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Immigration and Social Justice: Towards a Progressive European Immigration Policy? Author(s): Richard Black Reviewed
Immigration and Social Justice: Towards a Progressive European Immigration Policy? Author(s): Richard Black Reviewed

Immigration and Social Justice: Towards a Progressive European Immigration Policy? Author(s): Richard Black Reviewed work(s):

Source: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1996),

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Immigration and social justice: towards a


European immigration

Richard Black


Stepping back from current debates over immigration in the new 'Fortress Europe', this paper examines moral and philosophical auguments for an alternative and more 'progressive' immigration policy. Despite recent interest within geography in principles of social justice, the extent to which such principles reach beyond particular societies or nations has rarely been considered explicitly. The notion of social justice may be extended to the question of immigration, without taking the position that migration should itself be seen as a 'human right'. Even within relatively conservative contractarian and communitarian conceptions of social justice, a number of suggestions can be made for 'progressive' policy options, in particular by focusing on the communal rights and duties of societies rather than the human rights of individual migrants.

key words


social justice

European policy



Schoolof Africanand Asian Studies, University of Sussex,Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QN

revised manuscript received17 August 1995


The 'right' to migrate, to be a migrant or stranger, appears everywhere to be on the retreat. Within Europe, public opinion towards migrants appears daily to become less welcoming: from racist vio- lence in Germany and elsewhere (Bjorgo and Witte 1993) to debates in France, especially on the sup- posed 'threat' posed to French society and identity by immigration from Islamic countries (Wieviorka 1992) and, more recently, to a rising vote for the extreme right in local elections in the east end of London (Husbands 1994b). In turn, government policy can frequently be seen to mirror or indeed provide tacit support for this hardening of public attitudes, with amendments to the constitutional

position on asylum in Germany, through to the introduction of more restrictive policing of borders,

visa controls and deportations of illegal residents in most European countries, from the Mediterranean fringe to Scandinavia. In the policy arena es-

pecially, but also often in academic writing, the

structure of discourse appears firmly rooted in

debates emanating from the increasingly anti-

immigration stance of governments; in turn, those opposing such policy developments have appeared limited to just that, with little debate over wider

directions for a more 'just' or 'progressive' policy towards international migration. Writing in the mid-1980s - perhaps in retrospect

a period of relatively little antagonism towards migrants - Dummett (1986, ix) argued that the debate over immigration in the UK was not between two alternative policies but between 'pro- posals for racial restriction on the one hand, and opponents of new restrictions on the other'. This would now appear to be the pattern over Europe

as a whole. As new restrictions are proposed or put in place, greater or lesser opposition is raised in


majority, the pat-

influence of the media

tern of migration and the

proposals and the government

countries related to the nature of the

but few voices are raised to propose a constructive

alternative for immigration policy. Academic work

in turn has frequently focused on the consequences




and practices for im- Europe (Bovenkerk et al.

and the nature of development of such


communities in


TransInst Br Geogr NS 21 64-75 1996

ISSN 0020-2754 ?

Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) 1996

The geopolitics of international migration in Europe

policies (Baldwin-Edwards 1992; Thumerelle 1992) but appears to have contributed little to the debate from a more radical perspective. Of course, there are exceptions. In Spain, the 1984 Law on Refugees and Asylum was considered at the time as a progressive and pioneering law, although it was never really implemented in a truly liberal manner and has since been modified to make it more restrictive (Malheiros 1995). Mean- while, decisions to admit residents of Macau to Portugal after the colony's return to Chinese rule contrasted sharply with parallel decisions in the UK on Hong Kong residents. Even in Germany, scene of some of the worst racist violence against immigrants, there is renewed debate about alter- native immigration policies (Habermas 1993), with calls for the federal government to drop the notion that Germany is not a country of immigration and to introduce quotas for the orderly entrance of migrants.

