United States Immigration Principles And The Principles Of Distributive Justice

If there is one sector of the American society that particularly needs immediate attention now, I would say that it would be the immigrants labor sector. These people are living in a highly disadvantaged status in the American society as they continue to be ignored especially on the need of the undocumented immigrants to have a legal status. Most of these people have been working so hard in the strange land and contribute their skills and talents to people of different races. They have been part of the American labor force from which the government earns revenues through the taxes they pay.

Yet they were never given the chance to avail the same liberties as those of the ordinary American citizens. Based on Nozick’s libertarian principle of distributive justice, I would argue that the present system of the United States’ distribution of immigration status is unjust. The position of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) on the immigration status distribution of the United States is valid if we are to base them on the principles of distributive justice advocated by Nozick.

In Libertarianism, Nozick argues that “what is significant about mixing our labor with the material world is that in doing so we tend to increase the value of it” (Nozick, 1974 p. 149). The case of the undocumented immigrants is that they mix their labor in the American society. The mixing of such labor efforts comes in forms of paying their taxes and of course their skills and talents have contributed a lot in the progress of the industry where they work. I am hoping however that they are being paid well enough according to their efforts and their skills.

If there could be anything that will fairly pay for their contributions to the United States economy, I believe that it would always be their desire to have a legal immigration status. “A legalization program would recognize the equity undocumented people have built through their participation in U. S. society and acknowledge the inherent injustice of the secrecy, vulnerability, and exploitation imposed on undocumented women, men and children” (AFSC, 2006).

In the present system of the United States, it is unlikely that the immigrants given the chance to “increase the value of their labor” since it is obvious that they are always at risk of being victims of human rights violations. Citing the examples of the AFSC, these undocumented immigrants risks their lives for crossing U. S. borders. What AFSC is trying to point out is that justice must be served for these workers by recognizing their inherent dignity.

If immigrant workers are indeed paying their taxes due, and if those taxes and their remittances are contributing to the economies of their countries of origin, then AFSC has all the right to demand for equality and fair practice of their liberties equal to those of the other workers and citizens of the United States. Nozick’s theory suggests that the acquisition of absolute rights over a disproportionate share is considered just as long as it does not in any way worsen the condition of others (Nozick, p. 151).

In consideration of the theory of Libertarianism, which Nozick advocates, “just outcomes are those arrived at by the separate just actions of individuals; a particular distributive pattern is not required for justice” (Steiner, H. 1981, pp. 559). Based on the above arguments, I would say that it is therefore but fair enough for the United States to grant such absolute rights over their claim for legalization of their immigration status. The first condition that has been satisfied by the immigrants is the fact that they did not in anyway worsen the condition of others.

The second condition satisfied was that they acted justly and in good faith by working hard and by paying their taxes due. In fact the undocumented immigrants are uplifting the condition of others since their remittances contribute 50% more than development assistance to their countries of origin (AFSC, 2006). On the part of the United States, its social responsibility of sending assistance to the countries of these immigrants is even reduced as an impact of the immigrants’ remittances.

What AFSC is demanding from the US government is just the fair share of the immigrant workers. I said “fair share” because these people have done their part as workers although for a price, as all workers deemed to have in exchange for their efforts. It is however acknowledged that the fact of their being undocumented workers are considered illegal and of course, unfair and thus is also unethical. This is true because primarily, this is unfair for those who have done their part for exerting effort to acquire legal immigration status.

This does not however justify the disadvantaged status of undocumented immigrant workers especially their experiences of human rights violations in the US borders. Their undocumented status does not give anyone the license to hurt them physically, deprive them of their civil liberties nor does this gives license to anyone to kill them. Nozick maintains that “an acquisition is just if and only if the position of others after the acquisition is no worse than their position was when the acquisition was unowned or held in common” (Nozick, p.

183). Granting the undocumented immigrants with legal immigration status is just because such would give them better position and the given the fact that their legal status will not in any way be disadvantaged. AFSC’s main point is that the legalization of the immigration status is justified by the inherent dignity of each person. They are therefore entitled to equal respect with that of the others relative to their civil and human rights (Miller, David 1999, p. 84). An adjustment of their status is but one way of showing such respect.

