Huffington Post

Bryan Caplan, Steven Camarota (of CIS) and I were interviewed at the Huffington Post this morning ( Talking head was never a career ambition of mine, and I don’t consider myself particularly gifted at extempore public speaking, but if it can help, I’ll do it. Comments are welcome as always, but in this case, I’d be particularly interested in tips on how to make the case to a different audience than the readership of Open Borders: The Case. From the point of view of the average viewer, are there elephants in the room that I’ve left unaddressed? Am I gratuitously opening up big new vulnerabilities for my own side? Am I missing easy ways to score points with the median viewer?

Halfway measures towards open borders

Full-fledged open borders seems far off to the point of being utopian, but there are several principles/programs short of open borders that might be easier to achieve, and which would bring some of the benefits of full-fledged open borders while bringing it closer. These are a few:

1. The right to invite (see here). People benefit by being able to invite others, and this is something they might demand more of from their governments. It exists with fiance visas and family reunification visas. California growers lobby for the right to invite guest workers into the country. What if professional women agitated for the right to import maids and baby-sitters? What if the elderly agitated for the right to import drivers? Zuckerberg’s immigration advocacy group might be thought of as agitating for the right to invite high-tech workers on H1-B visas. An unlimited right to invite would be almost the same thing as open borders, but even if, say, every US citizen could sponsor a couple of guest visas per year, that would loosen things up a lot.

2. The right to emigrate. Rich countries should feel a lot guiltier than they do about the fact that their immigration policies make them complicit in some of the world’s worst regimes by not giving people a way out. If the world took human rights seriously, one of our top priorities would have to be the worldwide establishment of a right to emigrateif one’s home country provides very inadequate freedoms or economic opportunities. That is, rich countries would seek to make sure that everyone had somewhere half-decent that they could go. IMPALA may help with this, by making it possible to quantify the extent to which probably billions of people are imprisoned in destitute and/or unfree countries today. The pursuit of a global right to emigrate might involve using aid money to incentivize some countries to become haven or refuge countries, while other rich countries did their part by providing this aid money. By the way, this needn’t be done out of altruism. It might be in the geopolitical interests of the United States or Europe to ensure that Russian young men of an age to serve in the army have some place to run away to, or to facilitate the voluntary depopulation of Iran. Emigres might even provide a useful pool of volunteers for a Foreign Legion eager to liberate Iran with American guns and air support, but without American boots on the ground.

3. The rights of the “larger body.” I picked up the phrase “larger body” from C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves; it means that the experience of being an incarnate being extend beyond the actual organism under our control to include many objects of our natural loves, including wives, husbands, children, parents, brothers, sisters, pets and other animals, and friends. US immigration policy, which to some extent accommodates family reunification motives, gives some de facto recognition to the rights of the larger body, but what is missing is a definite legal and moral doctrine that the state cannot justly separate families or close friends, and must accommodate the needs of this important aspect of human nature. This falls short of open borders since, of course, not every aspiring immigrant is part of the “larger body” of any US citizen. It is different from the “right to invite,” above, because I mean by the right to invite, not a fundamental human right, but a positive right which governments would establish to please or pander to citizens rather than from a sense of inexorable duty.

4. Citizens’ right to interact with, hire, sell to, rent apartments to, illegal immigrants. When citizens have to check the papers of potential employees, contractors, tenants, customers, or whatever, that’s inconvenient, and also a little scary, since presumably some punishment awaits if they make a mistake. The defense of a small businessman’s right to hire without verifying papers, or better yet without papers at all, or the landlord’s right to lease a house without papers, would ease the way for immigration, too. For that matter, I would insist that the state acts unjustly if it refuses to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, because its authority to police the roads can properly be exercised as a means to the safety of motorists and pedestrians, which is not jeopardized by an illegal immigrant as such being on the road, but, on the contrary, is jeopardized when illegal immigrants can’t get driver’s licenses and so, if they feel it necessary to take the risk or driving for economic or personal reasons anyway, will be under particular temptations to hit-and-run if they get in an accident. If an illegal immigrant hits a pedestrian, then runs instead of helping, because if he helps he’s afraid he’ll be deported and never see his family again, and the pedestrian dies, the illegal immigrant is probably to blame, but the state is certainly culpable in the pedestrian’s death for gross negligence in its duty justly to police the streets. Establishing this principle would help the open borders cause.