Practical examples

of alternative policies in

action can also be found, although largely outside Europe: Canada and Australia may both provide

examples of a different approach to immigration, notwithstanding their rather different demo- graphic circumstances to those of Europe and criti- cisms that have been levelled at the sometimes 'racist' operation of their immigration systems (Castles 1992; Castles and Miller 1993; Robinson 1992, 1993). Learning from experience in other countries provides one way forward perhaps for thinking about policy alternatives but potential models are not numerous. They include the oper- ation of wider concepts of who is a refugee and therefore eligible for entry (examples include definitions contained within the Organisation of

on Refugees or the

African Unity's Convention

Cartagena Declaration in Latin America); different and perhaps 'fairer' procedures for dealing with immigrants; and the possibility of introducing immigration quotas. However, the standpoint of this paper is that, in addressing the question of a 'progressive' policy, it is useful to start from a wider notion of what is just

or morally defensible. There has recently been a revival of interest within geography in notions of

1992, 1993; Smith 1994a).

social justice (e.g. Harvey

Harvey (1992, 593) reflects, for example, on the search for 'some higher-order discourse to which everyone could appeal', arguing that it is both possible and desirable to draw upon some form of 'metatheory' in dealing with distributional issues,


whilst Smith (1994a, 1) seeks to place social justice

- questions concerning 'the distribution of society's benefits and burdens, and how this comes about' - at the heart of human geography. By trying to

incorporate some of the claims of 'distant others', both authors are responding to postmodern cri- tiques of their own and other earlier writings on social justice, that 'universalist' claims obscure

the cultural specificity of western

discourse. Nonetheless, despite this openness to the claims of 'distant others', the renewed concern with social and distributional justice has remained implicitly if not explicitly centred on relations within specific states, societies and/or communities rather than betweenthem. For example, drawing on the work of Young (1990), Harvey (1993, 54) suggests 'breaking out of the local' as one route to



attending to post-structuralist criticismsof universal-

ising theory which marginalizes 'others'.

generalprinciples of social justice while

However, this appears limited to accepting open- ness to those 'others' whom one might encounter within a given community. Indeed, for Young, the development of a moral point of view arises from such concrete encounters and not simply from an impartial concern for all or from independent reasoning. Harvey (1993, 56) appears to accept this notion, although he makes a brief caution that

the multiple mediated relationsthat constitute

and as

society across space are just as important

'authentic'as unmediatedface-to-facerelations.

For neither author is there a direct consideration of the rights of individuals to be in a particular place, except perhaps an explicit assumption that state boundaries are not coincident with moral bound- aries. Harvey's argument is illustrated mainly by examples from within North American cities with few clear pointers on the extent to which indi- vidual or communal responsibility to some higher- order notion of justice might extend beyond national state borders. There are some exceptions to this apparent myo- pia and, in particular, some geographical writing explicitly concerned with social justice and moral- ity as it applies to the situation of 'distant others'. Thus Smith (1994b) considers the moral case for whether geographical inquiry should focus on 'dis- tant others' at all. He suggests that 'where people are can be a relevant difference' (ibid.,360) and that


partiality in the selection of places on which to work is inevitable. However, a balance needs to be struck between 'narrow concerns for particular

others and

impartiality implicit restricted caring' (ibid.,361). On a slightly different tack, Corbridge (1993, 461) considers the needs and

rights of 'distant strangers'. He makes a coherent minimal argument for development activism to draw on the work of the philosopher John Rawls (1971) (see below) whilst addressing at least some postmodernist criticisms of 'universalist' theories of social justice. However, the arguments of both

Smith and Corbridge are targeted specifically at the


of people in 'rich' countries in the

'development' and/or 'research' of 'poor' coun- tries; they do not tackle the alternative linkage of the migration of 'poor' people to the 'rich' world.

In this paper, which draws on the work of both



an un-

geographers and philosophers, the possibilities and arguments for an alternative and more 'pro-

gressive' immigration policy are considered. In the first section, alternative conceptions of social jus- tice are reviewed, from which it can be concluded that, from a number of perspectives, a more just immigration policy could be envisaged. From here, discussion turns in more detail to the work of the philosopher Michael Walzer (1983), who addresses the ethical question of 'what responsibilities do states have in responding to migration?' rather than 'what are the inalienable rights of migrants?' It is suggested that the latter is a line of reasoning which is unlikely to carry much weight in concrete political debates over immigration policy. None- theless, principles of social justice which fall short of declaring migration as an inalienable human right do provide a context in which a more positive political attitude towards migration and the rights




