Where members of a population from Country A are illegally entering Country B (due to poverty)

Where Country A has poor resources (or poorly managed moderate resources) and Country B has rich resources (or better managed moderate resources)

What is the most moral way for Country B to tackle immigrants from Country A? Why?

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    Actually I assume that responses that are based on the race, belief or political affiliation could be sufficiently detrimental to this question as well as Philosophy.SE that I felt the need to stress the point. Disrespect of users wishing to discuss those aspects was certainly not intended. Thank you for your feedback however.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 13:06
  • Np. You welcome.
    – Asphir Dom
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 14:54
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    This is a really interesting and tricky moral question because it touches on all three of the tragedy of the commons, ideas of responsibility, and ideas of human rights.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 21:26
  • In defense of the original wording of your question, this is exactly the type of question that can quickly get out of hand (particularly due to arguments concerning race), and I think it's fine that you stated right off that you don't want those kinds of arguments. It's your question; you're not "assuming the internet owes you" by specifying what kind of answers you're looking for. Commented May 8, 2014 at 21:52

6 Answers 6


A few approaches immediately come to mind:

1) A free-market approach would say that Country B shouldn't try to "tackle" immigration or restrict it, Country B should freely allow for immigration until wages (prices of labor) stabilize in both countries.

2) A utilitarian approach would look not just for the wages to stabilize, but the marginal utility gained by making life better "overall" vs. the (likely greater) utility lost by citizens of country B whose wages were reduced, and try to set caps on immigration and floors on wages accordingly.

3) Some religious traditions would ignore the potential economic benefit to country B and look only at immigration as an opportunity to do something good for someone. Independent of whether members of country B did not cause country A's misfortune, these traditions would say we still owe portions of what we have to the less fortunate.

  • Thank you for outlining some economic/ charitable possibilities that arise. Option 1 appears to involve unrestricted immigration until the desirability of Country B's wealth surplus in relation to Country A diminishes such that further immigration would be pointless. Option 2 implies use of (unspecified) immigration restrictions and minimum wage to manage the flow of immigration. Option 3 appears to be a more enthusiastic, charitably-fueled, variant of Option 1 whereby Country B actively takes on Country A's burden.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 5:58
  • Of the three options - Option 2 appears to actively give a degree of consideration for the welfare of the citizens of Country B (relative to the other two options). In all the mentioned options the immigrating citizens of Country A benefit.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 6:03
  • Advocates of each of the three types outlined would argue both Country A and Country B benefit. In (1) and (2), not all the citizens are better, but on the whole the country is. In (3), while citizens of B might have relinquished material goods, they have "benefited" in that they view giving to the less fortunate as a net positive. Commented May 9, 2014 at 18:24
  • Thank you for elaborating. I must admit that I am struggling to see the benefit to Country B in Option 1. The Adam Smith notion that the Market will take care of itself has some merits to be sure - but it does not apply itself very well to situations where, for instance, poorer materials are used to create sub-standard products at a cheaper price. Items of richer quality lose out as the market favours the cheaper alternative. This is relevant to Option 1 because market forces would dilute and undermine the wealth & rights of population B as population A floods the market.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 19:43
  • Also, while charity is a virtue, and option 3 could certainly qualify the country for an ethical medal in this regards, it is still strange to sacrifice (even in part) population B's claim to their own country. Even if the population were to be fully on board - might not this result in impoverishment of Country B in an even more aggressive fashion than that of Option 1? I feel that I might not be fully understanding your points so please do feel free to elaborate.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 19:50

This being a moral question, I would say that it depends entirely on whether Country B is both directly and indirectly responsible for Country A's political and economical situation.

Also, a rather huge factor would be whether half of Country B used to be Country A until the former practically stole it from the latter.

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    For the purpose of simplicity - let us presume that the citizens of each country have played a big part in generating their own wealth - successfully or not - with little interference from external forces (at least not from each other).
    – Avestron
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 11:21
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    This seems to be more of a comment than an answer.
    – virmaior
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 4:25

I advocate creating a gentle poverty gradient, so that

  1. Migrants from country A have a chance to better themselves
  2. Citizens from country B do not have their culture disrupted or their wealth taken

This gradient would provide not a locked door, nor an open door, but a ladder.

