"A Philosophical Look at Immigration" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Adam Hosein
3:31PM Apr 2, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russell Weinstein, host of why philosophical discussions but everyday life. On today's episode we'll be talking with Adam Hussein about the ethics of migration. It's hard to talk about migration without falling back on cliches, especially as an American. Our country is a nation of immigrants. It's a melting pot of shining light upon a hill, bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Let us pay homage to Ellis Island, San Francisco's Chinatown, the barrios New York Lower East Side. It's also romantic, except when it isn't. The old chestnuts can be negative to their steel in our job. their welfare queens, anchor babies, criminal drug dealers and rapists. Why don't they all speak English or better yet just go back where they came from. The immigrant experience of our high school textbooks may be filled with fairy tales. But today's newspapers and talk radio accounts are the stuff of nightmares. The truth, however, is much more complex. There are many problems with these descriptions. At minimum, they preclude philosophical thinking, cliches are shortcuts a confirmation of what we already believe they require no forethought and little intellectual engagement. No one has ever been persuaded by such banalities philosophy on the other hand requires that we're moved by subtlety and logic, principles and consequences. If we're going to examine the morality of migration, we have to sweat the small stuff, we have to do the detail work. Unfortunately, neither migrants nor their political advocates and opponents are moved by nuance. Immigrants do not usually relocate because their lives We'll be a little better. They tend to do so because they're running from war from famine, persecution and desperation. And the skeptics they run to. They're also moved by fear and concern for their own well being. Even if these critics are wrong about the dangers that migrants bring with them, and let me state for the record, I am confident that they are. These isolationists still approached the debate with an understandable focus on themselves. self interest is the American way. philosophers have to move the debate away from the false dichotomy and nudge everyone to reimagine the questions. What does self interest mean? And how alike do people have to be in order to share our values? Our citizens only bound to each other? Or do they have a cosmopolitan duty to attend to everyone simply because we're human? If previous generations opened their doors to us, are we obligated to open our doors to today's needy? Do we value individuals or families? What do we mean by political public Does a fluid population make our national identity stronger? Or more tenuous? These are the philosophical questions hidden within the migration debate. Let me take a very specific example. I know people who are part of a nationwide chain that posts about ice raids on social networks. When someone sees an agent on the street or witnesses a suspect being questioned, they post a warning that ice has been seen at this time at this place, and the message is telegraphed by countless others across the country. I've actually read tweets posted in North Dakota, exposing raids in Queens, New York. It's not the most efficient system, but it has allowed many migrants to remain undiscovered. And it's not just private citizens who do this. In 2018, Oakland, California Mayor Libby Schaaf announced to her city that an ice raid was imminent. She was afraid that mass arrests would tear her community apart. Are these social network warriors modern day Paul Revere Whose courage to be celebrated? Or are they co conspirators who undermine American rule of law? Can compassion ever be wrong? Those who seek to protect the migrants do so out of kindness after all, and none of this comes out of nowhere? The US has a long history of civil disobedience even if there are no established guidelines to tell us when interfering with the police is justifiable.
Are we compelled to assist the stranger in a strange land? And if so, how does this jibe with rendering unto Caesar that which is his in one form or another, we keep trying to determine when the needs of an individual outweigh those of the community when the communities takes precedent. And when the twos concerns are one in the same. Few conundrums are older than this. To put all of this another way. The debate about migration is really just a continuation of the great and perennial philosophical questions. It may feel like a special case because right now their families being torn apart at the Mexican border and There are unemployed workers in Pennsylvania whose jobs have been outsourced. We do need to fix these problems sooner rather than later there are lives at stake. But doing so doesn't involve pitting person against person or condemning entire populations to decades of misery. Instead, it requires that we look at our deepest moral commitments and ask not just what kind of society we want, but what kind of people we ought to be. to debate about migration exposes our moral selves, but our moral selves as always come first. what we think is right will dictate who and how we help. And now our guest, Adam Hussein is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Northeastern University is the author of the ethics of migration an introduction, Adam, welcome to why
Hey, how you doing jack? Good to be here.
If you'd like to comment on the show, you can find us on twitter instagram and facebook all at at wire radio show one word or email us at ask why at wire Radio show.org you can listen to All of our previous episodes for free and find information about our future shows at why Radio show.org. So, Adam, just to get us started, I just mentioned the crisis on the Mexican border. But I could have referred to Syrian refugees or the man leaving Vietnam or Jews escaping genocide or the Irish looking for food. I guess I want to start by asking, when we look at these waves of need, do they inspire different philosophical questions? Or are we really just asking the same ones over and over?
So this is a kind of complicated answer, but it's a mix. There are some pretty perennial questions. So in a world of nation states, where you have territorial jurisdictions where on the map you can draw red lines around different countries. There's this very abstract important question that philosophers have asked which is, can states limit who comes in and out of their territory, just in general. And then I don't want to say these have no historical precedents. But we've seen some trends in the late 20th century and into the current century, that that are that are somewhat new. So there's been especially a lot of changes and how borders are enforced. So we've seen increased use of detention and then going back to your monologue, you've got much more internal enforcement as people say, ice raids being the obvious example. And those do seem to raise some new questions there. We're asking not just can government's restrict to enters their territory, but but how can they do that and what kind of reasonable means or acceptable means of doing that?