European states, there is considerable scope for

improvement in immigration policy. With some extension to the notion of social justice itself, it is


to suggest further 'progressive' steps for

immigration policy without the necessity to call for an absolute removal of borders as the only 'just'












principles currently adhered to by




of social













Russell King et al.

philosophers in assessing the relationship between immigration and social justice, it is useful to begin discussion with a summary of what is or might

(1992, 594)

suggests there are at least four competing 'theories

of justice' which he places in a hierarchy:

i. a positive law view, which holds that justice is simply the upholding of existing law;

a utilitarian view, which holds that justice is

the pursuit of the greatest good for the greatest

number and which, on this basis, might distinguish good and bad laws;

Harvey from that justice is

Rousseau to John Rawls, which holds

based on a form of unwritten contract between members of a society and which seeks mutual benefit for all and protects certain inalienable rights of members even if this runs contrary to the

be meant by social justice. Harvey


iii. a social contract view, traced by

'greatest good' principle; and

that justice

is about the protection of natural and inalienable

rights per se. To these, Harvey (ibid., 594) adds various 'intui-

tionist and relative deprivation

'exist in an entirely different dimension'. Whilst not

drawing on such theories, this paper will consider one further distinct and increasingly important school of thought, that of communitariantheories. Disregarding the view that there is no such thing as social justice, or that considerations of social

justiceplay no part in practicalpolicy development -

taken - an

argument can be developed for a more progressive or just immigration policy than presently exists.

For example, if a 'positive law view' is taken, states should strive at least to comply with their existing commitments in international treaties and laws,

which, as Dummett (1986) points out, is


frequently not achieved. In turn, from a utilitarian

perspective, an argument for a more progressive law would need to appeal to economic or other

benefits for the greater those benefiting and

gration). Both of these arguments are simple and, perhaps, also uncontentious in the sense that if 'breaking the law' or clear economic or other benefits could be demonstrated, it would not require an appeal to philosophical argument to convince most policy-makers that a change might be necessary. In this sense, the difficulty is a prac- tical one of demonstrating that such law-breaking is inherent to the current system or that potential

iv. a natural rights view, which holds

theories' which

whichever of the above positions


number (by weighing up those losing from immi-

The geopolitics of

benefits are real. On the latter point, economic and demographic benefits are variously demonstrated (Schmidt and Zimmermann 1992; Simon 1989; Layard et al. 1992) and challenged (Coleman 1992; Hopkinson 1992; Ritzen and van Dalen 1992) by different authors, such that an unambiguous conclusion is not easily reached.

hierarchy, an

equally simple but much more contentious argu-

ment could be made for an alternative immigration policy. If migration is seen as a 'natural right', then freedom of movement would be a necessary step for all states. Ironically, this policy - no barriers to movement at all - is often assumed to be the only progressive alternative to a more restrictive policy and thus is again made without further recourse to arguments about justice. In practice, various argu- ments for migration as a right originating in politi- cal philosophy can be identified. For example, Nett (1971) argues that a primary condition of human rights as currently understood is to aim for more equal opportunities. Thus the right to migrate may be seen as a basic right, in that it removes



international migration in Europe



other end



disopportunity. This right has two

the right of people who are trapped in overcrowded

areasor areaswithoutsufficientresourcesto go where

resourcesarenotso taken up [and]the right for people

to move

restrictionor even disagreeable social environments

and socialorders. (ibid.,218,219)

away from oppression,persecution, unfair

Nonetheless, there is a danger that this position is seen as one of no control and thus no policy rather

than as a moral position rooted in a theory of justice. It is not surprising, therefore, that, in order

to provoke fear of possible consequences


citizens of the host state, it is often alluded to

those who propose increasing restrictions as the

only alternative policy.