I believe blocking migrants from entering B at all is, while not wrong, hard-hearted. A country befitting the character of country B would not be so parsimonious with its opportunities.

Likewise I believe that opening the borders could very well destroy country B's culture and economy, as with a huge influx of people from A the culture will change in ways that make B more like A and therefore diminish opportunities for all and drain resources from B to A that would be more wisely invested in B.

My gradient, or ladder, is different levels of residency and citizenship within B. These would be

  1. Guest - able to work and live in B, must pay taxes, may not collect benefits, may not vote, may not pass on status to children
  2. Resident - able to live and work in B, must pay taxes, may collect benefits, may not vote, may not pass on status to children
  3. Citizen - able to live and work in B, must pay taxes, may collect benefits, may vote, may pass on status to children

Climbing this ladder would require a minimum of years spent at each stage, with short circuits for migrants with education or wealth, and testing of some kind, such as native language proficiency. There would also be quotas allowed for each stage, such that the system is a pyramid and not all progress from one level to the next.

  • I like that you lend some consideration as to how you might implement your proposed moral solution. In fact it appears to echo some immigration systems already in place for legal immigrants. Also of note is that you appear to feel that better-integrated immigrants should enjoy an advantage in terms of how quickly as well as how far they climb the 'pyramid of status'. As such you appear to suggest that the fact of illegal immigration on an individual level may be reconciled over the long term.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 6:20

First, I would like to present my understanding of some of the terms.

Countries are geo-political entities, that were defined by specific individuals. Not everyone gets to define their own country or other countries. Also, the definition of countries change over time.

Illegal entry refers to the entry into a country without in a manner contrary to an entry defined by the law of the country. In a representative democracy, the law, also, is usually defined by certain individuals, and not be everyone.

Poverty is a lack or deficiency of personal needs. The amount of money, which is used to fulfill these needs in capitalist societies, is often used as an indicator of poverty.

"Poor resources" and "poorly managed moderate resources" are contradictory in that the former refers to "poor resources" and the latter "moderate resources". Similarly, "rich resources" and "better managed moderate resources" are contradictory in that the former refers to "rich resources" and the latter "moderate resources". For argument's sake, let us first consider that the countries have "poorly managed moderate resources " and "better managed moderate resources". The management of resources, again, rests not equally on all individuals in a country.

It follows, therefore, that not everyone participates in the definition of "countries", "laws", and "management of resources".

At the end of the day, if an individual is in so much poverty (has very little money), then the definitions become irrelevant to the individual's happiness and the individual does not conform to them anymore. This could possibly be the background of individuals who enter a country illegally. I have not experienced it firsthand, so my statements are only conjectures.

The "members of a population from Country B" (let's call them, Population B), who may conform and live by the definition of "countries", "laws", in general and their country and their laws, in particular, would probably think that it is the illegal entry of the "members of a population from Country A" (let's call them Population A) is not just illegal, but also unjust.

Thus, the tricky part is to find a solution that would both address the poverty of Population B as well as the illegality and injustice against Population A.

Now, let us analyze the next statement regarding the resources and their management. In a globalized world, resources (materials, finished goods, and knowledge) are exported and imported among different countries. The price is determined by the buying country and the selling country, demand, and supply. Thus, even countries with less resources can be rich, depending on what type of resources they have. Once they have an economic advantage, it is easier to build upon the economic advantage more and more. The exports and imports are controlled by individuals who manage the resources. By exporting resources to other countries, these individuals gain economic benefits. However, it results in more and more poverty of Population B.

Thus, we can see that if all populations would like to conform to geo-political boundries identified as the countries, and avoid illegal immigration, then

1) either all resources (including human resources) must be produced and used within their own countries (this solution will address the poverty of Population A), or

2) eliminate all borders and dissolve the definition of countries (this solution will address the injustice against Population B).


