Does Immigration Challenge National Sovereignty? (Worksheet)

Katarina Church and Stockholm Mosque, Stockholm, Sweden. CREDIT: Poxnar/Wikimedia

The following content was created to encourage student discussion on the changing nature of sovereignty in the face of modern policy challenges such as mass immigration and globalization. The questions were inspired by a June 6, 2017 talk on immigration and refugees by James Traub. The content provided on this page should be accompanied by the short excerpt from Traub's talk, found on the top right sidebar. This activity works well in a comparative government class.



In international relations, sovereignty is the state's power to control internal affairs without external interference. This traditionally includes, but is not limited to, the physical preservation of one's borders and freedom from foreign meddling during national elections.

With ongoing humanitarian crises happening in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, an unprecedented wave of refugees from these countries have tried to enter Europe. This has led many European citizens—particularly from nationalistic backgrounds—to ask whether the influx of refugees into their countries is a violation of sovereignty.

1. Based upon the brief synopsis above, do you think mass immigration is a violation of state sovereignty? Why or why not? In your explanation, make sure to relate your response to your interpretation of the concept of sovereignty. (For a more detailed synopsis, refer to the first three paragraphs of the .doc attached on the top right sidebar).


Nations and states are different concepts. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "...a nation often consists of an ethnic or cultural community...While many states are nations in some sense, there are many nations which are not fully sovereign states. As an example, the Native American Iroquois constitute a nation but not a state, since they do not possess the requisite political authority over their internal or external affairs."

The following question is based upon a reading of the full excerpt attached on the top right sidebar.
2. Based upon the definition of a nation "as an ethnic or cultural community" and the excerpt you read, does the wave of immigration to Europe in 2015 represent a violation of national sovereignty? Why or why not? In your explanation, make sure to relate your response to your interpretation of the concept of national sovereignty.


3. Based upon the excerpt, do you think it is ethical to limit immigration in order to protect national sovereignty in the context of culture? Why or why not? What about during humanitarian crises? Explain.


4. Based upon the excerpt and prior knowledge, is national sovereignty still relevant in today's increasingly globalized world? Why or why not?


5. We discussed sovereignty in the context of an unprecedented wave of immigration to Europe in 2015. What other contemporary issues threaten state and/or national sovereignty? Explain.