Contractarian theories of justice and

immigration According to John Rawls (1971), it can be held that social justice within an ideal society is based on,

and may be legitimated

all (first principle) and

through, two principles:

certain equal liberties for

the permitting of social and economic inequalities


the least well off (second principle). Under such a

internationally, free-

conception of justice applied

dom of movement would be upheld, not so much

but only so long as these are to the



because to deny it would be an infringement of liberty (under Rawls' first principle, basic liberties do not include freedom of movement) but because to allow it would be in the interest of the least well off. However, this begs the question of whether justice does indeed extend beyond the bounds of the particular society in question.

the inter-

national sphere has occasioned a large literature (cf. Barry and Goodin 1992;Hoffman 1981) which it is possible only to touch on here. First, it is worth noting that Rawls specifically confined his com- ments to a single society since justice depends on the free compliance of members of such a society. However, the major point of attack on this limi- tation is that the sort of 'contract' that he saw as

underpinning relations within a state can also be seen to exist betweenstates at global and regional levels. As Beitz (1979) notes, Rawls recognized the similarities when considering the 'law of nations' and defining what constitutes a just or unjust war. Beitz (ibid.,149-50) extends this, arguing that

Extension of Rawls' arguments



miss the


concernforthelaw of nationsseemsto

point of international justicealtogether. Inan

of social

justice to domesticsocieties has the effectof taxing

poor nationsso thatothers may benefitfrom living in


interdependentworld, confiningprinciples

He suggests the international application of a 'global difference principle' (i.e. Rawls' second principle) to people rather than states, although he

does not then move on to consider explicitly the implications of such a principle for migration and citizenship within particular states. A similar point is made by Barry (1989) who argues that states have a duty to redistribute wealth to other less


extend this principle to free movement of peoples

(Barry 1992).

well-off states, although he is clearly not willing

The most




for extending



Rawlsian justice in this way, and specifically for

including migration as an

Carens (1987) based, again, on the existence of forms of 'contracts'between societies on which, for

example, trade relations rely. Under Caren's for-


could be morally justified only where such immi- gration constituted a threat (through its size or

nature) to public order or to the institutions -

based, one might assume, on liberal democracy -

that maintain justice. However, the similarity here

mulation, restrictions on immigration in a




to the conclusions of Nett (1971), who argues for a

'human right' to migrate providing this does not threaten the 'just' institutions of the host society, underlines thegeneral implication of this argument

- that there should be no barriers to migration (in

principle) - and produces the same political diffi- culties encountered by advocates of a natural or

human right to migrate. A slightly more limited solution is provided by Hoffman (1981), who again argues that there are some transnational activities which cannot be reduced to their national components, notably business transactions and migration. However, Hoffman divides his discussion of moral responsi- bility towards migration between treatment of refugees and that of migrant workers. In the former case, he agrees with Carens that

ethicalaction requires a co-operative effortof all but


poorest perpetuation of camps, and to provide for


of countriesto rule out the



The only exception being 'real instances of supreme necessity limiting a nation's capacity to absorb refugees' (ibid., 225). However, he accepts the more general point that ties within a particular nation or community are generally stronger than those at an international level, such that moral obligations to migrants in general are more limited. In seeking a mid-point between political realism and this more limited morality, he suggests that the most appropriate form of regulation of migration is to establish bilateral treaties between specific countries.

Communitarian theories of justice and immigration Beyond such theories of social justice based on the notion of a 'social contract', one of the more sophis- ticated analyses in recent years of the role of social justice criteria in immigration policy is Michael Walzer's book, Spheres of justice (1983). Writing from a 'communitarian' perspective, Walzer (ibid., 48) outlines what he regards as the duties of states and peoples towards 'necessitous strangers'. He bases his argument directly on the distinction between members and non-members of a society. Using alternative analogies of the state as a neigh- bourhood, club or family, Walzer argues that, in



tively who

like 'perfect clubs', in the

that they may decide freely and authorita-

to join and may,

nations are

should be allowed

Russell King et al.

therefore, exclude any potential immigrant. Indeed, such a right to exclude is important since, to use another analogy,

affluentand free countries are, like elite universities, have to decide on their

besiegedby applicants.They own size and character. (ibid.,32)

Such an argument concurs with the Rawlsian view that justice is confined to members of a society or state. For example, the central right of states (or clubs or families) to exclude potential members is absolute, rooted in the notion that this is the only long-term way to protect the coherence and identity of the group. Drawing on the work of Sidgwick, Walzer (ibid.,39) argues that

to createa

to teardown thewallsof thestateis not

world without walls, but ratherto createa thousand

fortresses[since][t]hedistinctivenessof culture groupsdependsupon closure.



