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Chapter: The Special-Obligations Challenge to More Open Borders

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

Abstract: According to the special-obligations challenge to the justice argument for more open borders, immigration restrictions to wealthier polities are justified because of special obligations owed to disadvantaged compatriots. I interrogate this challenge by considering three types of ground for special obligations amongst compatriots. First, the social relations that come with shared residence, such as participation in a territorially bounded, mutually beneficial scheme of cooperation; having fundamental interests especially vulnerable to the state’s exercise of power; being subject to coercion by the state; and having pervasive and roughly equal stakes in a political society. Second, the civic relations of shared citizenship, such as participation in a common political enterprise. And third, the political relation of joint responsibility for the exercise of political power. In light of this analysis, I argue that whatever special obligations are owed by citizens (or residents) of wealthier polities to their domestic poor, they do not justify restrictions on immigration by the global poor.

Photo credit: Donna Burton 2011

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