Do you think that the, the borders that surround countries have I don't know, a natural expectation to be obeyed. What I mean by that is right. Politics history, accident, draw these borders. And yet once they're drawn, we're supposed to treat them as real. Is that inherent in the process? Or is that just something that you know? Well, if you don't want to agree that the border is there, you don't have to?
Well, that that's a pretty deep question.
There's a there are a lot of questions about, were there any particular territories that have been drawn in a reasonable way? And, you know, of course, there's a lot of historical injustice involved in how particular territories have been drawn. So that's one set of questions. But more generally, though, if you are going to have a nation state, you're gonna have a government that exercises jurisdiction over a particular group of people that's generally going to require that there be some kind of defined territory and So the argument that there should be there's at least some basic respect for borders that can be demanded, says, Well, if you're going to respect the general ability of a government to make decisions within its own territory, to exercise jurisdiction to be self governing, you have to respect their borders somewhat. That's the that's the kind of initial case. There. There's, there's kind of more to be said. But yeah.
So so the idea of borders has to do with self governance has to do with nations making decisions for themselves. That's a really interesting connection. Why What do borders give us that allow nations to say, we are going to make rules for ourselves, we are going to establish our own political norms what why our borders a part of that?
Well, so The basic argument says that there are just a number of there a number of different areas in which we think it's important for states to be able to make their own decisions. And that immigration might affect those what what the state is able to do in those areas. So one might be economic policy, you want states to be able to dictate what kind of steps they want to take with respect to the distribution of wealth within their country. So for example, where the to sustain a welfare state, you might think this is a little bit more controversial, but you might think that the state should have some role in regulating the culture within a place. And the argument is that immigration can affect both of those. I have a lot I mean, I have plenty of things to say about the degree to which immigration does affect those things and whether that's really an issue but that that just gives you have a sense of kind of where people are coming from who who think that states have some basic right to regulate their borders.
So So part of what you're saying, if I understand correctly is that when we talk about in the United States, Mexicans coming across the border and getting welfare, then what that's really connected to it part is the idea that in a nation's border, the government or the people or whomever get to decide who should get welfare, and by coming across the border, in theory, anyway, the Mexican migrant is saying, No, you don't get to decide who gets welfare, I get to decide that I get welfare, I'm going to cheat or lie and steal if you assume they're doing that, or I'm going to apply and ask permission. And so what you mean by that, is that all of the sort of debates that we've been having about it Is this a Christian country? or What does it mean to be American or who gets to go to public schools? This is about money, as we often think it is. And it is about culture, as we often think it is. But it's largely about self governance, and the borders establishing the ability to make decisions within the country rather than outside. Am I understanding that correctly?
That's right. So there are a number of ways in which people say this claim that immigration might affect the ability of a country the ability of a state to dictate its own economic affairs. And so one way might be what you said, the ability to determine who gets access to welfare, but there are more kind of general things. So people claim that immigration depresses wages. And so to that extent, might affect inequality. Some people will claim that it just makes it harder to sustain the welfare state in general if there's a greater draw on the welfare state. And so there's a good Some claims that people make. If you want to hear I have have some thoughts about how somebody might respond to those claims, I think. I mean, in some trivial sense, every time somebody enters a country, they affect what's going on in the country. But you need to know, to what extent does immigration really have a significant impact on what the state's able to do, for instance, in the area of economic policy? And then you also want to know, are there other steps that the state state can take that would counteract any potential effect of that kind? So take take the example of wages. So one issue is somebody says, Oh, you know, there should be limits on immigration, it's going to affect the wages of the least well off of the lowest skilled workers, and thus introduce inequality. So one thing that one question is, to what extent are those wages actually affected. And there's a bunch of debate about this among economists, I'm not an economist. But if you look at the literature, you can see that there are some folks who think there's like no effects. There's some who think there's some, but even among the people who think that there is some effect, the effect is relatively small. Now, but then somebody might say, well look, you know, sound small to you. But if you're at the very bottom end of the social ladder, you know, a small impact on your wages might be quite important. And then, so that leads the other issue I mentioned, which is, when we're thinking about immigration, we shouldn't I don't, one thing I tried to argue for is that we shouldn't just say, okay, should the state allow certain people to enter or not enter a really you have to think about immigration is just one piece of a broader set of policies. So, for example, suppose that the state has not only these immigration policies that may or may not affect wages, But also real efforts that are real kind of broader efforts to protect the the standard of living of people at the bottom end. And so if you have more immigration, it's even if it's true that it affects the wages of people at that, at that socio economic status, it's also true that's typically going to grow the economy, generally. And so you can use some of that money to compensate the people at the bottom. And so a lot of the discussion of immigration, I think, focuses a little bit too narrowly on just specific policies and their effects without seeing them as part of a kind of broader package.
I want to ask a question, before we get into sort of the detail work, and I'm still formulating in my head and I'll offer the caveat to our listeners that you are not a historian and I am not a historian. And so whatever answer we both come up with here may be pure speculation, but I'm thinking about the Roman Empire. I'm thinking about the English empire that asked Hungarian empire in for millennia, empires tried to get bigger. They tried to consume lands around them and get bigger and bigger and bigger. And they wanted to go out from where they were to pull people in. But now, when at least in theory, we're not struggling for empires, even post Soviet Union and things like that. Our question is people from the outside coming in. So I guess the question that I'm trying to get at is just off the top of your head. Do you think that the immigration issues that we see now are the consequence of no longer thinking in terms of empire and trying to stay within our borders, but there's always such a fluid political movement between people, if we're not going to expand out, then the world is going to come in It's either one or the other. Does that make any sense?
