Open Borders Plus Reparations

Open borders is a tough sell in Western countries. Generations of closed borders and anti-open borders propaganda has led most Westerners to conclude that having open borders is reckless and potentially disastrous for receiving countries. My fellow bloggers and I have worked hard to reverse this current of thought, but much work still needs to be done to help realize our goal. So why burden ourselves by also pushing for reparations for immigrants on top of open borders, as I advocate in this post? Because it is morally warranted. (See here for my post that outlines why open borders itself is warranted. In this post the focus is on open borders plus reparations in the U.S. context, but the same arguments apply universally. )

In the United States, reparations for harm committed against certain ethnic groups by the government have periodically been considered. Decades after the government interned over one hundred thousand Japanese-Americans during War II, the U.S. provided monetary reparations to former internees. Reparations for African Americans and Native Americans have also been debated, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent article “The Case for Reparations” concerning African Americans.

The malign actions committed against these groups by the government and European American citizens have been horrific. Forcible relocation in the case of Japanese and Native Americans. Wars of aggression against and theft of land from Native Americans. Slavery, Jim Crow, de facto slavery after the Civil War, theft, unpunished murder, federal redlining of African American neighborhoods, and the mass incarceration of African Americans. The fruit of this oppression, in the case of African Americans, has been a huge wealth gap between African Americans and the rest of the country, as well as high incarceration rates.

Actions by the U.S. government against would-be immigrants have also been devastating. Millions of individuals have been deported from the country over the years, leading to immiseration, family separation, and sometimes death. (While not strictly a case of deportation, 254 refugees from the ship St. Louis, which was denied entry into the U.S. in 1939, died in the Holocaust. More recently, a man deported in 2012 to El Salvador, “dubbed by the United Nations as one of deadliest countries in the world,” was murdered earlier this year by assassins hired by a disgruntled former tenant. A forthcoming study shows that close to one hundred deportees to Central American from the U.S. have been murdered over the last two years.) Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people have been detained each year and others harmed, even killed, by immigration agents. In addition, thousands have died in deserts trying to evade border enforcement along the southern U.S. border, while others have suffered abuse by non-government entities in transit to the U.S. or after arriving in the U.S. due to their undocumented status.

Furthermore, immigration restrictions on would-be immigrants have kept many in the developing world from escaping poverty. Restrictions prevent would-be immigrants from benefiting from the place premium, which allows a person from a disadvantaged country to earn much more in an advanced country, even without an increase in the person’s skills. A paper by Michael Clemens and others concludes that “simply allowing labor mobility can reduce a given household’s poverty to a much greater degree than most known antipoverty interventions inside developing countries.” Restrictions also have blocked would-be immigrants access to a decent education in the U.S., which would increase their earnings potential.

In addition to locking would-be immigrants into poverty in the developing world, restrictions force them to work for low wages in dangerous conditions in sweatshops they would otherwise avoid by migrating. Some commentators have argued that having sweatshop jobs in poor countries is preferable to not having the jobs available at all (Nicholas Kristof: “… the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they fail to exploit enough.”).  However, they fail to acknowledge that the fact that there are only these two alternatives is due to, as John Lee argued in a 2013 post on Bangladeshi sweatshop workers, “laws that ban Bangladeshis at gunpoint from working in our countries.” John’s post was published in the wake of a factory fire in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people, some of whom might have migrated to the U.S. under open borders rather than toiling in the unsafe factory.

Consider also women living in countries where they are mistreated who might escape to the freedom of the U.S. under open borders. It is difficult to determine the number of women who have been forced to endure misogyny in other countries because of restrictions, but it may be many.

The harm that our immigration laws have visited upon would-be immigrants is cumulative. They not only prevent today’s would-be immigrants from improving their economic lives (not to mention that they kill and enable the abuse of some of them), they have been doing the same to their ancestors, leaving today’s would-be immigrants much less well off than they might have been had their ancestors been able to migrate to the U.S. People in each generation who are barred from migrating are prevented from accumulating the wealth and educational capital to pass down to the next generation, and so on. The poverty one sees in developing countries is often largely the result of an inability of multiple generations to have accessed the advanced U.S. economy. This parallels the African-American predicament: An African American man  told Mr. Coats that “The reason black people are so far behind now is not because of now… It’s because of then.”

The American government, and the people who have elected it, have caused immense harm, economic, physical, and psychological, to many immigrants over many years. Not only must we open our borders, some reparation is due to all immigrants. (Since most would-be immigrants have probably been negatively impacted by restrictions in some way, either directly or through their impact on their ancestors, reparations should be provided to all immigrants.) Determining the amount and nature of the reparation is complex, especially for those who have been killed or abused due to restrictions. As Mr. Coates suggests with regard to reparations for African Americans, “perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed.”

