Immigration Comics

Recently my co-blogger Vipul has begun to write about visa policy in the United States: about how most visas cannot be renewed within the United and about automatic visa validation.  Vipul’s posts reminded me about a plot line in PhD Comics, written by Jorge Cham, PhD.

"I'm harboring an illegal alien?"PhD Comics by Jorge Cham

A few years back Tajel, the strip’s social science graduate student and resident foreigner, discovers that her visa has expired. The story chronicles Tajel as she discovers that she might be an illegal alien, her journey to Mexico to renew her visa there and, as obligatory of any comic series dealing with graduate students, makes several jokes at the expense of higher education.

The series also gave birth to this lowly little explanation of the student visa system in the United States:

phd062308sPhD Comics by Jorge Cham

Despite the comedic nature of these comics, they do give us some idea on how we might wish to push forward when making our case for open borders. We must (and currently do) make our case towards intellectuals, but we must also make the case towards the average man on the street. Comics might be one avenue to explore.

The beauty of comics is their simplicity. Due to the history of comics in newspaper the profession has adopted the four-panel (or Yonkoma) standard. A comic had to be short as larger strips were difficult to fit it into the valuable space in a newspaper layout. The result has been that comic artists have had to master telling their story quickly. With the dawn of web comics artists have been able to experiment with panel designs, but even then the most popular comics use as few as possible panels as possible.

Am I implying that the average man on the street is incapable of comprehending ‘intellectual’ arguments? Not at all. The average man does however have different comparative advantages and resources than ‘intellectuals’. The average man on the street is juggling work and family life; the amount of time he can devote to leisurely pursuits is limited. We should not be surprised then if he prefers to browse the funny pages over picking up a book on the economics of immigration.

Comics themselves are often seen as ‘low’ culture, but I think this is unmerited. Comics can be, and have been, used to discuss serious issues. Alan Moore, a comic artist best known perhaps for his work on the Watchmen or V for Vendetta, has used his art to share his  anti-authoritarian view on politics. Aaron McGruder, creator of the Boondocks strip, uses the media form to discuss current events from his uniquely leftist view. Little Orphan Annie, which modern audiences might better remember as the source material of the musical Annie, was created by Harold Gray to attack the New Deal and promote conservative politics.

BoondocksBoondocks by Aaron McGruder

Read More In This Series

This is an ongoing series on ideas on how the open borders movement should proceed next.

What should be next for the Open Borders movement? by Michelangelo Landgrave

Philosophers, Wonks, and Entrepreneurs by Vipul Naik

Why the Open Borders Movement Should (Mostly) Avoid Emulating the Gay Marriage Movement by Nathan Smith

You can read the rest of Tajel’s visa story at For the convenience of readers I’ve compiled the relevant comics below (the series had several mini-arcs in between).

Part #1 – Did you know your student visa is expired?
Part #2 – I’m harboring an illegal alien?
Part #3 – Apparently it’s the D/S on the I-20 that determines USCIS…
Part #4 – Give us your tired, your poor, your thoroughly confused…
Part #5 – I’ll go to Tijuana!
Part #6 – The F-1 Student Visa Process Explained
Part #7 – Your application triggered several red flags.
Part #8 – For security purposes we need a statement of exactly what your thesis is.
Part #9 – At least you picked me over the internet.
Part #10 – Professors: More Elusive Than Ninjas?
Part #11 – Ninjas vs Professors: A Comparative Analysis
Part #12 – I see him!
Part #13 – Professors exist as probability density functions.
Part #14 – Does this mean interactions are purely hypothetical?
Part #15 – I wonder what’s going on today?
Part #16 – Did someone not need me?
Part #17 – Free the burros!

All images copyright of their respective creators.


Literally refusing to rescue drowning people: your taxpayer funds at work, putting immigrants to death

Open borders advocates on occasion borrow philosopher Peter Singer’s metaphor of the drowning child:

Imagine you come across a small child who has fallen into a pond and is in danger of drowning. You know that you can easily and safely rescue him, but you are wearing an expensive pair of shoes that will be ruined if you do. We all think it would be seriously wrong to walk on past the pond, leaving the child to drown, because you don’t want to have to buy a new pair of shoes – in fact, most people think that would be monstrous. You can’t compare a child’s life with a pair of shoes!

