Originally posted on October 23, 2018
Here is an excerpt:
The parallels between racial discrimination and hostility to immigration were in fact noted by such nineteenth century opponents of slavery as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. These similarities suggest that moral appeals similar to those made by the antislavery and civil rights movements can also play a key role in the debate over immigration.
Moral appeals were in fact central to the two issues on which public opinion has been most supportive of immigrants in recent years: DACA and family separation. Overwhelming majorities supporting letting undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children stay in the US, oppose the forcible separation of children from their parents at the border. In both cases, public opinion seems driven by considerations of justice and morality, not narrow self-interest (although letting DACA recipients stay would indeed benefit the US economy). Admittedly, these are relatively "easy" cases because both involve harming children for the alleged sins of their parents. But they nonetheless show the potency of moral considerations in the immigration debate. And most other immigration restrictions are only superficially different: instead of punishing children for their parents' illegal border-crossing, they victimize adults and children alike because their parents gave birth to them in the wrong place.
The key role of moral principles in struggles for liberty and equality should not be surprising. Contrary to popular belief, voters' political views on most issues are not determined by narrow self-interest. Public attitudes are instead generally driven by a combination of moral principles and perceived benefits to society as a whole. Immigration is not an exception to that tendency.
This is not to say that voters weigh the interests of all people equally. Throughout history, they have often ignored or downgraded those of groups seen as inferior, or otherwise undeserving of consideration. Slavery and segregation persisted in large part because, as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney notoriously put it, many whites believed that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Similarly, the subordination of women was not seriously questioned for many centuries, because most people believed that it was a natural part of life, and that men were entitled to rule over the opposite sex. In much the same way, today most people assume that natives are entitled to keep out immigrants either to preserve their culture against supposedly inferior ways or because they analogize a nation to a house or club from which the "owners" can exclude newcomers for almost any reason they want.
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