On the Morality and Legality of Borders: Border Policies and Asylum Seekers

  • Thank you for your very elaborative view. To clarify the points mentioned, the word Country X may be considered a territory accepted to be the dominion of population X. Illegal entry refers to entry into Country X by non-citizens without the consent of population X. By poverty I refer to a situation where the availability of resources is insufficient to the needs of a given population. My reference to poorer/ better management of moderate resources is indicative of two nations that may or may not materially have similar levels of resources but which effectively benefits variably from such.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 7:08
  • With regards resources and their value - let us presume that the amount of value filtering through to the immigrating populations is insufficient to satisfy their needs. Thank you for elaborating on the potential of Country A to change its situation through trade - however it is unclear as to why Country B would necessarily have to suffer detriment unless it were trading disadvantageously. I am also unclear as to how Option 1 would solve the poverty of Country A and reduce illegal immigration, and how Option 2's blending of countries A and B would be truly moral - certainly to population B.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 7:19
  • Here's why Country B would be trading disadvantageously: the sellers in Country A would not sell to Country B unless they were able to pay more than buyers in Country A itself. (I like John Ruskin's analysis of the dependency of price on 4 variables in "Unto This Last"). Of course, you could argue that the same dynamic will play out within Country A itself, even if exports were stopped. But, that problem would hopefully be less daunting, because both the buyers and sellers are governed by the same economic laws.
    – Joseph B
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 14:05
  • @Avestron Thank you for asking this question. It is helping me to articulate and clarify my opinion to myself. Found this interesting paper: harvardhrj.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/… I am going to read it. For now, I'll add it as a Reference in the answer. I'll address your last question in the next comment.
    – Joseph B
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 14:30
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    It is interesting how we are delving deeper into the economics (even if the focal point of the question is the treatment of the illegal immigrants themselves). With regards trade - in a situation where one country has a dubiously functioning economy the situation that would arise would be a choice between Country B purchasing small amounts of Country A's produce at Country A's prices, or 'B' purchasing larger amounts of 'A's' products at a rate more favourable to B - supply and demand considered - as well as an assumed non-requirement for 'B' to deal with 'A'.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 19:32

Dealing in horrible way usually is unproductive, so for the sake of well-being of both Country A and Country B, Country B should make well controlled process of immigration for any citizen of Country A and massive penalties for not using the process and trying to enter 'illegaly'. Process itself could be designed to tailor needs of Country B - for example incredibly bureaucratic and long taking to control the flow or other aspects. This way whole thing becomes controlled and not 'illegal' and can be handled with more ease, that would benefit both countries better than shutting the border and not really solving anything.

  • This appears to be a variant of the 'Get off my land' argument where a legitimate tenant claims right to exclusively protect the interests of his land by whatever means necessary. In a scenario where the population of Country B has prospered through the fruits of its labors over generations (each standing upon the shoulders of the generation before) it would be understandable that the population would be hesitant to share these fruits with an outsider who has neither the self, nor generations before contributed to Country B's enjoyed wealth today.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 6:50
  • Of course, as you mention, certain actions are less than socially acceptable even on an international level and can bear consequences for Country B should it exercise them. However avoiding a path primarily on the grounds of fear of consequence to self rather than due to other moral considerations may itself be refined upon. It might be interesting to see the 'Get off my land' argument expanded upon in a morally sound fashion.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 6:59
  • With regards the actual solution proposed - it appears to deal with stemming the illegal flow through presentation of an alternative, much more lengthy, if legal, variant. With regards those who persist in using illegal means of entry, unspecified massive penalties are proposed. Perhaps an elaboration on what kinds and degrees of penalties may be morally compatible would enhance this answer. Thank you for sharing your views.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 7:02
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    @iphigenie changed to 'having the right to do' Commented May 9, 2014 at 12:47
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    @iphigenie removed that section. Commented May 9, 2014 at 12:50

Country B's primary moral obligation must be to it's own citizens.

An illegal immigrant is not a citizen and therefore Country B's moral obligation toward them must must be calculated based upon not being to the detriment of the moral obligation they have to it's own citizens.

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    It might be helpful if you detailed what led you to embrace this line of argument. Commented May 8, 2014 at 23:38
  • I feel that the acknowledgement of the desirability of Country B to consider its own citizens' well being when dealing with illegal immigrants from Country A is fairly helpful. However it would be even more helpful to expand upon how Country B might exercise this in a moral way when tackling illegal immigrants.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 6:26

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