Civil Society’s Answer to Migration: Education

In my last post, I expanded on the importance of permanent residents in the United States to express consent. I will not attempt to provide a mechanism by which native-born citizens can accomplish, but I would like to return to the particular group on which this blog is focused – undocumented immigrants who enter the United States at a young age. I previously suggested that it is irrelevant (at least in this discussion) whether these individuals consented to come to the United States, but that it is essential for them to explicitly agree to be governed and to join the civil society if they intend to stay.

Expressing consent, as noted previously, is significant because it legitimizes the government to which one is subscribing, affirms the country’s goodness or attractiveness in the world order, provides a real and symbolic gesture to which individuals may be held accountable and obedient, imparts a unique and prestigious distinction, and encourages one to embrace this political identity and become more civically engaged. However, I neglected to mention how explicit consent also preserves order, prescribes a series of steps for assimilation, invigorates the sense of community, and fosters productivity and participation. More than a simple end in and of itself, consent is instrumentally rational for the function and health of strong civil societies.

But, before one expressly consents, one must demonstrate political efficacy (or else the consent maybe attributed to coercion rather than willing and independent decision-making). This may be challenging for foreigners or migrants who are unfamiliar with the language, laws, institutions, and conventions of their new home; and, historically speaking, when large numbers of migrants settle in these new locations, increases in crime, unemployment, homelessness, and disease are fairly common.

In previous posts, I cited the wage-labor driven migration that took place from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, and the social disorder that ensued. In response to the influx of young, unskilled villagers flooding the urban cities in search of work and the subsequent delinquency and lawlessness, Parliament enacted restrictive laws and employed severe corporal punishment to stem the flow of migrants and control their behavior. However, these practices were unsuccessful in reforming these young transgressors because punishments did not complete the transform from delinquency to discipline.

Soon, penal reform emphasized creating “docile bodies,” which could be used and improved in calculated, organized ways without the use of violence or coercion (see Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, p. 136). Individuals soon became capable of willing self-regulation through consistent, normalized, and routinized behavior, which made them economically productive units (Foucaut 26). They were also acknowledged as political instruments because of their training to take instruction and obey authority (Foucault 25). Yet, as the English economy continued to falter due to the Anglo-Dutch war, the lack of new technology, and the ineffective sources of industry and production, John Locke realized that not only convicted criminals needed correction, but the population of migrants as a whole. What’s more, Locke observed that the acquisition of political efficacy came more easily to children than to any other age group, making it essential that they receive the proper moral and intellectual instruction. This required entrusting children to nurturing, attentive, wise, and virtuous guardians (even if that meant removing a child from his or her parents); subjecting them to gentle correction; instilling “the ingenuous shame and apprehension of displeasure” to serve as self-restraint; learning to appreciate labor; and worshipping God devoutly (Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 33).


By cultivating the young, poor, and unruly migrants, England began to stabilize and establish itself as a competitive economic force internationally, while the individuals in question were able to prosper. And, though I know it is dangerous to take Locke out of context, his policy of non-discrimination towards educating migrants and the poor sets a precedent that would presumably support the concept of welcoming and reforming foreign-born individuals in present-day.


As Locke claims, “the children… are the Children of the Public; and the Public are obliged by every consideration of humanity, religion, and sound policy, to provide for the education; to take care that such principles are implanted in their minds, and that they be trained in such habits of regularity and industry, as will qualify them for becoming useful members of society” (see Facts and Observations Relating to the State of the Workhouse and the Poor of the Township of Sheffield in 1789, p. 8). Thus, it is society’s responsibility to see not only to the education of these children, but that political or economic forces do not alienate them from becoming productive resources.

Considering there are approximately two million children currently living in the U.S. without permission and hundreds of thousands more born to undocumented parents every year, this obligation to provide for undocumented children might seem oppressive and unfair.  However, it is economically rational and politically prudent, to educate these young people, give them opportunities to demonstrate their contribution to society, and (provided that they demonstrate good moral character, obedience, willingness, and industriousness) provide them a means toward earning citizenship.

Though opponents propose that admitting foreigners under these circumstances is a threat to “the security of each man’s private possessions” because, as history has demonstrated, where there is size and competition, there also exists a tension (A Letter Concerning Toleration, 58). However, Locke does not perceive educated individuals as a menace, but as a prized means of production because they stimulate and stabilize the economy, which leads to greater national security. Locke would also reason that people’s property is not in danger because foreigners who have come to a country and been reformed have been habituated to the laws and customs of the state, and therefore pose no greater risk than any native-born citizen. To hunt and deport these refined individuals would be shortsighted, an inefficient use of law enforcement resources, and would be a grave loss to the national economy and institution of democracy.