The Migrant's Prerogative

By John Wahala, August 3, 2012

Peter Sutherland, the UN's Special Representative for Migration and Development, recently argued that "at the most basic level individuals should have a freedom of choice" as to where they wish to live. To this end, he wants the European Union to "do its best to undermine" the sense of homogeneity held by the citizens of its member states so that a global approach will be adopted on immigration.

Sutherland's view challenges the long-held understanding that a nation determines who may or may not take residence within its borders. It takes away this fundamental right of the state and gives it to the alien. As radical and impractical as this view is, it has become so prominent in the academy and the legal profession that it is shaping U.S. immigration policy.

Perhaps this shift is to be expected. Modernization has eased travel and communications while liberal democracy has increased equality. These seminal achievements have brought unprecedented benefits. But they have not come without change. In elevating the individual they have eroded the community. People are more connected than ever before, but at the same time more atomized. Mobility and instant access makes long distance relationships easier than getting to know your neighbor. Similarly, democracy's trend toward egalitarianism has diminished the influence of civic institutions. The "little platoons" that acted as intervening authorities between the individual and the state no longer command the respect they once did.

This loss of community has altered the role of the nation-state. It is no longer fashionable for immigration policy to make new Americans. Rather, newcomers are seen as additions to the multicultural society that Sutherland and his colleagues eagerly promote. In this context, having national governments control immigration policy is provincial. This is why the United Nations wants migration (the term used because it denotes a more transitory process than does immigration) to be managed at the supranational level. Those who see this development as a triumph of individual autonomy should understand that such governance will need to be far more intrusive.

The migrant already has the prerogative over several aspects of U.S. immigration policy. Most illegal aliens can now decide whether or not to remain in the country. The Obama administration has granted them this right through an administrative amnesty and a decree that specifically protects millions from deportation, even criminal aliens. The administration's refusal to enforce the law it swore to uphold is just the latest step in a longstanding rejection of the immigration code. But their actions are among the most egregious because they have circumvented Congress. They have even sued or threatened to sue states that have tried to help enforce federal law.

Parts of the legal system are also controlled by the migrant. A culture of accommodation dictates the visa issuing process to the point that officers are reprimanded for scrutinizing applicants. Visas are approved almost at will despite the fact that the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists have entered on applications that contained glaring errors. It is believed that 40 percent of the illegal alien population is comprised of individuals who once held valid visas and have simply ignored the terms of their admission. While this has gone on for decades, the federal government has yet to curtail the practice by implementing a viable entry/exit system.

The federal government has ceded control over other parts of the immigration system as well. David North explains that entry into the United States is increasingly decided by treaties, commissions, territories, and even other countries. This includes entities like the World Trade Organization. North points out that these arrangements nearly always liberalize our immigration laws, increasing the number of people who are admitted, and are very difficult for the federal government to revoke.

Don Barnett details how the federal government has lost control of refugee resettlement. Around 95 percent of those recently entering the country as refugees were referred by the United Nations or were putative relatives of U.N.-selected refugees. The resettlement program, which now admits nearly three times the number of refugees as the rest of the entire developed world, is fraught with security concerns and is exploited for profit by a host of non-government groups.

Americans tend to dismiss attempts by the international community to weaken national sovereignty. It is difficult to imagine that the United States would forfeit control of something as fundamental as its immigration policy. But the federal government is actively doing so. It is interesting to note that while encouraging the EU to undermine the sovereignty of its members, Sutherland points to the United States as a multicultural model to emulate. He understands that unlimited immigration will eventually overwhelm a nation's self-determination.