Open borders is the new prison abolitionism
In recent months, Republicans have started calling Democrats the party of “open borders.” White House aide Stephen Miller has called Democratic opposition to expanding immigrant prison camps for kids “part of their crusade for open borders.” President Trump is no different. “The Democrats are for open borders, which means crime,” he recently opined. “It’s not a question of, like, what do you think it means. Open borders means crime.” Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. And while Democrats have deported record numbers of immigrants on their watch, some are turning to the idea of open borders, discussing it with seriousness and specificity. [Will Wilkinson / The Economist]
Certain arguments that were once thought of as too radical to print in mainstream sources or to avow on the campaign trail have gained acceptance on both the right and the left. On the left, the idea of abolishing ICE has gone from fringe to almost obligatory, and even prison abolitionism has gained traction. So too has the idea of open borders, as Americans watch the harm wrought by immigration enforcement. Some have called freedom of movement a basic human right. The family separation crisis and immigration enforcement generally has pushed many to look for new solutions. See also our 6/28/18 edition.
A recent opinion piece in The Economist discusses the EU version of open borders, and explains that it is not “all or nothing.” Will Wilkinson writes, “Legal entry and residency can be open to citizens of some countries but not to others. The French are free to waltz into Spain, but Moroccans aren’t.” Furthermore, some openness can coexist with overall restrictiveness. “A border that is entirely open to the citizens of a few nearby countries can be, on the whole, less porous than one than that is open to anyone anywhere who ticks the right boxes. Immigration policy can’t shut down streams of human traffic but should strive instead to “respect and regulate inevitable migration flows.” An open border between Mexico and America, he argues, could work, bringing labor migration within the rule of law, reducing exploitation of laborers by employers and human smugglers, and narrowing the gap in living standards that, more than anything, draws people from Mexico into the U.S. [Will Wilkinson / The Economist]
And in a recent column for USA Today, economist Jeffrey Miron argued that the “solution to America’s immigration problems is open borders, under which the United States imposes no immigration restrictions at all. If the U.S. adopts this policy, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.” This course of action will make all immigration legal, freeing the government from the task of untangling thorny issues of “asylum, economic hardship, family reunification, family separation, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and so on,” saving the money the U.S. currently spends on immigration prevention, enforcement, adjudication, detention, and deportations. A 2013 report estimated that immigration enforcement cost more than $18 billion annually, a number that has most likely risen since. It will lead to better economic outcomes for Americans because of free movement of labor, especially skilled labor, and lower prices. Without the fear of never being able to return, much of the immigration would be temporary, as often happens in the EU, and has happened in years past in the U.S. [Jeffrey Miron / USA Today]
Economist Michael Clemens, who works at an anti-poverty think tank, says that there are “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” right now that no one is picking up. The policy that could make the world twice as rich as it is now: open borders. “Labor is the world’s most valuable commodity—yet thanks to strict immigration regulation, most of it goes to waste,” argue Bryan Caplan and Vipul Naik in “A radical case for open borders.” Mexican laborers who migrate to the United States can expect to earn 150 percent more. Unskilled Nigerians make 1,000 percent more. Making people stay in countries that cannot make good use of their labor “is as economically senseless as making farmers plant in Antarctica,” they argue. And the noneconomic benefits are plentiful: an end to suffering both in the native country and as immigration detainees in the United States. Open borders does not mean “no borders” or “the abolition of the nation-state.” On the contrary, “the reason why migration is so attractive is that some countries are well-run and others, abysmally so,” according to The Economist. This would not change, but the experience of those individuals would change, and drastically. [The Economist]
Some argue that returning to the U.S. immigration policy of 1790-1875, under which virtually anybody in the world could immigrate, would diminish America’s national sovereignty because the U.S. could no longer exercise “control” over borders. But Cato Institute analyst Alex Nowrasteh writes: “U.S. immigration laws are not primarily designed or intended to keep out foreign armies, spies, or insurgents. The main effect of our immigration laws is to keep out willing foreign workers from selling their labor to willing American purchasers. Such economic controls do not aid in the maintenance of national sovereignty and relaxing or removing them would not infringe upon the government’s national sovereignty any more than a policy of unilateral free trade would.” Indeed, he points out, the U.S. maintained its sovereignty during the period between 1790 and 1875 despite fighting the war of 1812, the Mexican-American war, and the Civil War. [Alex Nowrasteh / Cato Institute]
“Democrats are now synonymous with utter lawlessness,” proclaims one far-right outlet. “They want no borders, no prisons and ultimately no police.” This is not true, but it is closer to being true than it was a few months ago.