5. International migration negotiations. On the analogy of international trade negotiations, meaning that one state agrees to admit the citizens of another state in return for like privilege being granted to its own citizens. For example, what if the US and the EU made an agreement whereby Europeans could migrate to the US and work freely, and Americans could do the same in Europe. I would anticipate large gains on both sides, as Americans would benefit culturally from access to Europe’s treasury of ancient, beautiful cities, while Europeans would benefit economically from access to America’s relatively more prosperous and dynamic economy. The politics of such a deal would be very different from those of allowing mass immigration from developing countries. Once the precedent was set, it could spread.

Welcome Atlantic readers! (And, how you can help)

This morning, Shaun Raviv published an article about open borders in The Atlantic, one of the finest magazines in the world, entitled “If People Could Immigrate Anywhere, Would Poverty Be Eliminated?” Atlantic readers: welcome. If you want to give us money to support the cause, sorry, you can’t. As far as I know, we don’t have an infrastructure for that. What you can do is comment on our posts. We love to get thoughtful, high-quality comments, so as to see what kind of impression our arguments make on outsiders. We adapt what we write about considerably in response to thoughtful criticism. In particular, see here, here, and here. We’re good listeners here. We’re Socratic and inquisitive.

Here’s Shaun’s description of Open Borders: The Case.

Vipul Naik is the face, or at least the voice, of open borders on the Internet. In March 2012, he launched  Open Borders: The Case, a website dedicated to the idea. Naik, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, is striving for “a world where there is a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to migrate and where this presumption can be overridden or curtailed only under exceptional circumstances.” Naik and his two primary co-writers, Nathan Smith and John Lee, parse research into    immigration impacts, answering claims by those they call “restrictionists”–people who argue against open borders–and deconstructing writings on migration    by economists, politicians, journalists, and philosophers.

My favorite part:

In 2008, Clemens and his frequent co-writer, Harvard economist Lant Pritchett, came up with a new statistic called “income per natural.” Their goal was to show “the mean annual income of persons born in a given country, regardless of where that person now resides.” They found that large percentages of people from Haiti, Mexico, and India who live above international poverty lines don’t actually reside in their home countries. “For example, among Haitians who live either in the United States or Haiti and live on more than $10 per day–about a third of the U.S. ‘poverty’ line–four out of five live in the United States,” Clemens wrote. “Emigration from Haiti, as a force for Haitians’ poverty reduction, may be at least as important as any economic change that has occurred within Haiti.”

Getting this kind of coverage makes me think again about a question that’s sometimes come to us: What can I do to help? For example, Bryan Caplan blegged: “Suppose you wanted to spend your charitable dollars to increase the total number of people who migrate from the Third World to the First World.  What approach would give you the biggest bang for your buck?  Are any specific countries, organizations, or loopholes especially promising?”

A rather staid, cautious answer is that you might be able to join the list of sponsors of the IMPALA data project. They didn’t ask me to solicit money for them and I don’t even know whether they’d accept it, but I assume a large project like theirs would have things to do with financial support, and we could definitely use better data on migration policies around the world. If you want to learn about trade policy, you can go the WITS database hosted by the World Bank, and get very detailed information about volumes of trade around the world, broken down into very specific categories, as well as about tariff rates and other restrictions. There is nothing close to that for immigration law, but the IMPALA data, when available, should help. See this talk for more about IMPALA’s data project.

IMPALA is not agitating for open borders, of course. But as I argued a while back, good indices measuring the openness of all the world’s borders could be quite useful for advocacy: Continue reading “Welcome Atlantic readers! (And, how you can help)” »

Saudi Arabia: a land of closed borders, keyhole solutions, or both?

