Is travel and immigration a right?
Does a person or a group of people have a right to travel or to immigrate from one sovereign nation to another? This question is being tested by American judges responding to the Trump Administration attempt to regulate foreign travel and refugee status.
Several federal judges have sought to grant constitutional rights, under the guise of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, to foreign non-citizens who seek to travel to or settle in the United States. Does the American constitution extend to the rest of the world? The fundamental question is whether the United States, or for that matter any sovereign nation has the right to decide who enters the national home.
What is at stake here is the definition of property and national sovereignty.
International law and custom, historically and presently, indicate that all nations reserve the right to make such determinations. Such a right of nations is as natural as the right of the individual or the family to decide who enters the private home. There are laws in place to protect those rights. To enter a person’s home uninvited could lead to legal charges such as trespassing or breaking and entering.
This natural right is observable in the animal kingdom. The bird decides which animal goes near its nest. The bee detects an intruder into the hive. No person, no animal, no nation needs to explain why they have chosen to exclude any visitor from their home.
Yet there are moral questions to consider. It was immoral, for example, for the Roosevelt Administration to deny entry to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Europe. Their lives were in danger, they had few if any options open to them, and they had the resources and sponsors who were willing to take responsibility for them yet America slammed the door shut. In the 1970’s, America was right to welcome Vietnamese boat people fleeing the brutal communist jack-boot. Likewise, America welcomed Cubans fleeing that slave island at least until the final days of the Obama Administration when Obama, as one of his last acts in office, slammed that door shut.
For better or for worse our government ought to retain the right to make such decisions on behalf of the American people. As a sovereign nation, like all sovereign nations, we must reserve the right to determine who enters our nation. No person or group has a right to go from nation A to nation B without the consent of nation B. If our nation is denied this right, for any reason, then our government is hog-tied in its ability to protect our safety as well as our culture and our land. We should be free to debate, without rancor or hyperbole, the serious question of whether it is in our interest, as a nation and as a culture, to admit any foreigner or foreign group.