Thesis Christ: Elai Kobayashi-Solomon on the Ethics of Immigration

This week, the Quest spoke with political science major Elai Kobayashi-Solomon about his thesis research centering on the ethics of immigration. Kobayashi-Solomon has begun to dive deeper into the question of how states should handle immigration ethically. 

Kobayashi-Solomon is framing his research with several key questions. Does federal law prevent states from excluding foreign non-citizens? If states do attempt to exclude these people, what is the strongest argument or justification for that stance? Finally, how are these complex concepts manifested in actionable policies? Kobayashi-Solomon’s research is an attempt to look past assumptions about what immigration should look like and think critically about what is ethical. 

Kobayashi-Solomon emphasized that the social understanding of immigration frames it as either a political or economic issue. He acknowledges that immigration is deeply intertwined with politics and economics, but he pushes back on the notion that the story ends there. 

“Immigration is also about global inequity, state authority, and a political community,” he said. 

His thesis, Kobayashi-Solomon explained, is tentatively broken down into four chapters. Sections one through three will deal with existing arguments on how to handle immigration. Chapter one is going to touch on the idea favored by international relations theorists that states have absolute power to pursue whatever policy they choose in international contexts. Chapter two will outline the argument for completely open borders. Chapter three covers the argument that states should have limited powers to exclude some specific groups. The fourth chapter breaks away from the pack. As a final piece of his thesis (if time allows), Kobayashi-Solomon plans to research and build his own opinion on what ethical immigration should look like. 

As a Japanese-American born in Tokyo, Kobayashi-Solomon has a unique perspective on immigration. “My mother was a Japanese immigrant… and reflecting back, I think [that’s the reason] the issues that most interest me have to do with cultural plurality,” he said.

Kobayashi-Solomon’s interest in political theory became more specific when he came to Reed. “I came to Reed at a time where politics were really important, right after the Trump election.” This event affected Kobayashi-Solomon strongly. “It confused me, and I didn’t know [what] to think [or] what was right and what was wrong. That got me interested in political theory.”

This starting point encouraged Kobayashi-Solomon to read on his own time, diving deeper into political theory. He was inspired by the care, rigor, and passion of Associate Professor Tamara Metz and Robert H. and Blanche Day Ellis Professor Peter Steinberger. (Steinberger is now Kobayashi-Solomon’s thesis advisor.) 

Kobayashi-Solomon, like most seniors when asked what their post-Reed plans are, recoiled. He is considering a path that would lead him to academia, but he is excited about the opportunity that time away from academic environments provides. He mentioned the possibility of taking time off to study in China instead before returning to the United States to study immigration law. Either way, he expressed a strong interest in continuing to do what he enjoys most: discussing political issues and finding creative solutions.

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