If the government can spend time and money on hunting criminals, feeding them while on jail, paying salaries of their jail guards and wardens, why should it be not justifiable for the US government to reconsider the needs of the undocumented workers from whom they benefit from? The immigrants, even if they are undocumented workers have civil and human rights and the dignity that need to be recognized. The United States immigration laws seem blind on these ideas and its responsibility of protecting its people within its jurisdiction is failing.

“Constitution and international law are applied only selectively” (AFSC, 2006). The presence of the military personnel in US borders is seen by AFSC as something scary due to the incidents of human rights violations in the area. Despite this, I do not however agree with AFSC to demilitarize such areas. Again, Nozick’s principle of distributive justice dictates that the ownership of something should bring everybody into better status. The idea of demilitarization in the US borders would post higher risks for the internal security of the United States.

Military personnel were posted there for that purpose and AFSC should therefore now and understand that. It is not proper for the government to consider only one sector of the society in making its decisions and the concept of balance applies to posting military men in US borders. What the government can do is to ensure that there is no single incident of human rights violation happening in the presence of the military personnel. Let us consider United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 24 says, “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of unemployment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment…Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection” (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 24). Take note that the declaration requires that everyone initially has the right to work and to a just and favorable conditions of work.

The undocumented immigrants are given the right to work but the healthy working environment seems to have been deprived of them. If there are human rights violations in the work environment, then the United States are violating this specific declaration of human rights. In addition to these rights, Article 24 says, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

” Article 25 declares, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. ” Consider also that the declaration requires that those who work are given the right to favorable remuneration that ensures their human dignity is served (Swift, Adam 1999, p. 338).

If the undocumented immigrants are working hard and have been undoubtedly contributing much to the United States, to their countries of origin and their families, then it is but proper to consider the legalization of their status as part of their remuneration. If all members of the society have the right to “free choice of unemployment” as much as he is given the right to work, I believe that it is not human rights violation to favor those who work hard over those who choose to be unemployed. For Rawls, a right is an “entitlement or justified claim on others.

” These require both negative and positive obligations, meaning that others are required to not harm anyone (negative obligation) and surrender portions of their earnings for the benefit of low-income earners (positive). I would however argue the point of surrendering a portion of one’s earnings for the benefit of the low-income earners. This is obviously in contrast with the concept of fair share in terms of the remuneration of work done. The high-income earners have worked for hard for what they earned and that is assumed to be their fair share.

It would then be unfair for them to give a portion of it for the benefit of the low-income earners given that they have “played fair” in the free market, which is supported by Nozick. Nozick maintains that members of the society cannot be made perfectly equal because of the fact that he theoretically allows the mixing of labor into the world. Nozick, therefore, believes rights are primarily negative obligations on others. He principally believes people require fundamental autonomy and that a just society does as much as possible to protect that separation.

Remember that Nozick favors mixing of labor for the purpose of increasing its value. Based on this, those who decide to mix their labor into the world are given the chance to increase the value of their labor. Those who did not consequently would not be able to do so. What is Nozick trying to point out here is that those who have taken action of owning properties or those who have worked hard are entitled to better remuneration (Cohen, G. A. 1997, p. 18). Let us further consider that everyone is better off after the ownership of rights or of the remuneration.

Because others were not able to work hard as much as others did, there is necessarily an inequality based on remuneration. I believe that this is fair, and this is justice. Referring to the undocumented immigrant workers, they are entitled for better remuneration since they have done their part to work for their families and have indeed helped their own nations. I would agree with AFSC that the United States’ system of distribution of immigration status is unjust and can only be corrected when everyone is given equal opportunity to live a normal life the American nation.

The legalization of the immigration status of these undocumented immigrants is the only way they can have their full recognition of their dignities and human rights.


American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)(2006). ” Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform In the United States” May 2006. Cohen, G. A. (1997). “Where the Action Is: On the Site of Distributive Justice”, in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 26: 3-30 Miller, David (1999). “Principles of social justice” (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press)

Nozick, Robert (1974). “Anarchy, State and Utopia. ” New York: Basic Books Swift, Adam (1999). “Public opinion and political philosophy: The relation between social-scientific and philosophical analyses of distributive justice”. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice: An International Forum, 2: pp. 337-363 Steiner, H. (1981). “Liberty and Equality”. Political Studies. 29, pp. 555-569 Thomas, Luke. “Nozick, Rawls and Rights in the UNDHR. ” Retrieved on November 28, 2007 from http://unix. dfn. org/printer_NozickRawlsandRightsintheUNDHR. shtml