Weekly link roundup 9

Here’s our weekly installment of links from around the web (see here for all link roundups). As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.

Immigration restrictions are a threat to liberty everywhere

In the civil libertarian world today, two issues rule the roost: surveillance and drones. Ordinarily civil rights issues like these find it difficult to gain traction, but increasingly it looks like even the mainstream media can’t ignore these issues. Spying on the behaviour of millions of innocent people, and murdering innocent people (AKA “collateral damage”) from a remote-controlled airplane, are difficult things to readily reconcile with modern ideas of human rights and freedoms. These issues make me think: how long before civil libertarians begin to comprehend the danger of similar totalitarian disregard for liberty in immigration policy?

Drones are primarily a concern for people burdened by the welfare of innocent people in war zones. Innocents in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan live daily in fear of an errant missile strike, meant for another, but still deadly to all innocents in its path. The policy for deploying drones, and launching their weaponry, until recently has been near-entirely opaque (some would argue it is still entirely opaque). What due process do we have to ensure that drones won’t recklessly murder dozens, hundreds, of guiltless people, in search of taking out one terrorist? What assurances can we give innocents that an overzealous government bureaucrat can’t use his discretion to murder innocent human beings?

The rationale for the US government’s National Security Agency surveillance programmes has always been: we spy on foreigners’ data, not our own. The NSA still maintains it protects US citizens’ data rigorously, though there are many reasonable doubts that this is true. Edward Snowden’s revelations, even if reconciled with the NSA’s claims about protecting US nationals’ data, still ring alarm bells for American civil libertarians: how easy might it be for the NSA to turn the same lens it has trained on foreigners onto us instead? In 1975, US Senator Frank Church warned of such surveillance:

That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know.

Since I blog for Open Borders, you would be wise to surmise that neither drones nor NSA surveillance are issues I think about much. But like millions of others, these are issues that weigh on me nonetheless. It worries me that innocent people are subject to murder by the state without due process. It worries me that innocent people are subject to surveillance by the state, again, without due process. And I know these worries all too well, for as an immigrant and someone who enjoys reading stories of immigration, I have seen just how utterly the modern state throws due process in the garbage the moment an immigrant crosses the threshold.

I’ve written before about how perplexed I am that civil libertarians devote a disproportionate amount of energy to criticising allegedly dehumanising air travel procedures. I’m glad to see that deserving due process issues are taking up more attention than ever before. But civil libertarians need to add another issue to complete their trifecta of due process concerns: drone murder, arbitrary surveillance, and arbitrary restriction of human movement. The simplicity and fairness of open borders is not just a nice-to-have; it is critical for a just and fair legal process.

I and others have written time and time again about how modern immigration procedures recklessly abandon due process. Ask yourself: did the refugees whose files were wheeled past a UK Minister so civil servants could “truthfully” tell Parliament that a Minister had duly reviewed their applications get justice? Did they get due process? How about the Brazilians whose visa applications were rejected because a US consulate decided that black visa applicants must be poor? Did they get due process?

Any US consular officer is entitled to reject most visa applications for any reason they like. This “consular nonreviewability” discretion, by US law, cannot be challenged in court or overruled by senior officials — not even the President. Since 1990, the American Bar Association has persistently asked the US government every year to  “establish increased due process in consular visa adjudications and a system for administrative review of certain visa denials, including specified principles” — a request that has consistently fallen on deaf ears. In 2005, the US State Department issued a report recommending further reductions in existing due process and more discretion for consular officials.

It would be one thing if this due process brouhaha focused on police officers arbitrarily writing speeding tickets (as they often seem to be doing in many jurisdictions). But this lack of due process tears families apart. It destroys jobs. Imagine if you lost your job because your employer claimed you were a drug smuggler (based on your name resembling someone else’s, who actually is a drug smuggler) — and you had no right to challenge that claim in court. That actually happened to one unlucky immigrant in the US. A lack of legal due process harms real human beings; it breaks hearts and homes.

It is no consolation that the government is only empowered to take your spouse and children away from you, or fire you from your job, if you’re a foreigner. As Senator Church warned in 1975:

I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return. (emphasis added)

A government powerful enough to arbitrarily evict your neighbour from his home, take him away from his family, and take his livelihood away from him, is powerful enough to do that to you too. One remarkable thing I’ve found about the debate surrounding drones and surveillance is that the people criticising them often also implicitly criticise a focus solely on the well-being of citizens, urging us to account for these policies in the totality of their effects on innocent human beings, regardless of nationality. I do not think this criticism of citizenism has struck that much of a chord with the masses — Glenn Greenwald may worry about the innocent Afghan victims of drones, or innocent British victims of surveillance, but the median news media consumer probably does not.

