Here’s another way to think about it: Clubs have positive duties toward their members, including those of the welfare state. But the negative duty not to harm outsiders exists prior to clubs, and denying people the ability to cooperate with one another violates their rights in a very basic way. Our current policy is one of coercively preventing cooperation. In saying “we can’t let people into this country unless we confer upon them all the rights and duties of citizenship,” you are saying that we need to violate their right to move freely and cooperate unless we can give them welfare benefits. But that’s backwards.
Given the externalities associated with large-scale immigration, not all of which are functions of a munificent welfare state, I don’t know that I’m prepared to afford the right to cross-border cooperation quite as strong a trump status as Kerry seems to, but she’s got her finger on a somewhat perverse phenomenon I’ve written about before. If I may abuse Camus for a moment: When material welfare dons the apparel of a fundamental right—through a transposition peculiar to our times—it is our fundamental rights that are called upon to justify ourselves.
I’ve mainly talked about this in the context of various forms of paternalism: Most people in liberal societies seem to concede that adults have some sort of basic right to make decisions, even unhealthy ones, about their own bodies. But once health expenses are paid from public coffers, the same people will often argue, private health risks “impose” costs on the public, and are subject to regulation. But this is backward: A “right” that can be revoked by the provision of a benefit—one the “recipient” has no option to decline—is no right at all.
Bracketing for a moment the question of whether we want to call migration a “right,” I think Kerry is clearly right about this: A foreign worker’s moral claim to peacefully cooperate with a willing American employer is prima facie far stronger than that worker’s claim to American healthcare resources of other perquisites of citizenship. (At any rate, we don’t seem to feel any obligation to provide those when said worker stays abroad.) There is something quite bizarre about refusing to acknowledge the strong claim on the grounds that we believe we lack the political will to refrain from then granting the weaker one, especially when denying both leaves the worker manifestly worse off than recognizing only the first.