Amy Wax and the Problem of Right-Wing Double Standards on Immigration

University of Pennsylvania Prof Amy Wax


Amy Wax is a University of Pennsylvania professor of law. Her statement could lead to her being investigated and possibly facing sanctions by her university. “As long as the majority of Asians support it.” Democrats, please help them advance their positions. I believe the United States would be better off with less Asians, and less Asian immigrants.” She is not the only one to support racial discrimination when it comes to immigration policies. Wax stated the exact same things about non-white migrants at the 2019 National Conservatism Conference, saying that “our country will be happier with more whites” and “less nonwhites”. 

Concerning sanctions, I agree with Academic Freedom Alliance’s letter. It emphasizes the principle that universities shouldn’t punish professors for political speech outside of their class. (I am also a member, but wasn’t involved in the writing of the letter). Penn is not a public university so the First Amendment doesn’t apply. However, university administrators cannot be trusted to implement such restrictions and enforce them fairy. Any attempt to restrict academic freedom and to reduce intellectual discourse quality is unlikely.

However, Wax’s comments on immigration have been deeply criticised. Worse yet, their statements on immigration are part of a larger pattern among the right. Many conservatives back discrimination and injustice in the immigration policy that they reject elsewhere.

Wax’s supporters and Wax defend Wax’s comments about immigration, pointing out that Wax’s objections to Asian immigrants or non-whites generally is not about race as such but about cultural and political values. Wax would be open to taking more Asian immigrants, if Republicans voted instead of Democrats.

This defense is not enough. Wax continues to advocate large-scale racial or ethnic discrimination. It doesn’t mean that Wax wants race and ethnicity to be used as crude proxy for different characteristics. Conservatives including Wax readily recognize this, especially when it is about college admissions. This argument, which Wax was defending, is based on the fact that African American applicants are either more likely to have suffered racial injustices or to support “diversity” at campus. This is likely true. The notion that Americans are less likely to experience racism than those of whites is also likely true. Wax disagrees with such racial preference arguments and supports colorblind admissions.

This logic must also apply to immigration policy. In fact, affirmative action in admissions is far worse than racial or ethnic discrimination in immigration policies.  The vast majority of victims are still able to attend college in the USA, though they often go to universities with a lower reputation than those that turned them down. Contrary, many of the victims of racism and ethnic discrimination in immigrant policy will live a life of poverty and oppression back in their home countries.

The reason we should oppose discrimination in college admissions has to do with the fact that the government and university bureaucrats cannot be trusted to make such policies fair. This is also true for immigration policy. Anti-Asian discrimination in college admissions is often driven by crude stereotypes.

As Wax’s case shows, discrimination in immigration is not based on generalizations of the political views of different racial or ethnic groups. They also oppose principles of freedom speech. It’s striking to see that conservatives who favor viewpoint-based restrictions on immigration are angry also about government attempts at combating “misinformation online” and “cancelculture”. If we can’t trust government and university officials to properly regulate speech on  social media or that of academics like Wax, why should we trust the government to decide which would-be immigrants’ political views are acceptable, and which ones have bad cultural values?

It’s even more true if the exclusion is not made based on actual views. Wax will not be punished for making false statements, but it may still get penalized for the truth of what she said. She would likely be punished for being white. In fact, university administrators have concluded that people of color are less likely to express reprehensible opinions on racial topics than those from other ethnicities.

This double standard may be acceptable, as would-be immigrant workers don’t have the right to enter the US. This is a false assumption that I reject. In fact, many immigration restrictions are unfair for the same reasons that domestic racial disparition is. Standard rationales for general rights for governments to exclude immigrants fail when you really look.

Even if we accept that government have the general right to exclusion migrants, this doesn’t mean they are allowed to do so on grounds of racial or ethnic discrimination. Even if the institution is able to bar someone for another reason, racial discrimination in government policies is unacceptable. For instance, the government does not have to admit every applicant to public universities, nor do they need to create such schools. Racial discrimination in admissions to state universities remains unjust (a fact that outrages even conservatives such as Amy Wax).

Discrimination on the basis of political opinions is also illegal. An admissions policy at a state university which only accepts Democrats, or Republicans, would violate freedom of expression. It would cause a lot of opposition from conservatives.

Exempting immigration restrictions and moral restraints from any other government policy is not a good idea. It is particularly true of restrictions based upon crude racial/ethnic stereotypes such as lumping all Asians with all whites. This ignores the great diversity that exists within each category.

These double standards would not be relevant if they were exclusive to Wax. These views are unfortunately common among many of the political right. They cheered Donald Trump’s stigmatization and advocacy for banning immigration from “shithole” countries (all of which are majority non-white), as well as his openly targeting Muslims travel bans, something conservatives, rightly, denounce unconstitutional in the domestic context. A majority of right-leaning politicians support an immigration policy that is exempt from the constitutional limitations which apply to all government policies.

When it comes to racism and ethnic discrimination, the political left is not without its faults. I condemned anti-Asian biases in admissions at elite education institutions. Their flaws should not be used to justify the egregious double standard of conservative immigration policy.

When it comes to immigration policy, you must be true supporters of principles like color-blindness as well as freedoms such speech and religion. Conservatives should remember this.

Experimentation has shown that encouraging invidious discrimination within one policy area increases its risk of spreading to other areas. Histories have shown that racism in immigration policy was closely connected to the same bigotry back home. Both feed off each other. Anti-Asian  immigration restrictions in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries coincided with discriminatory policies against those same groups within the United States; the two were mutually reinforcing. It is possible that the same pattern will recur in today’s world.