However, these issues resonate, because people appreciate the risk of giving government too much power — the power to kill and the power to spy without the process of law or supervision. Perhaps people need a similar awakening about the power of government to keep you alive while taking away everything you hold dear — your home, your job, your family. That the victims are mere foreigners should be little consolation. A government powerful enough to do anything without due process is powerful enough to make a victim of you too.

The photograph featured at the top of this post is of striking miners being deported from Bisbee, Arizona in 1917. Scanned by the Arizona Historical Society; original photographer unknown.

On Two-Steps And Fallacies

Readers of this blog know that there are many moral and practical reasons to favor open borders. Indeed, many open borders advocates, like myself, support open borders for a multiplicity of reasons. There are a lot of reasons to agree with any good idea.

There are so many good reasons for open borders that it can prove challenging for all sides of the debate to carry one particular case all the way through to the end of a single conversation. Nonetheless, staying on point is necessary to avoid miscommunication.

Take the economic side of the issue for example. Open borders advocates treat the issue like a classic import quota on labor: buyers of labor are forced to over-pay for something that is under-supplied, sellers of labor are forced to experience lower levels of employment, and thus society as a whole suffers a deadweight loss. Immigration restrictionists answer that increasing the supply of labor will drive down wages.

What should happen next is that the two parties debate the comparative merits of increased employment at lower wages on the one hand, and lower levels of production at higher wage rates on the other. Unfortunately, the debate all too often moves on to other issues. Open borders advocates might respond by saying that there is a moral case for allowing poor workers to compete for our comparatively higher-paying jobs, because the immigrants’ situation is desperate. Immigration restrictionists might respond by suggesting that immigrants change the social dynamic in their new communities in a way that the immigration restrictionists don’t like.

Either way, as soon as someone mentions a Topic B, we are no longer discussing Topic A. This doesn’t mean that either topic isn’t relevant or interesting. Instead, it means that the parties to the debate aren’t very good at staying on point.

The Open Borders Two-Step

We should keep this in mind when the likes of “The Crimson Reach” state that open borders advocates are “two-stepping.” Here he is in his own words:

I’m noticing a slippery dynamic when it comes to open-borders advocacy. Broadly, in plain English there are two different things one might mean by ‘open borders’ and in advocating for ‘open borders’:

1. The government has no right to restrict border crossing. (More immigration being, presumably, a result.)

2. More immigration should be allowed by the government; we should make the decision to allow it because it’s neat/good/etc.

Obviously #1 is the stronger claim (and seems to include #2, kind of) but it is also harder to establish. The most popular attempt involves invoking free association in the form of the immigration = employment fallacy, or similar.

But here’s the slippery part: when you take them seriously and therefore try to argue against #1 in good faith, you often get a retreat in response: hey, we’re just saying #2! We just think the government should, like, allow more immigration!

True, open borders advocates often make both of the above claims. But are these two claims mutually exclusive from a rhetorical standpoint? No: the first is an ideological claim, while the second is a political one. It stands to reason that #1 could function as a justification for #2. Likewise, #2 could be a pragmatic means of achieving #1. To make both claims simultaneously certainly presents no direct contradiction.

To see this easily, apply the same reasoning to the freedom of speech. Would it be a “two-step” to first assert that governments have no right to restrict speech and then to subsequently assert that existing restrictions on speech ought to be removed? Obviously not.

There is another important difference between these two statements. The first one is a deontological ethical appeal to natural rights. The second one is a consequentialist ethical appeal to social utility. If “The Crimson Reach” is correct that all good-faith efforts to engage open borders advocates on a point about natural rights results in change-of-subject to social utility, then he has made a fair criticism. The truth is, though, that there are many examples of open borders advocates directly addressing natural rights arguments. The majority of my last piece on this blog was devoted to the natural (property) rights case for immigration. Readers can also find a wealth of information on the natural rights cases for immigration on this blog’s Moral Case page and the links contained therein.

Morality seldom reduces to a single ethical theory. Freedom of migration is as much about personal autonomy and free trade as it is about economic gain. There is no need to choose between moral theories in the real world, and few of us do so.