I don’t often think of Saudi Arabia as a country I’d particularly like to migrate to, which is why I’ve always found it surprising how popular Saudi Arabia is in polling data on migration. For instance, a recent Gallup poll put Saudi Arabia as the 5th-most desired destination migration country in the world, projecting that 29 million people would permanently settle in Saudi Arabia if they could.

My initial reaction was to surmise that perhaps Saudi Arabia’s status as a cultural or religious beacon in the Muslim and/or Arab worlds accounts for this. It’s also worth noting that millions of Muslims from around the world descend on Saudi Arabia for the Muslim haj or umrah every year. It’s not difficult to imagine that some of them might want to retire and die in the land of their prophet, or just fall in love with the country from their visit there.

However, some recent news from the BBC has made me rethink this hypothesis a little: apparently Saudi Arabia is copying the US and Israel in constructing a 1,800km long border wall that will seal it off from Yemen. Unlike the US, Saudi Arabia actually has legitimate reasons to fear that terrorists will cross the border here: a destabilising situation in Yemen has reportedly allowed al-Qaeda to thrive there. But according to the BBC, security is not the whole story:

Border security has dramatically worsened in the aftermath of the revolution, as thousands of illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and gun runners try to slip from impoverished Yemen into Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s richest countries, Lt al-Ahmari told the BBC’s Frank Gardner.

Five Saudi border guards had recently been killed along the border in shoot-outs with well-armed smugglers, he added.

The first part of the fence has already been built on the coast, slowing down – but not stopping – the tide of illegal immigrants.

It seems a bit disturbing to me to characterise economic migrants or refugees fleeing war and terrorism in the same boat with “drug smugglers and gun runners”. If all they have in common is that they’ve crossed an arbitrary line in the map, what purpose does this serve? Are we now to classify high school students and cyberterrorists in the same bucket because they both violate intellectual property laws with their online activity?

The “one of the world’s richest countries” certainly gives one pause at the suggestion that security against terrorism is all there is to this. There are plenty of rich oil-producing countries in the Middle East — so it does puzzle me that, say, the United Arab Emirates don’t pop up as much in Gallup’s polling. But perhaps the reason Saudi Arabia is popular with prospective unauthorised immigrants is because of its long land borders which can be easily crossed. Saudi Arabia also has an extensive guest worker programme which I suppose further spreads word of the economic opportunities there.

I am curious to find out more about immigration to Saudi Arabia. There are plenty of questions which come to mind:

  1. What accounts for its unusual popularity on the list of prospective immigrant destinations? All the other countries which top the list are developed Western democracies.

  2. What kinds of immigration programmes does Saudi Arabia have? They recently gave unauthorised immigrants a 3-month amnesty to either leave or regularise their status, but otherwise it is unclear to me how their programmes operate, though I do know that they have millions of guest workers.
  3. What is the status of unauthorised immigration in Saudi Arabia? If it is true that 10% of the 2 million annual pilgrims overstay their visas each year, there could be millions working and residing without permission in Saudi Arabia (indeed, it looks like some have settled there permanently).
  4. How does Saudi Arabia handle permanent residency versus nationality? Has it successfully decoupled the two concepts? Some anecdotal evidence suggests that perhaps it has. Some might term this a keyhole solution. Although I am not happy about the idea of someone spending their entire life in a country and yet being unable to claim citizenship there, if Saudi Arabia does easily grant residency while more tightly controlling citizenship, this is actually much more civilised and moral than the alternative in much of the “civilised world,” which is to deny most human beings both residency and citizenship.

I am not sure whether the Yemeni border wall is justified. But whether it is or not, it is sad to think that those fleeing war, oppression, or economic collapse will be the ones who suffer the most. Drug smugglers and gun runners have the resources to find another way in or out. Regular people don’t have those resources. In principle, under international law, the borders are open for refugees. But in practice, it’s a different story. It is sad to think that there are millions of innocent people, who through no fault of their own, will remain trapped in a country wracked with conflict, having nowhere to go.