Uh, yeah, I, it's, I think it's a pretty complicated question. So obviously, a lot of the instances that you're talking about are are colonialism. So, right? I don't necessarily want to analogize admitting immigrants to, to that. But what so here, here's something that maybe complicates the picture that you just suggested. So when you talk about kind of going out or coming in there, there are lots of different ways in which modern nation states, especially in the global north are interacting with other countries. So one way in which they're kind of going out is through capital flows, investments in other countries. Another way is through trade. We have offshoring and outsourcing so when being where You actually go and build your own factory in Mexico or China or wherever it may be the other being that let's say there's some components to the goods you're making. And instead of buying those components from a US manufacturer, for instance, you buy them from a manufacturer in China. So there's a lot of kind of going out into the world into it as it were. that's separate from immigrations. So the question is just kind of be open to immigration or not. And that's the only way in which the country is going to interact with the outside. The question is, how is the immigration policy going to be part of this much broader set of of ways in which country is going to interact with the rest of the world? And then, of course, of course, I mean, I've been talking just about economic interactions, but anyone who's been watching the news can see that there's also lots of military interactions and so on. So the picture is kind of complicated.
So I mean, that's really interesting. So So when we talk about immigration, and migration, we tend to focus On the people, but the people are one component in this larger system in which there's investment and trade and also cultural interaction, you know, American musicians that are listened to all over the world, French language that is adopted here. Chinese cultural attitudes that might be picked up by tourists and then brought home, you know, everyone knows right the undergraduate who spends the semester abroad in Italy or what have you, and then comes back drinking espresso at three o'clock in the afternoon, right and bringing their Italian way of life this, this is all components of the larger question. And so are we being falsely reductivist to focus on immigration as people or Is this just what you have to do to analyze the question? And when we focus on people, it's because we're focusing on lives, we're focusing on folks who are actually coming across borders and looking for jobs and things like that, whether it's a PhD at a university or someone working for a different kind of job. Can we talk about immigration analytically in isolation? Or do we always have to have these other touchstones that remind us that it's part of the system?
Yeah, my my view is definitely that you should not just view immigration in isolation. So you're talking about some cultural examples. That's an important issue, you know, in the United States, obviously, is often exporting culture through for example, hollywood movies. And then so if you're asking, you know, should the united states allow somebody to enter from France or wherever it may be or from the global south who maybe is going to bring some cultural products United States, I think you have to see that Within this broader context where the United States is generally exporting culture,
and then to go back to the economic issue.
Um, so the question isn't just should some worker in Mexico be allowed to come work in California or whatever the question is, shouldn't be allowed to come work in California, where the alternative is that they may still actually be working either directly for an American firm or working for a Mexican firm that is closely tied to supplying some American firm. So and then there may be some trade offs, you know, might be that, for example, if they're allowed to enter the country, they would have more rights than if they were to remain on the other side of the border, but still be essentially working for the United States consumer.
So I think you always have to bring in that broader picture.
I'm wondering, to what extent is this Question of rights. To what extent is this a question of since borders are in some sense, artificial? What we're doing is interfering with the natural movements that people would be allowed to have? If right to use political philosophers language we were in a state of nature or or if there were, you know, open borders everywhere. So actually, let me hold off that question until we take a break. And when we get back, I want to ask you about a right space theory of immigration. And then we'll talk about more detailed policy questions like amnesty and travel bans and the dreamers and all of those sorts of things. But for now, you're listening to Adam Hussain and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussion but everyday life We'll be back right after this.
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You're back with why philosophical discussions in everyday life from your host jack Russell, once again, we're talking with Adam Hussein, about immigration and the ethics of migration and all of the related issues. And long term listeners knew I grew up in New York City. I've been in North Dakota now for almost 20 years. Since my 19th year, and when I was in about third or fourth grade, I started taking jujitsu lessons. And because it was New York City, the jujitsu lessons were in the basement of a Buddhist temple. The was beautiful building and the first floor had all sorts of gorgeous artwork and things like that. And then you'd go into the basement and it was a gym. And there were these lessons and the lessons were taught largely by people of Japanese origin, as far as I know, but But certainly, the staff was all Asian and the people who were taking the lessons were of a variety of different races and ethnicities. My daughter started taking Taekwondo when she was about four or five, and she took it at a strip mall, and she took him to a strip mall in North Dakota, and she was taught by a very, very talented teacher, but he was a white guy from North Dakota, and he was part of the American Taekwondo association which is a nationwide organization that teaches how to teach and all this kind of stuff. And there were competitions and and i will say for the record that he was one of the best teachers I've ever seen, especially with little kids. But I'm often wondered about the question of authenticity. I've often wondered, was my experience better? Because I learned Jiu Jitsu from Buddhists, presumably who were associated with this temple who were of a particular national origin. But they weren't the best teachers. But I did get a sense of jujitsu as a cultural practice, or was my daughter's experience better because she had an outstanding teacher. She stayed in martial arts a lot longer than I did and ended up getting a black belt. Then I stopped at the green belt. And yet it was some white guy from North Dakota in a strip mall when we talk about immigration to To what extent to things like diversity and cultural authenticity? And people being able to choose their own ways of life? How much do those things factor into the discussion? How much is migration about someone from a particular ethnic or religious or national background? Having the right to live the way they wanted to live, let's say, around people who are similar to them or in the old country or bring their traditions to their children? How much does that stuff factor in?