As you can see, if there is any two-stepping going on, it is not something open borders advocates are perpetuating. As this website handedly demonstrates, many of us have gone to painstaking lengths to make the case for open borders on a variety of moral and practical levels. If immigration restrictionists feel there is more to debate, it is incumbent upon them to first become aware of our responses, and to then respond to them accordingly. While anyone in a passionate debate sometimes fails to stay on point, it would be wrong to categorically suggest that open borders advocates are unwilling to follow a single point to its conclusion. That is in fact what OpenBorders.info is all about.

Do All Immigrants Have Job Offers, And Does This Matter?

I would like to dispense with the “fallacy” to which “The Crimson Reach” so often refers on his blog. Because he seems to think our intellectual honesty is on the line, let me begin by stating outright: Not every would-be immigrant has a job offer. Not every legal citizen has a job offer. Some immigrants have jobs, but no pending offers; some have offers but no current jobs; and the same is true of domestic citizens. (But, in point of fact, Pew Research estimates that the labor force participation rate for illegal immigrants was 71% in 2010, compared to 65% among the legal workforce as measured by the BLS.) The real world is full of people who face a wide variety of circumstances. No one set of conditions is ever true of all people, all the time.

In truth, there is no fallacy, because no one has ever claimed that every single human being who wants to immigrate has a job offer. “The Crimson Reach” is wrong whenever he suggests otherwise. If something sounds silly, it usually is silly.

Instead, what open borders advocates say is:

(All of the above statements appear on “The Crimson Reach”’s blog as examples of an open borders “immigration = jobs fallacy.” )

The argument reflected by these statements is this: we consider it a basic human right to search for a job and accept it wherever it happens to be located. Another way to say this is that we feel immigrants ought to be allowed to participate in the US labor market whether or not they can ultimately procure a job. That’s not a job, it’s a job search.

Of course, this point strikes open borders advocates as being a bit pedantic or banal. Does the difference between having a job offer and merely searching for one impact the argument for open borders? Only if you believe that accepting a job in a foreign country should be permissible, but searching for it ought not be. As this is not the open borders position, it is an irrelevant distinction to us.

However, it might be a fair question to ask of immigration restrictionists: Will “The Crimson Reach” go on record as stating that anyone who has a job offer in a foreign country ought to be allowed to immigrate?

Still, many immigrants do have job offers. There are recent college graduates (international students) who find domestic job offers before their student visas expire, as is the case with several of my own friends and family members who graduated this past Spring. There are currently-legally-employed workers whose visas allow them only to work for their current employer, who are barred from accepting job offers from other domestic employers even though they are legally entitled to work here – and are actually doing so. There are migrant agricultural workers who slowly work their way across the country, following the harvest season from south to north before ultimately returning to their homes abroad. There are families of legal immigrants who must follow special visa applications in order to legally contribute to their families domestic income.

And, yes, the fact that so many illegal immigrants also find domestic work to the tune of 71% labor force participation proves in no uncertain terms that immigrating with a job offer is not unique to highly skilled legal immigrants.

There are other reasons to immigrate, of course, beyond just getting a job. Some people immigrate to be closer to family. Some do it because their spouse-to-be is a citizen of that country. Some do it to seek political asylum. There may be as many reasons to immigrate as there are immigrants. But, as I said at the outset, we cannot possibly speak to all of these points simultaneously each time we wish to speak to one of them individually. To suggest that we commit a “fallacy” each time we make one point, just because we don’t dedicate limited print space to every other point, is wholly unreasonable.


Immigration is a multifaceted issue, so it’s easy to get lost among all the different reasons to embrace open borders. We all have a responsibility to stay on point, and to that end, OpenBorders.info has assembled and organized information on all the major cases for, and arguments against, immigration. We do not dodge or “two-step” any aspect of this issue.

Even so, it is useful to refer to points concisely. Those of us close to this issue – including passionate immigration restrictionists like “The Crimson Reach” – often refer to larger points using shorthand language. We often say, “Accepting a job offer is not a crime” because it is more concise and identifiable than writing a multi-page explanation of the labor market freedom every time we have something new to say about it. If, in doing so, we have fallen short of outlining the basic idea, my hope is that what I’ve just written will be accepted as an explanation for the general idea. Whether “The Crimson Reach,” or anyone else, finds this explanation a fully persuasive justification for open borders is probably not in question, but perhaps at the minimum the debate can now advance beyond false accusations of fallacy.

Weekly link roundup 8

Here’s our weekly installment of links from around the web (see here for all link roundups). As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.

