Faculty Fall 2022: Désirée Lim

Internal Restrictions on Movement: A Reconsideration

Assistant Professor of Philosophy

We often take for granted that citizens enjoy the right to free movement within their own states. A summary glance over the existing literature on the ethics of migration will give one the impression that free movement is only contentious in the international, rather than domestic or internal context. Indeed, both academic and ordinary discourses focus heavily on the subject of open borders and whether individuals should be free to move between different countries. Internal restrictions, in contrast, are taken to be a thing of the past (as in South Africa’s apartheid regime). Furthermore, if they are to be found today, they exist only in illiberal states that seek to dominate and oppress minority groups, or otherwise exercise extensive control over the lives of their citizens.

In my view, philosophers’ relative inattention to citizens’ freedom of internal movement constitutes a major oversight. My book project, Internal Restrictions on Migration: A Reconsideration attends to this lacuna by identifying significant internal restrictions on American citizens’ freedom of movement, providing a philosophical framework for analyzing the degree to which they are unjust, and proposing a number of concrete policy reforms. To do this, I begin from the valuable insight that restrictions on movement comprise three key components:

(a) restrictions on one’s ability to physically cross into a territory, (b) restrictions on one’s ability to settle within a territory, and (c) restrictions on one’s ability to become a member of the territory.2 While my book will primarily utilize the lens of contemporary analytic philosophy, its scope is resolutely interdisciplinary. It will draw on historical, legal, and geographical sources that point towards large-scale citizen immobility. There, I will address pressing issues like the chronic under-funding of public transport networks, residency-related restrictions on rights to social goods, and the looming threat of forced displacement experienced by many American citizens, whether through the forces of capitalism or climate change. Importantly, my book will not issue a blanket condemnation of restrictions on internal movement. Though internal restrictions are presently used as potent means of domination and oppression, they also carry unexpected and under-explored liberatory potential. In fact, rapidly shifting circumstances at the domestic and global levels require us to abandon the assumption that restrictions on movement are inherently unjust.  For example, restrictions on the movement of wealthy citizens and their ability to take up residence in “at-risk” neighborhoods are not just permissible, but morally necessary.