Wrongs, Rights and Regularization

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In this paper, I examine arguments commonly made by both theorists and advocates on behalf of regularization of unauthorized immigrants in liberal democratic states. Most such arguments begin with the premise that the irregular immigrant has committed at least a pro tanto wrong against the state, but they then go on to maintain that this wrong should be regarded as overridden in some circumstances. I identify here both the initial premise of wrongdoing and several versions of the claim for its override. More broadly, I consider why the idea of immigrant wrongdoing is so central in these debates. Briefly put, the idea captures the normative force of the border once interiorized. The very existence of irregular migrants presupposes both exclusionary border rules and their incompleteness or failure. The wrongdoing frame becomes the default organizing response to this failure. Disputes over the meaning, significance, management and possible defeasement of immigrant wrongfulness demonstrate the enduring difficulties involved in accommodating states' constitutive border norms with the more inclusionary norms prevailing within.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-222
Number of pages36
JournalMoral Philosophy and Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • irregular migration
  • justification
  • override
  • rights


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