And so there are a few things they're going back to kind of the first story you told. So there's this issue about what people say like I want to remain true to the authentic culture of my people or my come my country. And so that's often kind of a reason given to restrict immigration. People say, Oh, you know, it's gonna kind of like do violence to the culture of our array. ancestors for something like that. And they have a certain kind of national story where they say, you know, this is this is where how our people started. And you know, this is where we've been, and this is what we're doing now. And they kind of draw some straight line. And the truth is that those stories are usually often kind of made up there. They involve various historical fabrications and distortions. you've ever seen Conor McGregor? Had the mixed martial artists. He's an Irish guy. I think I have Yes. I'm not a big mixed martial artists person. But I just came to mind since you mentioned martial arts. So I see him on TV or whatever, occasionally. And, and he often says, you know, I'm Irish, and he tells the story about how Ireland is this Celtic culture that's this kind of like, unbroken culture from the early Celts right through to now. And that's just a very, very distorted picture doesn't mean it's a picture of how people have but it's a very A distorted picture of Irish history. So you've got Roman influences, you've got Viking influences. You've got Anglo Saxon influences all the way through. And then now you've got, you know, Nigerian influences and so on. And so if someone was to say, Oh, I don't want these Nigerian influences because there's this unbroken Celtic culture, they would be, you know, they'd be really distorting the truth, right. And that's just kind of one example. But it's an illustration of a much more general issue. In the United States, of course, there's also a narrative about the country being a white all the way through from the beginning, with a certain conception of whiteness as being maybe Anglo Saxon, although, of course, the boundaries of whiteness have fluctuated substantially over time, for example, Irish people often weren't considered white, and now they certainly are. So I think we often need to be kind of skeptical when people say, Oh, this is the authentic culture of My people
you know, what are they really? What are they really drawing on?
I can't help but think of a few years back I there was a university might have been the University of Oklahoma when I was teaching there for a little bit. They had a beautiful food court where all the students would have lunch and dinner and they would have different you know, stands where you could buy Greek food and Italian food and whatever. And the students complained because they said the Chinese food wasn't authentic, and they wanted real homeland and this is very specific General Tso's chicken. Well, the thing about that is the general tso's chicken is an American dish invented by a chef in America. There's a wonderful documentary called, I think, searching for general so and it's about how general TSO is the quintessential American food because every little town has a Chinese restaurant with their own version of General Tso's Chicken invented by the person who owns the restaurant. So this idea of what's authentic and what's not, you're right. It's this mishmash and a fairy tale and all this at the same time. Right? If you are a member of a religious group, you need other people in those religious group in that religious group to practice some, some religions, like Judaism have a minimal prayer group. Other people just want to create a mosque or a church or some sort of Temple. Even if we put aside the question of authenticity. Two people have I don't want to call it a right yet because we'll get to that in a second. But do people have a justifiable expectation to be around people like themselves, right is what can one make the argument that immigration has to be permitted? Because one person in isolation can't preserve The practices that they need other people for, or is that, again, just sort of arbitrary and personal preference.
So there are a lot of different ways in which somebody else might be different to me or similar to me, including, culturally, in some sense, similar to me are different to me. They might like the same food that I like, they might enjoy the same music, they might share the same religion, they might
have some values in common with me.
And our question, though, is about what states can do, ultimately, right. And there, so there's, there's the culture and just some very general sense that includes all those things. And then there's the kind of culture that states are allowed to focus on. So there is clearly some things that are out if a state says Oh, the culture of the United States is the culture of white folks. That's out, right. And so which things are in which things are out a religion, that's something that we've generally said is not the proper purview of the state. Establishment Clause The United States is basically a statement of, of, of a resistance to Erlang the state with any particular religion something's seem more acceptable it does seem okay for the state to take a stand on some basic values for the state to say, you know, we share a commitment to freedom of speech or to
equality, at least some kind of some kind of equality.
So, then when you turn to issues of immigration, if you once you start kind of narrowing, the scope of which which things are allowed to count as cultural elements that the state is allowed to try to protect, then you start having to ask, Well, you know, to what extent did the immigrants really not share the culture defined in that way? So even if they don't have the same religion as the majority in the country, they still might share those basic values of freedom and equality. So we need to be very careful when someone says, Oh, are you know, aren't we allowed to just select people who are like us? You said, well, like us In what way? Do you mean, the same racist you that's not going to be allowed? Give me the same religious view, that's also problematic, do you mean that they share some basic values with you? While they may well do that so. And even if there are some differences there, it might well be that once someone's admitted they might come to share those appreciate those values more. So that's kind of how I would try to approach that question.
So that's really interesting. So So part of what you're saying is that I tend to be talking about personal experience and personal choice. But really these are public policy questions. And these are state level questions where the state makes laws and regulations and cultivates some things and resists other things. And so that leads them to things like the travel ban, right? Trump's travel ban where he claims that he is doesn't want people coming from certain rogue states or dangerous states. But as the Disco's showed he was really resisting certain Muslim states and blah, blah, blah. The moment the government does that, then there's going to be pushed back. To what extent are things like travel bans and Brut refusal to engage with certain countries trees? To what extent are those justifiable out of the self interest? whether real or perceived? And to what extent are those shutting off the conversation on immigration and refusing to engage in the real issues? that that that we need to talk about? To put the question another way? I feel like unilateral decisions from the government don't allow the kind of nuanced conversation that we are having. Am I right in perceiving that or is just a unilateral decision, our position on the debate, and we have to persuade them otherwise?
