I recently finished a paper about illegal immigration. Here is my question: Is it wrong to immigrate illegally? Added challenge: Assume (contrary to fact) that immigration laws are justified, and that people typically have a duty to obey the law.
My thesis: Even with those assumptions, the answer is no; there is no moral reason not to violate immigration laws.
Here is a small piece of the reasoning. Say you use the social contract theory to explain the duty to obey the law. Still, this duty wouldn’t apply to illegal immigrants, since
(1) Before migrating, they are not party to our social contract, so it’s not wrong for them to come initially.
(2) After they have illegally joined our society, the social contract could not require them to leave. A valid contract involves an exchange of value, and it cannot include a clause according to which a party to the contract has to exclude themselves from receiving any of the benefits of signing the contract. E.g., a rental agreement could not contain a clause whereby the tenant may never use the apartment in any way. Similarly, a social contract could not include a clause whereby one of the signatories has to completely exclude himself from society.
Or suppose you accept a democratic theory of political obligation, along the lines of Tom Christiano. There would still be no duty to obey immigration laws, since
(a) The illegal immigrants, who were the group most affected by the immigration laws, were given no say in those laws or the election of the legislators who made them.
(b) The theory holds that the authority of democracy derives from the value of equality; as Christiano says, this means that that authority cannot extend to laws that are explicitly (unjustly) discriminatory. But the immigration laws are explicitly discriminatory towards certain individuals, seeking to completely exclude them from the benefits of our society, solely on the basis of the location of their birth.
Those are just two examples. In general, I claim that on any leading account of political obligation, it turns out that illegal immigrants would have no duty to obey immigration laws in particular. So it’s fine to immigrate illegally.