However, unlike the Rawlsian view in which the 'contract' at a societal level is primarily a mech- anism for working out individuals' moral respon- sibilities to each other, in Walzer's view states and communities are also seen as having moral responsibilities. In this context, Walzer goes on to argue that the right of societies or states to exclude is constrained

in certain ways. For example, he suggests that states are also like families and that citizens there- fore believe themselves to be morally bound to particular groups of outsiders, such as those who are ethnically related or in need of refuge because of threats to their basic human rights. Moreover, once admitted to the state 'family', such groups must be entitled to full membership since to live within a household, without being a member of that household, is untenable as a long-term pos- ition. The state is also constrained not to expel


inhabitants unless, as in a family context,

they represent an immediate threat to members of

the family. Finally, the principle of mutual aid - or

need to provide also supported

states with respect to outsiders as it is for

strong for

individuals within a state. However, Walzer sug-


that this is likely to be better served by a state

exporting wealth than by 'importing citizens'. As it stands, Walzer's argument would appear to

moral case for defence of the

of immigration policy in that its

present a convincing status quo in terms

major points cover areas already accepted by the

majority of European states. For example, most

support to those least well off - is by Walzer and is seen as being as

The geopolitics of international migration in Europe

west European states are signatories to the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees and accept in principle the duty to provide asylum to those in severe danger in their own countries and most are also committed to the principle of 'mutual aid', even if only through relatively meagre overseas aid budgets. In turn, states' duties towards those with kinship ties to its own citizens are enshrined in policy. For example, German and Greek policy towards those of German or Greek ethnicity in other states - notably of the former Soviet Union - allows or even encourages their migration (Jones and Wild 1992; Voutira 1991). Meanwhile, if - as Walzer suggests they should be - those 'foreigners'


other criteria (e.g. refugees) are considered as full

members, the principle of duty towards family members can also be extended. Thus, even in those states of Europe with no 'diaspora' or kinship ties with other groups worldwide, there is generally legislation allowing for migration of relatives of immigrants already accepted as national residents on the grounds of 'family reunification'. Within the bounds of Walzer's theory an argu-

ment for a more 'progressive' or 'just' immigration policy would need to be focused on states meeting

the duties that they currently accept in principle:

honouring the spirit as well as the letter of the

1951 Geneva Convention, for example, or perhaps responding more liberally to the claims of family members of current residents wishing to come to Europe, taking into account less Eurocentric notions of family structure (Leigh 1986). An argu- ment could also be made for a harmonization of European policy and procedures towards migrants in order to remove inequality of treatment across

Europe and, indeed,

which would be fair and open rather than more restrictive. In addition, Walzer's comments about the need for equal treatment of those admitted to residence could be used to argue against the cur- rent proliferation of 'statuses' of migrants (and especially 'refugees') across Europe, such that full citizenship became attainable for all migrants that are admitted across different countries.

Such a perspective provides us with some philo- sophical foundation on which to build a more just

immigration policy, addressing at the very least the question of whether states have any responsibili-

ties to those who

However, some problems with Walzer's conclu- sions can be identified and additional principles on

as eligible for membership based on

to seek a common policy

are not members or citizens.


which to base immigration policy outlined from within a broadly communitarian framework with- out necessarily moving completely to the conten- tion that states should admit all comers. First, a recent attack on Walzer's position has come from the Swedish sociologist Tomas Hammar (1990), who argues that Walzer was wrong to focus only

on two

that once

one is attained, the other must follow. Instead, Hammar suggests that there are three 'gates' where states may exercise control over the admission of migrants, namely immigration regulation, regu- lation of domicile and residential status, and naturalization. According to Hammar, providing that immigrants who pass any 'test' on entry may proceed to secure domicile and residential status, passing through the final gate of naturalization is not necessary. Indeed, he identifies a new category of people in Europe in particular - 'denizens' - who have the right to residence but not to perma- nent membership of the host society. Essentially, this is an argument about whether immigration policy should be based on the perma- nent entry of potential citizens or whether there is an alternative model for immigration. At present, the more liberal immigration regimes worldwide - such as that of Australia, for example - are based

