Molly Adams/Flickr
World News /18 Feb 2019

The Aporias of Immigration Policy

One human wave after another moves through Mexico towards the southern border of the United States where they seek asylum and work in the United States. In the meantime, political battles rage over security on America’s southern border and tensions rise. President Trump has declared a state of emergency to deal with what he sees as a real security crisis. The Democrats are gearing up for resisting his declaration, which may lead to protracted litigations in American courts.

What has created this situation? No doubt that party politics plays a role. There are, however, substantive aspects that are hard to explain exclusively in terms of party politics.

The problem with the influx of immigrants to America is fundamentally the problem of inclusion. Therefore, one has to consider this problem in the wider context of the politics of inclusion.

Inclusion is a signature issue that progressives have been raising in one form or another over the last two decades if not longer. They, among many others, see exclusion as the source of inequities that lead to tensions and conflicts in our society. Over the years that progressives have pursued the politics of inclusion, they proposed a variety of approaches: pluralism, multiculturalism, identity politics, diversity politics, politics of difference, and others. Through these approaches, they have sought to empower groups viewed as oppressed and disadvantaged. They promote legislation that benefits these groups, offer them political support, speak on their behalf in the media and public forums, and seek to reallocate resources to address the existing inequities.

Despite decades of hard work, the politics of inclusion has yet to achieve its goal—the elimination of exclusion and domination. Moreover, its progress has significantly slowed down in recent years. Its appeal has declined. It no longer represents a dominant consensus in American politics. The current politics of inclusion is deeply conflicted and controversial. Instead of unifying American society it has become a source of tensions and divisions, as evidenced by the current conundrum over immigration.

Critics argue that the politics of inclusion is controversial and ineffective. Instead of bringing society together and healing divisions, it has become a major source of contentions and rivalries. French historian Georges Bensoussan is one of many voices that have disparaged the politics of inclusion for aggravating the relations among different ethnic and cultural groups. Instead of a multi-cultural society, Bensoussan argues, we have ended up with “a multi-conflict society.”

Perhaps the most important problem raised by the critics is that politics of inclusion is not universal. Indeed, progressive reformers make a strong argument for a selective application of the practice of inclusion. They are perfectly aware that such selective application violates the principle of equality, but they argue that selective application is due to special conditions in which oppressed and disadvantaged groups exist. In their view, a violation of the principle of equality in such cases is inevitable and completely justified. It is hard to sustain under current laws a claim that some group is oppressed. In order to sustain their claim, they have introduced the term “historically oppressed,” which means that this group still carries the burden of one-time oppression. The demand for “restitution” to African Americans uses the argument of “historical oppression.” Senator Kamala Harris made the issue of restitution part of her presidential campaign.

In her book, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Iris Marion Young–one of the most eloquent and persuasive advocates of the selective application of inclusion—argues, for example, that the practice of inclusion “requires different treatment for oppressed or disadvantaged groups.” As Mark Lilla, a liberal critic of identity politics points out in his book, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, such selective application necessarily involves exclusion; and exclusion inevitably paves the road to domination.

There is an obvious contradiction in the logic of the approach that seeks to attain inclusion and empowerment by practicing exclusion and disempowerment—a contradiction that its proponents, including Young, simply explain away at best, but do not resolve. The selective application undermines and subverts any claim to universality. As it is, this practice bestows privilege, not universal rights.

Privilege, by its very nature, cannot empower; it merely affirms the dominant position of those who grant it. All those progressive-minded politicians, lawyers, judges, experts, scholars, and activists, including Young, are blind to the fact that empowerment always involves the affirmation of the self. It works only if it affirms the self; that is if it is self-affirmation or self-empowerment. Privilege does not empower. Granting privilege is a special prerogative that belongs to those who are in the position to grant it. The very act of granting privilege affirms their position of dominance that allows them to make such grants.

The current practice of inclusion does not involve self-empowerment. In other words, this practice does not deliver what it claims to deliver, which is one important reason why this practice generates controversy even among those who are supposed to be its beneficiaries.

There are two principal ways of understanding inclusion. According to one, the basis for inclusion is commonality. This view has roots in the tradition of the European Enlightenment. The Enlightenment proclaimed the primacy of reason and rationality above all else. It denigrated, for example, faith. In view of the Enlightenment, civilizations based on faith and other irrational forms knowledge were inferior to the European civilization. Thus, in the name of reason and rationality, the Enlightenment tradition justified colonialism (the civilizing mission, the “white man’s burden”), conquest, the subjugation of women and minorities, and other forms of oppression. It is not an inclusive ideology. Commonality–its principle for inclusion—is actually exclusive since it excludes difference.

