UCL Faculty of Laws


Online | Immigrant Legalization: A Dilemma between Justice and the Rule of Law?

03 May 2022, 4:00 pm–6:00 pm

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This event is organised by the Institute for Laws, Politics and Philosophy (ILPP)

Event Information

Open to



UCL Laws

Please note that the time allocated for this colloquia will be devoted to discussion of the paper.

Speaker: Prof. Sarah Song (University of California, Berkley)

About the Paper

Immigrant legalization policies pose an ethical dilemma for liberal democracies between justice and the rule of law. On the one hand, liberal democracies aspire to the liberal principles of individual liberty and equal treatment of all persons within the state’s jurisdiction. Building on liberal ideals of justice, compelling moral arguments have been made for granting legal status and a path to citizenship to unauthorized migrants by virtue of the social ties that they have developed, their contributions to the host society, and their vulnerability to exploitation. On the other hand, legalization poses a challenge to another important value, the rule of law, which requires government to operate within a framework of law in accordance with well-established public norms, not in an arbitrary or ad hoc manner. Immigrant legalization programs are said to undermine the rule of law because they reward lawbreaking, allow queue-jumping, and incentivize further unauthorized migration. 
This article clarifies each horn of the dilemma, focusing on rule of law arguments. Our aim is to fill a gap in the normative literature by examining the issue of legalization from a rule of law perspective in a way that integrates empirical and normative analysis. We critically assess the claim that legalization policies undermine the rule of law by examining empirical evidence and reflecting on the normative meaning of the rule of law. Our central contention is that legalization policies can enhance the rule of law. We offer five rule of law arguments in support of legalization, which help to mitigate the dilemma between justice and the rule of law. We conclude by discussing some policy implications of our analysis.

About the Speaker

 Sarah Song is a political theorist who teaches in the Jurisprudence & Social Policy (JSP) Program at UC Berkeley Law School, and is the author of Immigration and Democracy (Oxford, 2018) and Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism (Cambridge, 2007).


This event will be delivered via Zoom Meeting. Attendee cameras are encouraged to be turned on however microphones will need to be off unless when contributing to discussions or putting forward a question for our guest speaker. You will receive your zoom joining link on registration, as well as a link to the paper. Contact the Laws Events team (laws-events@ucl.ac.uk) if you have not received the link.

About the Institute

The Institute brings together political and legal theorists from Law, Political Science and Philosophy and organises regular colloquia in terms 2 and 3.

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