entry and full citizenship), suggesting

'gates' of entry into a society (physical

on this principle of permanent entry and citizen- ship (Castles 1992). But, at the same time, there is much criticism of some European countries, for

example, for failing to give 'guest workers' longer- term security and rights. However, Hammar's argument is based in part on the conclusion that migrants do not necessarily wish to attain full citizenship if, as is often the case for both 'econ- omic' migrants and 'refugees', return to their home country is the long-term goal. Similarly, those EU nationals moving within the new 'Fortress Europe' have already been extended rights equivalent to those of host-country nationals, without the neces- sity for full citizenship. In this context, in particu- lar, 'denizen' status might be regarded not as a 'second-class' solution for migrants but as an acceptable and just alternative to citizenship, pro- viding it guarantees certain social and political rights. Following on from this, if Hammar's position is accepted, a question mark can also be placed over

Walzer's assumption that the 'closure' of a

at its borders is necessary in order to preserve that

culture. For, if migrants

society's identity and/or



freely perceive themselves as temporary residents of a society and the host society regards migrants in the same way, then there is no long-term neces- sity for cultural 'adaptation' on either part, nor any likelihood of a territorial claim or right to affect liberal democratic institutions on the part of the migrant group - Walzer's principal argument for maintaining immigration controls. In practice, such an argument can also be pursued even if migrant groups are not temporary residents in their own perception or in law. It could be argued that it is perfectly possible, for example, for migrant groups to coexist with 'host' groups within a particular geographical space whilst maintaining cultural distinctiveness. Difficulties arise primarily when 'self-determination' becomes more than the right to cultural distinctiveness - involving the right to political autonomy and/or control of territory, where another element of 'just society' is threat- ened or, perhaps, when there are very large numbers of migrants (Dummett and Nicol 1990).

Social justice, territory and relations between states The relationship of societies to territory, in particu- lar, is an issue on which there has been much geographical writing. Following Soja (1989), for example, it can be argued that socially created space is integral to the production and reproduc- tion of any society, such that spatial or territorial conflict is perhaps inevitable between immigrant and host societies, mitigated only, for example, by the subjection of migrant groups to domination by their hosts. Such a view would imply limitation of access to territory as the crucial issue rather than limitation of full membership of a society. How- ever, an alternative perspective is identified by Taylor (1992), who argues that the spatiality of states is breaking down, albeit in a contradictory manner. Thus, in a united Europe, for example, control of territory is increasingly of less impor- tance, although, for an individual, membership of

a particular state remains important

significant and varying roles of such issues as social welfare.

In the case of migrant groups in western Europe,

calls for control over territory or community affairs

have been rare if not non-existent, even for long-

minorities. (An interesting though, by so-called 'national the demand for self-deter-


mination is very often rooted in attempts to

because of the

different states in



contrast is provided,


Russell King et al.

redefine the territorial boundaries of nation-states (cf. Grigoriou 1994).)In turn, interesting exceptions - such as the call by the Hasidic Jewish community in north London to establish the territorialmarkers of an eruvfor religious purposes - arguably test our notion of what control over territory actually means, emphasizing the distinction between physi- cal and socially created space. Meanwhile, the growth of the EU has been a process allied at least in part to the creation of a space for free movement in which migrants are part of the accepted order of that community and in which, therefore, identity is less related to space and territory. Nonetheless, the European notion that identity and culture is allied uniquely to place is still powerful: witness the failure of western Europe to suggest a non- territorial solution to 'ethnic conflict' in the for- mer Yugoslavia. Similarly, Husbands (1994a) has argued that a 'moral panic' in some European countries is rooted in part in deep anxieties held by indigenous people about the resilience of their own national identities. In this sense, without allowing immigration policy to be based on the fears of

that Islam

those who



a cultural threat to western values, a

do believe,

for example,

of such notions must be handled with

care, even in a fully united Europe.








Walzer's argument, it is also possible to extend it in order to make a rather stronger statement of states'

responsibilities there tends to

that 'happens' to,