Yeah. So as you say, the justification in the travel ban was to do with security. And security is a sensitive area where the state does have sometimes some legitimate claim that it has access to information that the rest of us Don't have and perhaps shouldn't have access to a, there are such things as classified materials that need to remain classified. And so the argument was for the travel ban was,
we've looked into this. We the Trump administration, and we know that there's a real security risk from these countries, the precise countries kind of varied between the different versions of the ban. And so you have to kind of trust us on that. And so the question is, what are the limits of that trust? Now, the Roberts Court, basically was very willing to defer to the executive. The Roberts Court basically said, Look, as long as they're not outright just singling out folks purely on the basis of their religion, outright, meaning that the law actually says we're just picking it picking you out because of your religion. We'll just assume that this really does have The security justification that the executive says that has, but that is just a very, very minimal effort to
put some check on.
The executives ability to
claim a justification that isn't the real one. So one thing to notice is that there's some relevant history here. So if you go back to Japanese and turn in tournament in this country, we know that the executive there claimed a security justification that it didn't really have. the intelligence community said, you know, Japanese Americans just aren't a real security risk. But the executive claimed that they were and tried to lean on various people to provide unsupported evidence that they that they were a risk We know all that now and the Supreme Court back then deferred to the executive and did so mistakenly. And I think so, I think did so mistakenly here too, because as you said, there was just so much evidence in the lead up to the travel ban, that what Trump really was concerned with was not security. But just hostility to Muslims. So, you know, if you think back to what he said as a candidate in January 2016, he said, Islam hates us. We can't allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.
one of his aides said, quote, when Donald Trump first announced that he said Muslim ban, he called me up, he said, put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally, and quote, so you put all that together. And even though some deference to the executive might be due in the area of security, this just seemed Like a case where it's just not plausible to think that the administration was just concerned for the security as opposed to vilification of Muslims.
And this is continuing in a much more subtle form. I'm sure you've seen on the news, I'm not sure if all of our listeners have but since the the bombing of the general Iranian general in Iraq, there have been reports, especially in the Washington, the state of Washington area, at airports, Iranians and Iranian Americans being held at customs being asked about their their attitudes about Iran and our bombing of Iran, or Iraq and all this sort of stuff. And there's been already an outcry amongst particularly Iranian Americans who say, we are being treated unfairly. Because of our ethnicity. We are Americans, we deserve the same right to entry as everyone else. This feels like The same sort of thing or be it more of a nuisance than a ban and more of a, a limited timeframe. But if someone, if you're coming into your home country and someone says to you, I am going to investigate as to whether or not you are loyal. That's a way of communicating to someone, that they're not really an American. Right?
Absolutely. Um, so the first thing to notice about that case is, as you said that, unlike the travel ban, it's dealing with people who are united states citizens. One aspect of the travel ban was the travel ban case was Justice Roberts saying, you know, these folks are immigrants they don't, including people who don't have any visa to come to United States. So it's really not that big a deal if they get excluded. Now, as you said, these investigations of Iranian Americans are not saying that they can't enter the country full stop, but you know, that they're having to maybe submit to various kinds of investigate But I completely agree with you that the real problem with that is that it sends a certain kind of message. It basically says to someone who is the United States citizen, look, you, in virtue of your family history are kind of considered suspicious. You're not on the same plane as other Americans. And so it expresses the message that they're second class citizens. And that has real, although, you know, little extra time in the airport might not seem like a big deal. Living in a country where you're entitled to have a political voice, or you're entitled to be an equal participant in public life. But having to do that under the cloud of suspicion is a serious harm. I think that's a real injustice. It might. It might kill you, in the sense that you you you avoid political participation, you avoid interacting with the government because you think, gosh, if they really think I'm that suspicious, what might happen to me or it might mean that even if you do interact with the government There's just something wrong about having to do that. Under that cloud of suspicion that just seems inherently morally problematic.
And, and two things come to mind. One, which is a little less within the parameters of this discussion, which is, a few weeks ago, the Trump administration claimed, signed an executive order claiming to protect folks on campus on campuses from anti semitism, but in doing so they called being Jewish and national identity, which is a way of claiming that Jews aren't really Americans and blah, blah, blah, blah, want to put that aside, all of that is an important conversation. But it also makes me think of the dreamers it makes me think of the younger generation who came to America and have lived as Americans and perceived themselves as Americans, with the promise of becoming Americans. And now that promises being withheld. Can you talk a little bit about the dreamers Talk a little bit about why this is such an important test case for immigration policy and what it means in terms of the larger conversation.
Yeah, so there are a number of arguments for the DREAM Act. And I think they're all kind of plausible, although I have some that I favor more.
Would you describe to everyone just sort of the background and what the DREAM Act specifically says so that everyone is on the same page?
Yeah, um, you know, I'm gonna forget the details of exactly how many
It's not a test.