Nonetheless, here are some ideas for reparations for immigrants under open borders. Part of a reparations package would be to grant immigrants immediate, full access to the American welfare state: Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, TANF, job training, Pell Grants, federal student loans, housing assistance etc. For those concerned about elderly immigrants arriving to our shores and claiming benefits to which they have never contributed, remember that they would have happily contributed earlier had open borders been available when they were younger, and besides their personal finances have often been decimated for years due to immigration restrictions. With a center-left perspective, I believe some of these investments could reap later rewards, such as making it easier for new immigrants to attend college, which would in turn enhance productivity.

Moreover, new immigrants would be provided a set amount of money (maybe $5000), the services of cultural counselors and English teachers to help them get settled and oriented in the U.S., and low cost housing, services similarly provided for refugees today. These measures could smooth the country’s transition to a significant increase in immigrants under open borders and bolster the economy by spurring construction of new housing and consumer spending. Finally, for those migrants who don’t have resources to finance their travel to the U.S., travel assistance could be provided.  (With regard to voting, I would continue to limit the franchise to those who have lived in the U.S.for a number of years to ensure that they fully understand the democratic foundation of our country before voting.)

Admittedly this all may be difficult for most people to accept: open borders and instant access to the welfare state, a cash allowance, low cost-housing, and travel assistance. Open borders plus reparations may not be popular even among many of my fellow open borders advocates. For example, it differs greatly from Nathan Smith’s DRITI open borders plan, which burdens new immigrants with higher taxes than native-born Americans.

Mr. Coates has written about the deeper value of advocating for reparations (in the case of African Americans): “I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced… An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” Similarly, providing reparations for immigrants entering under open borders could eventually help instill the idea in Americans’ hearts and minds that restrictions have constituted a great sin against a large portion of humanity, hopefully incubating Americans against reverting back to immigration restrictions.

Related reading

Open Borders editorial note: As described on our general blog and comments policies page: “The moral and intellectual responsibility for each blog post also lies with the individual author. Other bloggers are not responsible for the views expressed by any author in any individual blog post, and the views of bloggers expressed in individual blog posts should not be construed as views of the site per se.”

Joel Newman

Joel has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon.

See also:

our blog post introducing Joel
all blog posts by Joel

8 thoughts on “Open Borders Plus Reparations”

  1. The minute you open borders types are for open borders in Israel, I will listen to your argument. You will still be wrong and even insane, but at least you won’t be hypocrites.

  2. Your article makes sense to me. We frequently hear the objection that immigrants just want to risk their lives, spend what little money they have in treacherous journeys between continents so they can come recline on old sofas, draw welfare and watch TV all day in the US. Well what if this were true, perhaps we owe it to them?

    1. Open borders advocate Joel Newman lacks any understand of his thesis on open borders and the enormous consequences he rains down on first world countries. In 1965 when American women and all Western countries utilized birth control for two children families, the world population hit 3.5 billion. Developing countries refused to use birth control and added another 3.5 billion people by 2016 to reach 7.3 billion and soaring by 80 million annually.

      They add another 1 billion of themselves every 12 years on their way to 10.1 billion by 2050 according to UN Population Projections. Thus, if allowed via open borders to migrate, they would simply overrun with their desperate numbers all first world countries. It’s unsustainable on every level.

      Newman needs to work simple math. Otherwise, he’s an ‘enumerate’ or mathematically illiterate. To bring an even nastier understanding to open borders, sociological destruction of functioning societies grows as the numbers grow. For instance, Africa at 1.1 billion in 2016 will reach 2.0 billion in 2050 and 4.0 billion at the end of this century according the United Nations Population Projections.

      We cannot solve their problems by their endless numbers and importing them to first world countries via open borders. All arguments to that end prove absurd, out of touch with reality and totally untenable.

      “Unlimited population growth cannot be sustained; you cannot sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources. No species can overrun the carrying capacity of a finite land mass. This Law cannot be repealed and is not negotiable.” Dr. Albert Bartlett, http://www.albartlett.org , University of Colorado, USA.

      Help them in their own countries. Frosty Wooldridge, 6 continent world bicycle traveler. Author of: America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans.

  3. Imagine the opportunities I have missed by not being born into your family. I demand to live an your house and be paid an appropriate stipend from your family budget.

  4. In general, I’ve always been infuriated by the way arguments for reparations offend against justice. Of course, they’re attempts to achieve justice, but they’re willfully blind to the fact that it’s impossible for policy to erase all the residue of historic wrongs, or to equalize the inequalities inherent in human nature and the structural requirements of civilization.

    Reparations for black Americans is a case in point. Certainly, slavery was a terrible evil, and segregation a lesser but still large evil. Slavery really was a kind of theft, such that it would have been fitting to force masters to pay back the value of stolen labor. But we can’t force long-dead masters to pay, nor give awards to long-dead slaves. What about their descendants? Don’t they still suffer from the effects of slavery? Actually, without slavery, they’d still be in Africa, where average incomes are far lower than in the US. Objectively, far from imposing economic hardships on modern American blacks, slavery has conferred on them enormous benefits, raising their incomes 10-fold or 100-fold compared to what they would have been without it.