Keyhole solutions: permissibility, desirability, feasibility, and stability

At Open Borders: The Case, we have often discussed a general class of “compromises” between full-scale open borders and full-scale closed borders that we call keyhole solutions. The possibilities include immigration tariffs, guest worker programs, linguistic and cultural fluency requirements, and DRITI (migration taxes). As John Lee recently blogged, we also note that open borders does not necessarily imply a path to citizenship for all prospective migrants, although such a path to citizenship may be desirable for other reasons. However, just to be clear, it is not generally the case that Open Borders bloggers endorse each and every keyhole solution, and even to the extent they do, they may not endorse every possible practical implemenetation of the keyhole solution.

Before proceeding, I’d like to note that the general discussion of such keyhole solutions is in the context of migration that is otherwise radically liberalized, not as ways to mitigate (real or perceived) problems with migration that occurs under the status quo. In particular, even if a particular potential migration-related problem (such as crime) does not seem to be actually occurring under the status quo, it might still be worthwhile to consider a keyhole solution to that problem as a possible add-on to a proposal for radically freer migration. Even if there are no compelling reasons to believe that the problem would be severe under open borders, investigating keyhole solutions might still be justified from a “Burkean conservative” perspective, or equivalently, from a moderate and reasonable version of the precautionary principle.

In this blog post, I outline four criteria that can be used to evaluate a potential keyhole solutions. Future blog posts will go into considerable detail evaluating along these criteria various types of keyhole solutions.

Moral permissibility of the keyhole solution

Certain kinds of keyhole solutions may be morally impermissible. For instance, consider a “keyhole solution” to the problem of crime that allows people to migrate as long as they agree to be shot dead if they are suspected of committing any crime (no matter how minor). This keyhole solution might strike some people (including both open borders and closed borders advocates) as immoral, even if it were effective at reducing the risk (and the perception of risk) arising from immigrant crime.

There are some examples that appear morally impermissible from an open borders perspective but not from a restrictionist perspective. For instance, one can argue that guest worker programs as currently constituted are a reasonable keyhole solution: people can migrate if they find a willing employer, and they are required to leave the country if they lose the employment status without acquiring a new one. From the open borders perspective, this may be better than closed borders, and hence less morally impermissible than closed borders, but it is still somewhat morally impermissible, because it denies the right to migrate. It also opens up workers to more risks of worker abuse (see also this video).

Desirability of the keyhole solution

My co-blogger John Lee wrote:

Once we protect non-citizens from arbitrary deportation, the moral harm of raising the bar for citizenship seems almost non-existent. It certainly pales in comparison to the moral harm of keeping people out of your country at gunpoint because you’re afraid letting them in might morally obligate you to throw a blank passport at them.

In other words, John is saying that allowing people to move freely (whether temporarily or permanently) is morally required, whereas giving them a path to citizenship is not. John is not opining here on whether denying a path to citizenship is desirable.

If a particular keyhole solution is morally permissible but undesirable, then the main significance of proposing that keyhole solution is as an alternative to closed borders, not as an alternative to open borders. In the jargon of this blog post of mine, a keyhole solution that is morally permissible but undesirable would (typically) correspond to a rank ordering (1) > (2) > (3), whereas a keyhole solution that is morally permissible and desirable would (typically) correspond to a rank ordering (2) > (1) > (3).

Feasibility of the keyhole solution

Open borders advocates and the audience for their blog posts are not philosopher-kings creating policy in a vacuum. Such policy is created by politicians who respond to incentives, generally catering to the electorate, with some slack exploited by special interest groups. Even if a keyhole solution looks great on paper, it may not be feasible to actually bring about. For instance, one might argue that an immigration tariff scheme in infeasible because of taboos against selling citizenship. Generally, it seems to be that many of the infeasibility claims are not insurmountable, and there may be “keyhole solutions within keyhole solutions” that can be used to get over public resistance. This isn’t to say that these keyhole solutions will be implemented any time soon — it’s just to say that they may be about as feasible as outright open borders, or perhaps even more so. Particularly in the case that a keyhole solution isn’t desirable in and of itself to open borders advocates, its being more feasible than outright open borders may form a compelling reason to advocate it nonetheless (provided it is morally permissible).

Stability of the keyhole solution

Another related concern is stability. Whereas feasibility is about whether the keyhole solution can be implemented in the first place, stability is about whether the keyhole solution will remain intact over time. For instance, some people have argued that denying voting rights to prospective migrants may be feasible, but it’s not stable, because politicians would be sorely tempted to offer citizenship to the currently disenfranchised migrants and win over their loyalty. John addressed this particular example somewhat in his post (same as the one quoted above), but the topic of the stability of voting rights denial or of lengthy paths to citizenship will be treated in more detail in a future post.