement towards a globalized world. Globalization is defined as, “the spatial reorganization of production, the interpenetration of industries across borders…the diffusion of identical consumers good to distant countries, massive transfers of population within the South to the East to the West” (Martinez and Dorraj 14). Proof of the emergence of Globalization is found in the increase of international trade. An article written for the CATO institute points out, “In the 1970s, daily foreign exchange transactions averaged $ 10 billion to $ 20 billion; [in 2000], the average daily activity reached more than $ 1.5 trillion” (Griswold 1). All around the world, organizations now reach across many borders. These organizations are nationless, and their identity is based off of the goals and actions of the global organization. As technology advances, organizations will have the means to reach the corners of the world faster than ever. The superpowers of the modern era will be based off their ability to be interconnected.

Globalization forces nations to transcend their borders, and drop their national identity to build a world that is interconnected. A U.N. press release regarding global migration cites, 232 million migrants are living abroad worldwide, which is an increase from 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990 (U.N. 1). This dramatic increase in migrants suggests that globalization is affecting the immigration. If America’s entire economy and political structure is actively changing to meet the transcending tides of globalization, our immigration policy ought to do the same. According to the U.N. press release, the U.S. gains one million new immigrants every year (1). America must accept that globalization is transforming from the homogenous American identity, to a multicultural one. In this regard, globalization prescribes an immigration policy that allows transnationalism. Transnationalism is, “the process by which immigrants build social fields that link together their country of origin and their country of settlement” (Martinez and Doraj 18). The ability to have people that have stake in both the United States and another country will give the United States greater ability to link the two countries together. The United Sates must adopt an immigration that welcomes immigrants from our global partners, and drop the colonial “sentiment of solidarity” (Martinez and Dorraj 16). Globalization prescribes for multiculturalism to become a universally accepted idea. I argue that by applying the ideas rooted in globalization, can we satisfy Kant’s categorical imperative criterion of passing the universal law test.

An open border policy is consistent from intrinsic human rights that are universally acknowledged by governments. In Immanuel Kant’s Categorical imperative, Kant argues that people do have intrinsic human rights and is a criterion of an ethically permissible policy. In 1948, the world came together to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document lays out universally accepted rights that humans have, based off of their humanity alone. This includes the freedom of movement. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the freedom of movement and residence within the state borders.” The statement is straightforward, and limits this right to the confines of “state borders.” However, I argue that the principle of free movement can be taken a step further to argue that the right to freely move extends beyond state lines. In the book, The Ethics of Immigration by Joseph Carens, Carens presents what he refers to as a “Cantilever” strategy. Carens argument attempts to use accepted arguments for the freedom to move within a state, to argue its expansion to freedom to move to any state. The idea being, that all of the arguments that support the right to internal movement within a state, can be applied to the argument that people should have the right migrate, or move, to any state they choose. For example, if a state a town is under an intense drought and people are dying; right now, they have the right to freely move to the next town. By that logic, say the entire country were experienced an intense drought; right now, people are not allowed to leave the state freely. The argument here is, that the same forces can cause one to leave their own state just as easily as they would leave their own town. As the world continues to become more interconnected, one can say that the possibilities of these forces crossing state lines is more likely. I argue that the principle of an intrinsic right to freely move has been acknowledged and thus, an open border policy is consistent with Kantian ethics.

Through Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, I argue that more countries should begin to adopt an open border immigration policy. The immigration crisis is a crisis of ethical dilemma. As the world’s climate changes from colonialism to Globalization, our rhetoric towards immigration ought to change as well.

Works Cited

Carens, J. H. (2013). The ethics of immigration. New York: Oxford University Press.

Griswold, D. (2000). The Blessings and Challenges of Globalization. Retrieved February 21, 2016, from

Rohlf, M. (2010). Immanuel Kant. Retrieved February 21, 2016, from

Martinez-Ebers, V., & Dorraj, M. (2010). Perspectives on race, ethnicity, and religion: Identity politics in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

United Nations, UN Press Release, 232 Million Migrants Living abroad Worldwide- New UN Global Migration Statistics Reveal,

© 2018 Richard Marinelli


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