The basic ideas that if you were brought to the United States at a young age, you and now you're 18, or whatever it may be, you've been in the United States for significant period of time of your kind of upbringing.
the United States is going to give you the legal right to remain in the country, it's going to shield you from deportation, basically. And so why? Um, well, one thing that makes the DREAM Act especially
is that so you're dealing with folks who, as I said, can't the United States really were brought to the United States at a young age? So any argument that somebody might make that, well, you know, you shouldn't be rewarding wrongdoing just isn't going to fly here, because you're talking about folks who made no decision to enter the country. The other part of it is more positive terms. There's a pretty good case for thinking that someone who has been in the country for that long especially in their formative years, has a right to stay here. One argument for that is just that It's just really, really painful to have to leave a place that you are so closely connected to. You speak English possibly as your as your first language or at any rate, you've learned a lot had a lot of your education in English. You're friends are here, your social network is here. This is the country that you know, and so to be deported to a place that's totally unfamiliar to you. It's just a significant harm to you. That's one important argument. Another argument is related to what you said, which is just, hey, look, these folks are Americans. And, you know, they're part of American culture. They've been in the schools with everybody else. They go to the same parks and churches and everything as everybody else. So they should be treated as Americans and that includes giving them the right to stay here. Um, There's some force to that argument. I personally have some worries about it, because I just I don't like the idea that the rights you get are in any sense based on whether you're an American or whether you're sufficiently involved in a society. So I think there's also a third argument, which is just, you know, one value that we care about in the United States is the value of, of liberty. You think it's very important that you be able to make plans for yourself and do so without significant interference from the government. That's what it is to lead a free life as opposed to be subjected to tyranny. So one aspect of that might be is that we are hostile to
ex post facto punishments where we say,
oh, by the way, the thing that you did yesterday was illegal. We didn't tell you but you are going to get punished for it. That's bad. It means it makes you unfree because now you have to, if you're living in a place where there are these ex posts of ex post facto punishments, every time you think about what you're going to do, you have to kind of second guess yourself and think, gosh, am I going to get punished for this? I don't even know in advance. So your ability to make your own plans, without having to think all the time about the government is heavily constrained. And so think back to the Dreamers. And in fact, think the thing to think about anybody else who's who's really resonant this country for a significant period of time, if you're constantly living under the threat of deportation, you have to wake up every morning.
A bit like the person who
is worried about ex post facto punishments thinking, you know, which of the things I do today might get me in real trouble with the government, which of the things I do today, might get me picked up by ice. If I drive down this road,
if I keep going to school,
All these things might get me suddenly detained or completely removed from the from the country. And so to me, that means that you're not leading a free life and have a whole class of people. And their, you know, the number of undocumented people in this country numbers in the millions leading this this, this life that is not compatible with freedom is to me a serious moral problem.
In a second, I want to go back to what you said, but just to underscore what you're what you're saying. I'm thinking again, of Jewish history, as you're talking about this, because you're talking about what am I going to do to not get in trouble with the government? What am I going to do to not call attention to myself? And I think a lot of people could interpret that as well. Okay. The answer is just obey the law. But it's not that simple because it also prevents you from using things like banks, I think about in the Merchant of Venice, right? famously anti semitic Shakespeare play. There's one scene where Shylock daughter takes away all of his jewels and takes wealth as a jewelry. And readers can read that and think, Oh, well, you know, Shylock is rich, he has all this jewelry, but historically, Jews who could be deported at any time, and often where they were kicked out of England for hundreds of years, kicked out of Italy kicked out of pretty much every every country in the world at one point or another. They had to have their money with them, that they could transport from one place to the other, so that when they were kicked out, they could keep their money. I think the same thing is probably true of the dreamer, right? If you are worried about being deported at any time, how do you get a checking account? Right? You can't have the ice, you know, pull the truck over as they're putting you in prison. Before they deport you wouldn't say, Hey, I gotta withdraw all my money, right? So it isn't just that they don't want to call attention. for themselves, it's that if you're being afraid of being deported at any one moment, you can't use the basic institutions that allow life to be easy allow you to do business allow you to plan for the future in any way right to portation. Is, or the fear of deportation is itself an incredibly destructive force in a person's life. Am I wrong?
Yeah, I think that's a great analogy. And I think that's a really important point. It's any of the areas of life where we think, Oh, it's really important for people to be able to make their own decisions in this area, and carry them through can be affected in the way that you said. So suppose you think it's important for people to be able to exercise religious conscience to come up with their own views about what's sacred and important. And then to act on those for instance, by forming communities with others where they pray together, perform sacraments, and so on. And a lot of those projects are things that take time. And they have to be extent, you know, they're projects that that are extended in time. You can't build a church in a day, or a synagogue or a mosque, or whatever it may be. And not just physically, but in terms of the community. And so if you are a person who is constantly vulnerable to deportation, it's very hard for you to lay down the kind of plans that you need to really have a free life in that way.