Open borders: the solution to conflict in the Middle East

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a respected US academic and former bureaucrat in the field of international studies, recently authored an interesting piece highlighting an unconventional 2-state solution for Israel and Palestine:

“Two-state condominialism” is as visionary as the name is clunky. The core idea is that Israelis and Palestinians would be citizens of two separate states and thus would identify with two separate political authorities. Palestine would be defined as a state of the Palestinian people, and Israel as a Jewish state. Under “condominialism,” however, both Palestinians and Jews “would be granted the right to settle anywhere within the territory of either of the two states, the two states thus forming a single, binational settlement community.”

…Palestinians “would have the right to settle anywhere within Israel just as Jews would have the right to settle anywhere within the territory of the Palestinian state. Regardless of which of the two states they lived in, all Palestinians would be citizens of the Palestinian state, all Jews citizens of Israel.” Each state would have the authority and the obligation to provide for the economic, cultural, religious, and welfare needs of its citizens living in the other state’s territory.

Condominialism recognizes the reality of the deep interconnectedness of Israeli settlers in the West Bank with the rest of Israel – through roads, water supplies, electricity grids, administrative structures, and economic relationships (just as Israeli and Palestinian parts of Jerusalem are interdependent). Instead of trying to separate and recreate all of these structures and relationships, it makes far more sense to build on them in ways that benefit both states’ peoples and economies. And, in a world in which many citizens spend an increasing proportion of their time in virtual space, de facto condominialism is already happening.

As ideas go, I’ve seen worse. I like this a lot. In fact, I like this enough to the point that I would like to know: what’s keeping the rest of the world from trying this out? In many parts of the world, the forms of “deep interconnectedness” Slaughter describes already exist in total defiance of arbitrary, human-defined borders. In fact, I am a bit surprised she almost seems to gloss over the human relationships and communities that constitute the most important interconnectedness here.

To take an example I’m familiar with, it matters little to a Malaysian living in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo where the technical border is. Not when he and his family have been living and moving across the land long before any international border sprung up separating Malaysia and Indonesia. Across the South China Sea in West Malaysia, Malaysians who live in the north are permitted to cross our border with Thailand without passports or visas, a governmental nod to our deep interconnectedness. Stories like these can be found across the world, including in the southern US, where people still recall how, before paranoia post-9/11 set in, communities divided by a border paid it no heed, their lives bonded together by social and economic ties that matter far more than arbitrary lines drawn on a map.

And to her credit, Slaughter closes by obliquely pointing to the relevance of open borders outside the Middle East:

In the 1950’s, after four decades of war across Europe, the idea of a European Union in which member states’ citizens could live and work freely across national borders while retaining their political allegiance and cultural identity seemed equally far-fetched. (Indeed, the name of the political process by which the EU was to be constructed, “neo-functionalism,” was every bit as abstract and cumbersome as “two-state condominialism.”) Yet French and German statesmen summoned the vision and the will to launch a bold experiment, one that has evolved into a single economy of 500 million people.

The EU has proven that on a fairly large scale, open borders work. (I am not too sure about the feasibility of a single currency, though.) To the extent that open borders in the EU have been detrimental, they have been addressable by keyhole solutions (such as transparent, clearly-defined temporary restrictions on immigrant flows to allow societal adjustment). And to the extent that they have been harmful in spite of keyhole solutions, it is absolutely clear that most, if not all, predictions of catastrophe have not come to pass.

Borders may be arbitrary, but we don’t need to abolish them to have open borders. Indeed, Slaughter says: “To make this work, the borders of each state would first have to be defined – presumably on the basis of the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed territorial swaps.” Borders define the area of a state’s sovereign jurisdiction. But they don’t define the human relationships that form the warp and weave of everyday life. Fundamental morality and economics agree: we need open borders.