    But never mind: suppose we decide to pay reparations to American blacks, to bring them up to the average incomes of whites, or something. Who should pay to finance reparations? Presumably those who stole the labor in the first place, and inherited the advantages. But wait: slavery was only widespread in the South, so descendants of Northerners shouldn’t pay. And many whites in the South were too poor to have slaves, so they don’t seem to be to blame. And obviously no one whose ancestors immigrated from Europe after 1865 has any kind of ancestral guilt. So we’ll track down the descendants of the great planters and send them the whole bill? I wonder whether the descendants of the great planters are even particularly rich now. What if they’re not? What if the great-great-great-grandson of Virginia’s wealthiest slaveowning planter turns out to be a homeless guy on the streets of Los Angeles? Do we try to soak him for the millions that his ancestor stole, plus interest?

    Usually, the proposal is to finance reparations out of general taxes. So I, for example, would be taxed to pay reparations to blacks. But my American genealogy goes back only to the last decades of the 19th century, and my ancestors migrated to the American West, far from where slavery had been practiced. It would be difficult to think of anything more insulting to any notion of justice than that I should be punished, not for something I did, nor even for something my ancestors did (though that would be completely unjust as well), but for something that was done by other people in places where none of my ancestors ever lived, just because I, like the Southern slaveowners, have white skin.

    Reparations to American blacks are probably the most outstanding case of a proposal that’s frequently floated that exemplifies heroically, mind-bogglingly fallacious moral reasoning. Reparations to immigrants would be somewhat more defensible.

    But of course, as a practical matter, open borders plus reparations would be utterly, very predictably ruinous. Even with no welfare benefits for immigrants, a pure laissez-faire free market, and no incentives, open borders would probably attract billions of immigrants to the prosperous West. There’s room for serious doubt that open borders plus reparations to immigrants would bankrupt the United States very swiftly. The proposal is fiscally impossible. Its interest lies only in being an interesting moral example, a reflection on what, perhaps, real justice might demand. But it’s not feasible, and I doubt that the attempt to implement it would even benefit immigrants as much as simple open borders, or DRITI, simply because it would fail so fast and end up in so much chaos that it would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

    1. Open borders advocate Joel Newman lacks any understand of his thesis on open borders and the enormous consequences he rains down on first world countries. In 1965 when American women and all Western countries utilized birth control for two children families, the world population hit 3.5 billion. Developing countries refused to use birth control and added another 3.5 billion people by 2016 to reach 7.3 billion and soaring by 80 million annually.

      They add another 1 billion of themselves every 12 years on their way to 10.1 billion by 2050 according to UN Population Projections. Thus, if allowed via open borders to migrate, they would simply overrun with their desperate numbers all first world countries. It’s unsustainable on every level.

      Newman needs to work simple math. Otherwise, he’s an ‘enumerate’ or mathematically illiterate. To bring an even nastier understanding to open borders, sociological destruction of functioning societies grows as the numbers grow. For instance, Africa at 1.1 billion in 2016 will reach 2.0 billion in 2050 and 4.0 billion at the end of this century according the United Nations Population Projections.

      We cannot solve their problems by their endless numbers and importing them to first world countries via open borders. All arguments to that end prove absurd, out of touch with reality and totally untenable.

      “Unlimited population growth cannot be sustained; you cannot sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources. No species can overrun the carrying capacity of a finite land mass. This Law cannot be repealed and is not negotiable.” Dr. Albert Bartlett, http://www.albartlett.org , University of Colorado, USA.

      Help them in their own countries. Frosty Wooldridge, 6 continent world bicycle traveler. Author of: America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans.

  5. Thanks for writing this. I agree with your argument here that reparations are morally warranted and appreciate your speaking out to advocate for the idea.

  6. Call reparations what it is, redistribution. There funds will ultimately come out of the Middle Class. There are never talks of expected return for this proposed payment. Most of the “victims” that, in your eyes, deserve payment, already fail to take advantage of what is available to them already. Public schools in the inner city are full of crimes, pregnancies and low graduation rates. How would free college be any different. People need a buy-in to the American way of life of they will never contribute.

    I am white, and I grew up poor (yes that happens). I could have let excuses keep me down and sat there with my hand out waiting but I took control of my life.

    Free anything without an expectation is ridiculous. I even feel that welfare recipients should have to take a drug test to get benefits. I guarantee that would reduce crime. Reduce crime and you free up resources to spend on outreach programs. In all of these demands for more benefits, I never hear they needy admit that as a society, they need to make changes. They need to admit that broken homes, as a norm, are very destructive. Single teen parents, drug dependencies, gangs are all things as a community that they can impact. No amount of my tax money will help if they are not going to make an effort.

    I have a great family with 2 kids, it is hard for me to imagine the tax increases we would all have if your ideas were to become reality. That would be less money I would be able to put into my own children’s future. I can only work to provide for so many people, I don’t care to work harder so millions do not have to.

    I strongly encourage people to read:

    Chicago’s Real Crime Story

    Why decades of community organizing haven’t stemmed the city’s youth violence

    Heather Mac Donald
    Winter 2010
    The Social Order; Public safety; Cities

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