You said something in passing, again, I keep putting off the rights question, but you said something in passing, when you first start talking about the dreamers and talking about them. One of the arguments is that you don't love is that well, they're really Americans and they've been acclimated and acculturated into the society. And the question I was going to ask was, Well, what does it mean to be an American how Do we define that, but then you ended up saying in essence, it doesn't matter if you're an American or not, because these rights are independent of whether you're an American or not. The rights have to do with, as you're saying, Now, liberty and being able to plan the future and being able to engage in these projects, these long term projects. So is your attitude that there is some sort of, right independent of identity or does immigration does a adjuster, ethical immigration policy, in your mind, operate on the assumption that there are human rights that they're cosmopolitan, that they're universal in some sense? Even if rights are created by a nation that they have to operate under the belief that all people equally get them I mean, for those who may not who may not know the surfer who don't come to mind, one of the reasons why we have the United States as a prison in Guantanamo Bay, is that if the prison is an Cuban ground, then we can treat non Americans differently. We can do different things than that we can do to Americans. And we can do different things to non Americans when they're on American ground. So this distinction between being an American and not being American is important for American rights, at least according to many administrative administrations. And what you can do to a citizen or a non citizen in the boundaries of America is different than what you can do to someone outside the boundaries of America. You seem to be suggesting that all of this is legal loopholes. And that there is some sort of universal right, natural right or some sort of other. Right recognized that is independent of citizenship that is independent of boundaries that immigration has has to respect Am I interpreting that correctly? Um,
yeah, I just I think it's slightly more complicated in that because I do I do think there are some rights that are tied to membership in a particular political community. And as you said, I don't think that they're tied to being an American or being a French person or being in
a being Welsh or something like that.
Being Trinidadian, they're tied to living under certain political institutions. So an obvious example of that is the right to vote. I don't think I should have a right to vote in elections in Jamaica. Um, but then there are these other rights that I do think are universal in the sense that you hold them irrespective of where you live, or who you are, or anything else. The right not to be killed. It's an obvious example. When it comes to Guantanamo, the right not to be held, detained indefinitely without a trial, I think is a possible another plausible. Or at least Yeah, as another plausible such, right. So I do think there are some there's some floor of you might call them human rights, what philosophers debate a little bit what that term means, but some floor rights that you hold against governments, irrespective of whether you're a member or not, and that you hold against other people.
If you look at the what ends up getting called the liberal tradition, the tradition of governments that respect individual rights, the kind of thing that you're talking about when you talk about liberty, when you look at folks like john Locke and others, they often talk about what Locke calls the right to exit, which is that part of what it means To be part of the social contract, part of what it means to live in a just society is to be able to say, no, this is not good. I'm leaving. And actually years ago when I was a young man and wrote a dissertation, in my footnote and a footnote, I ended up saying that this has no power because there's no place to go anymore. The right to exit is to is obsolete. So I guess the question that leads to is first, do you think that there is a right to exit that we're talking about immigration and migrants, but we haven't really talked about emigration leaving? Is, is there should there be a right to leave, but then more directly to the conversation? Does it follow then that there is a right to be received? Do this a refugee to someone who was in crisis to someone who is in who's being persecuted who is whose back is up against the wall? Do they have a right Right to asylum to they have a right to come to a country of their choosing or at least what's convenient and say, No, you have to take me. How do these word of the rights questions fit in, not in terms of the rights granted by people who are accepted by the community, but the right to leave and the right to be admitted, when we'll say necessary.
Yeah, so there are different ways to think about the justification for the right to leave. But one, at least one plausible justification is that it puts some degree of check on the government's ability to kind of turn eyes over you. So if you if you are able to leave, then you're not just completely held captive to whatever the government wants to do to you. And if we think about it that way, if we think about the importance of letting, making sure that people are able to leave in the sense that it's that we think it's wrong for government to stop them leaving, then that does seem closely connected to certain obligations to admit. So if we think it's really important for people to be able to kind of flee totalitarian governments, for example, then we should think it's also important for them to have somewhere to flee to. And so that does mean making sure that they're able to receive asylum somewhere else.
Can you put a quota on admission? I mean, can can America say okay, yes, we'll take Syrian refugees will take victims of Rwandan violence, but we can't take them all because there's too many. So we're going to take 15% or we're going to take 30,000 If more need a place to stay, it's up to Canada. It's up to Italy. It's up to Jordan, it's up to wherever. And it's not our problem if they don't take it, or does this right mean that America has to say, look, if no other countries are going to take them, then we have to take them. I'm thinking to a certain extent without getting into the obvious discussion. I'm thinking of the Palestinians, right, the Palestinians who are where they are, in part because the Arab countries aren't absorbing them when they could, and they have an interest a political interest in keeping them to commit Discord. But America could certainly say alright, Palestinians, you're right. Your life is very hard. Come on to America. We've got all this land in Nevada, we've got all this land other places, we'll give it to you. How much obligation does a country have to accept the refugees and let's stick to Refugees because it's the most obvious case to accept the refugees, even in the face of other people refusing to accept them.
Yeah, so there are a couple of ways to think about that. So one is, um, so there are these folks who are refugees. Let's say they're entitled to be admitted somewhere, they have a right to asylum. And then there's the question well, which country should should grant them that asylum? So first question is, how should the world kind of fairly distributes the
the refugees between different countries?
And one thing people say is well think you know, you need to think about what the burden would be to the relevant country. Um, if you think about the United States, you've got a country That is well resourced and large, and so on. So presumably, the quota would be substantial. And moreover, the whole idea that refugees are necessarily a burden is often a mistake, because they contribute to the economy and the culture and so on. So but suppose we had some conception of what the kind of fair quota is would be of refugees. Well, irrespective of what other countries are doing, it seems like a given country ought to at least admit its fair share. Now there's this further question. Okay. Well, what happens if you a country has already admitted its fair share, and the United States I think, is clearly nowhere near there. Should it then kind of pick up the slack if other countries aren't doing their fair share?