There is another and very different way of understanding inclusion. According to this understanding, commonalities are not about inclusion. They actually exclude and suppress differences, and exclusion opens the path to domination. Therefore, the proponents of this view argue, the practice of inclusion based on commonalities is just another and more insidious way of reasserting the relationship of dependency, oppression, and domination. Inclusion must necessarily involve recognition and respect for differences, not their obfuscation and obliteration. Inclusion, they maintain, is primarily about these differences.

Does the current practice of inclusion respect and integrate differences? Let’s take two examples. One important group whose interest progressives ardently advocated is the black community. Religion plays an important role in this community. Its members believe that there is a legitimate place for religion in public life. By contrast, progressive politics essentially tries to marginalize the role of religion in public life. Members of the Black community also believe in the sanctity of human life and are generally opposed to abortions. Yet progressive politics is strictly pro-choice. It considers the right of women to have an abortion to be absolute and unquestionable. It is totally opposed to any attempt to qualify this right. The position of progressives also does not reflect the values and norms of the Muslim community in America that is strongly pro-religion and pro-life.

According to the logic of the current practice of inclusion, in exchange for some privileges, these groups have to support the politics that goes against their own values, norms, and beliefs. Thus, this inclusion practice that has its roots in the exclusive tradition of the European Enlightenment shows as much prejudice and the prejudices it seeks to eradicate. The practice of inclusion cannot and does not end exclusion; on the contrary, it merely transforms and perpetuates exclusion in less visible and, therefore, more insidious forms. This practice is exclusive and exclusion paves the road to domination. That is the main reason why it causes controversy.

The politics of inclusion has shaped the progressive stance on immigration. Like the politics of inclusion, the progressive policy regarding immigration is selective and limited in its application by subjective choices made by the liberal elites. This policy has nothing to do with principles. It is based on a profoundly flawed and very subjective understanding of inclusion.

As has been indicated, a genuine inclusion involves the creation of a common frame that integrates and conserves differences as its particular cases. When differences combine, they establish multiple connections and thus create a new system with a level of organization that is more powerful than the level of organization of each constituent part or their sum total.

In other words, by combining with each other and creating a new level of organization, differences evolve. Without creation and evolution, conservation is not possible. Systems must evolve or they disintegrate.

Inclusion is essential for the process of creation. Creation thrives on inclusion. The more differences are included the more powerful the new level of organization is going to be, the more it empowers those involved in its creation, and the better the included differences are conserved. The process of creation is incompatible with exclusion. Exclusion of differences narrows the available range of possibilities. The exclusion of any difference results in a loss of power since exclusion and empowerment are incompatible.

None of the approaches toward inclusion proffered by progressives —pluralism, multiculturalism, identity politics, diversity politics, politics of difference—go beyond mere tolerance and coexistence. Tolerance and coexistence do not conserve differences. They do not require the creation of new and more powerful levels of organization. They do not lead to evolution, and what does not evolve cannot be conserved.

There is no question that we should embrace differences. Differences are an important source of progress. The current practice of inclusion is not adequate. It is selective in its application. As any other selective practice, it necessarily involves exclusion and exclusion opens the path to domination. Also, this practice is incapable of conserving differences.

Conservation of differences requires establishing connections among them, combining them, transcending their individual limitations, and creating new and more powerful levels of organization. A genuine inclusion practice must use the process of creation as its main organizing principle. Only such practice is capable of conserving differences.

Immigration is about inclusion. In order to have a sustainable immigration policy, we must base it on a clear understanding of what inclusion is and what it involves. Without such an understanding, we cannot have a sustainable immigration policy. We must have an intelligent and rational discussion of immigration policy in light of a realistic understanding of inclusion. We should have trial projects that will help us gain experience in integrating people with different cultural backgrounds, values, and norms.

If our approach continues to be what it is today, our immigration policy will produce only chaos and instability. It will inevitably fail the way Germany, for example, has failed in its recent immigration drive. Ms. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new leader of the Christian Democratic Union who has replaced Angela Merkel, has recently stated in very unambiguous terms that the admission of the huge number of immigrants to Germany was a mistake that must never happen again. This backlash is a result of the reckless immigration policy.

Movement of people across borders is a vital aspect of the modern world. It can bring much good. But our approach in this important matter must rest on a solid foundation. Our guide should be reason and experience, not erratic and irrational motivations, however good they may be in their intentions.

If you're interested in writing for International Policy Digest - please send us an email via