Empathy expands when people decide that some aspects of identity are not as consequential as once thought. Our ability to overcome racism depends on recognizing, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., the difference between the color of one’s skin and the content of their character. Our ability to overcome sexism depends on recognizing that neither biological sex nor socially-prescribed gender determine one’s ability to care for patients, manage a business or oversee a government. Indeed, human empathy grows each time we recognize a new facet of our identity, once thought significant, as arbitrary.
We should therefore be troubled by the disproportionate importance society continues to assign to something else ultimately inconsequential: where you are “from.” Across the world, nations continue to exclude individuals on the basis of their nationality. We see this not only in the nationalistic backlash against immigration fuelled by the belief that individuals born elsewhere are less deserving of a place in a developed nation that currently defines Western politics, but more fundamentally, in the systematic restrictions placed on incoming migration. Developed nations have always been reluctant to welcome anyone but the most skilled of laborers into their fold, regarding people beyond their borders as admissible insofar as they have something to offer economically.
Even skilled foreigners hoping to work in the United States can only pray that the annual lottery distributing the limited number of H-1 work visas unfolds in their favor. And if it does, the systematic exclusion doesn’t stop: I, as a foreigner, am not entitled to the same constitutional protections afforded to Americans, in spite of your Declaration of Independence’s confident pronouncement that “all men are created equal.” Along every step of the way, long-standing sovereign mechanisms consistently privilege those who are already comparatively privileged, according to the good fortune of their assigned geography. This is evident across all corners of the globe: in Australia’s inhumane off-shore detention of refugees, in the pro-Brexit desire to purify Britain’s cultural make-up and in the anti-globalist contempt for the offshore relocation of industrial manufacturing.
If it is morally wrong to discriminate against a person for being Black, or a woman — after all, none of us voluntarily chose our “race” or gender — then why do the people of developed nations continue to discriminate against others based on geography? None of us chose the patch of dirt on which we were born, and so it is increasingly arbitrary to assess one’s worthiness to enter, work and exist within a space like the United States using this criteria. You’re not American because you worked the hardest for that claim. You’re American because, to borrow a term frequently used by your own Warren Buffett, you merely won the “ovarian lottery.”
And so, at least philosophically, one is hard-pressed to defend the status quo. For example, if you and another person were in a situation that required the two of you to distribute limited resources between yourselves, neither of you would invoke where you were born as grounds to a superior claim. So, irrespective of whether the distance between your birthplaces is a few miles or a few thousand miles, the principle governing your equal claims to limited resources remains consistent. Even in the event that the other person has resources derived from his own locale, it would be unfair of him to deny you the necessary aid simply for being from a different place as where those, say, bananas are from.
Even self-interested Westerners ought to recognize how economically favorable it is for them to welcome immigrants. Much evidence refutes the stereotype of immigrants as job-stealing slobs, revealing instead a portrait of hard-working strivers eager to carve out an independent existence. Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, estimates that all eliminating all barriers on international movement would increase increase world GDP by 50 to 150 percent, indicating that such an elimination could potentially double the size of the global economy.
To complement economic concerns, the cultural offerings of immigrant-friendly policies are easily apparent; the benefit of globalization most taken for granted is the broad spectrum of human ingenuity on display in this country’s cosmopolitan centers — whether it be the gift of different cuisines to try, music to listen to or simply people to befriend.
Proponents of stricter immigration policy often cite national security concerns, but such consternation is grossly overstated. The overwhelming majority who wish to enter the West are eager to become abiding participants in the social contract of liberal democracy, perhaps to an even greater extent than Americans themselves: statistically, an immigrant is less likely to commit a crime than a natural-born counterpart. Fears of terror might justifiably lead to more rigorous scrutiny of incoming migrants, but the principle that recognizes everyone’s equal right to exist in a space still holds, accounting for improved security measures.
In spite of the recent political turmoil, gridlock and posturing of this nation, people of the world continue to migrate to the United States. Yours is a nation founded on Enlightenment ideals: not on a religion, nor an ethnicity, but the simple notion that those willing to participate in the social contract of a liberal nation are welcome to exercise their liberty. The fact that many Americans claim their birth in America as a justification for their exclusive right to being in America is, at the end of the day, profoundly un-American.
Lorenzo Benitez is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Not a Cop appears alternating Mondays this semester. He can be reached at [email protected]