And that's a little more tricky.
But again, I think you'd have to look at whether there's any real cost to admitting those extra people, and then perhaps even, you know, a benefit, often. But I don't think we're there. I think it's just so clear that the United States, however you define fair share is not admitting anything like the number of people that it could easily do easily admit that I don't think we necessarily have to get to that harder question right now.
One of the really nice things about having you on the show is that your book is a little different than a lot of the books that we tend to talk about, we tend to talk about books that are often very specialized and technical, and part of my job is to make it accessible to general audiences. But your book is an introduction. And so your book is designed to give a a layout of the debates and to look at the various different shortcomings of the arguments and consider this and consider that and so for anyone who's interested in reading the book, it You don't need any previous knowledge, it really is an introduction. And that's super exciting. But that also means that more so than it might in other circumstances, you have a more neutral voice. It's harder through most of the book to sort of figure out where you stand on different things.
the question that I have to ask this, I have very, very strong feelings about this issue. I am sure you have very strong feelings about this issue, as many many people do. How hard is it to talk about immigration and talk about migration, while keeping your own perspective? sort of in the box? And perhaps a more philosophical question is keeping your own voice in the box, doing a disservice to the people who are desperate? In other words, is feigning neutrality part of the problem, not part of the solution. How important is the neutral conversation? And when do you feel comfortable? And when do you think it's appropriate going from the sort of introductory voice to the advocate voice?
It's interesting question. It's a tricky. It's a tricky question I think for for anyone who works in this area, but it's a tricky question for people who work in a lot of areas, more kind of applied philosophy. Um, I do have some views on immigration, as we've, as we've discovered
up the travel ban about amnesties and so on.
Um, I, I did think there was some value to writing a book that isn't just a work of advocacy. And one reason is that I think there are some questions where they're, they're hard questions, and there are some questions that I didn't even know the answer to myself for about for example, would open borders be ultimately required by justice? I don't I'm not totally sure about that. I don't necessarily think it's a question we need to resolve right now in order to justify substantial loosening of immigration restrictions. But anyway, so that's that's a question that? I don't know. Yeah, I think it's still requires a lot of debate. In other areas where I do have a strong view, such as in the MST case. I think I think, you know, it's not an either or, do we be neutral or not neutral. Um, to give you an analogy. Take the issue of, for example, gay marriage.
There are obviously people who are out now
just advocates and campaigners.
People who don't try to make any pretense of neutrality Somebody like Dan Savage, for example. And then there are people not necessarily neutral, but, um, are not neutral in the sense of that they do state of view, but do kind of at least try to sort of engage with the arguments from the other side and say, you know, let me at least try to figure out what you're saying and what the best justification for what you're saying would be, and then I'm going to respond to it. And I think there's some value in in both, there's some value in people speaking up in certain contexts and just saying, look, you know, this is not, we're not gonna have any further debate about this. Gay Marriage is required by Justice. I'm just going to tell you, you're wrong. And I'm going to push for it as hard as I can. And then other folks who tried to speak to people who are a little bit on the fence and better genuinely curious about what to think, and offer them some arguments and I I do think that those there are people in the immigration context. Who are, you know, this is this has become abundantly clear who are just, you know, who are racist in in the very the most basic sense. And there's no reasoning with a lot of us people. But I do think that there are a lot of people who have understandable real concerns about immigrations impact in the economy and things like that. And then it's worth it's worth discussing some of these arguments with them. Even in the cases where I do have a pretty clear view. I just that makes some sense.
It does make sense and it's a very nice way to end it because we actually didn't talk about racism at all. And it's a very nice point that yes, there are some racists out there. There are people who are anti immigration because they're racist, but there are other people who have concerns about immigration for legitimate defensible reasons. And those people We should engage with and maybe they can be persuaded to change their mind. Maybe they can persuade other people to change their mind. And that's part of the discourses and that's part of what philosophy does in the show, etc, etc. And of course, that's part of what your your book is trying to do. So Adam, thank you so much for joining us on why this has been super interesting.
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
You have been listening to jack Russell Weinstein man, Adam Hussain. on why philosophical discussions but everyday life I'll be back with a few more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussion that everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we were talking with Adam Hussein, about the migration debate. You know, immigration is a complicated topic. We think both about people who come here to teach University classes and families that are locked up in the border in Mexico, we think about Syrian refugees who are desperate for a place to live. And we think about people who are crossing the border in the middle of the night so that they can get a job. It's very complicated, and it's tied in with cultural questions and economic questions and interpersonal questions. There can be elements of racism, there can also be elements of great generosity and open mindedness. How do you make sense of it all that was our goal today. Our goal today was to try to take a very complicated topic and break it down into issues that we can all understand. In the end, there are philosophy questions, and there are public policy questions. There's what we ought to do and what we can do. And that's how Adam ended the discussion. He pointed out the fact that he may, in theory, be in favor of open borders, he may, in theory be in favor of taking more refugees than we can. But right now, in practice, open borders are not a real question. And we're not nearly taking as many refugees as we could. So for now, the question of immigration is a very practical question, who and how can we help them? And what can we do to make the system better? We may not make it perfect. But if we can make it just a little bit more accepting, a lot of people will be better off. You've been listening to jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday Life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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