The analogy is somewhat obvious: many of the people prevented from moving by our immigration laws are fleeing a disaster of some kind that puts their life in serious danger. Those who want to prevent them from moving cannot use the excuse that it might be economically costly to us if we allow them to flee; otherwise, we are literally saying we value an expensive pair of shoes over the life of another human being.

However, open borders advocates are quick to caution that inasmuch as this is a thought trigger, this is not a true reflection of the state of things. Migration is actually rather different: most migrants seeking to move don’t require us to even lift a finger, let alone ruin an expensive pair of shoes. Many of the migrants we exclude, even the weary refugees, are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves. They can afford to pay for their journey to a land safe from political persecution, economic disaster, cholera, or whatever plague ails their native country; they can afford to rescue themselves. All our governments need to do is get out of their way, and allow them to pay for their own fare. The very reason that so many pay expensive fees to smugglers is because our own laws banned them from buying a regular ticket at the market fare in the first place!

Distancing the analogy even further, many migrants are not in any sort of life-threatening bind: they are capable individuals simply seeking to author their own life stories. That many prospective migrants simply want to and are fully capable of authoring their own better life makes it all the more galling that we regularly characterise the migrant as some sort of criminal burdensome leech. The “but my expensive shoes!” sort of excuse doesn’t even hold water when there’s nobody drowning — not when it’s just somebody trying to marry their spouse, pursue an education, or see the city lights, and is perfectly able to do this without troubling any of us in the least.

This is why I rarely refer to Singer’s analogy; it isn’t a very good portrayal of the true situation. If you want a better analogy, the situation is more like a well-dressed person trying to go somewhere, and us standing in the road complaining that if we let him go somewhere, he’ll step on our expensive shoes, and that’s why we need to build a giant electrified fence to keep him from ever coming anywhere near us. Our complaints are unfounded, and the gentleman requires nothing more from us than to move on and go about our own business.

But in another sense, immigration restrictions are far worse than refusing to rescue a drowning child. Most migrants may not face any life-threatening danger — but there are still millions forced to live in countries where they could be tortured or killed, and millions more forced to live in countries where there are no jobs for them outside the sweatshop. When our laws ban these people from moving to a society that won’t literally kill them, we are not just refusing to help a drowning person; this amounts to actively drowning the victim.

In these cases, the drowning person is perfectly capable of swimming to safety; they can buy their own ticket on a plane. The only thing keeping them from saving themselves is our own laws that ban them from doing this. We have prevented the drowning person from swimming to safety; we have become complicit in the death, if not murder, of a human being. When we ban people from fleeing death and suffering, we are complicit in the consequent dangers that befall them.[1]

African migrants banned from buying a regular ferry ticket await rescue on their disabled, overcrowded vessel in the Mediterranean. Photo credit: AFP/CNN.

Mind you, it is already the case that our laws give no reasonable avenue for bona fide refugees to safely travel in search of safety on aeroplanes or boats like the rest of us. Many people stay in their home countries resigned to lives of poverty or persecution because they have no legal avenue to leave for a society that allows them to flourish. But it only gets worse.

Those who do strike up the gumption to leave are punished even more harshly and actively in our name, at our own expense. Our own law enforcement agencies treat penniless unarmed people as though they are an invading army. And so our governments wind up literally killing people — not merely in silence by banning them from pursuing safety, but vocally and actively, by putting them to death.

Take the case of Australia. It is no secret that Australia pursues “pushbacks” or “towbacks” of migrants seeking asylum; there is video evidence showing it, and eyewitness testimony confirming it. The Australian procedure appears to be:

  1. Send the Navy or Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats;
  2. Transfer migrants from their potentially unseaworthy boats to lifeboats (literally, lifeboats manufactured for use only in dire circumstances when one has to abandon ship)
  3. Tow these lifeboats to Indonesian waters;
  4. Cut these lifeboats adrift; they’re now Indonesia’s problem.

This entire procedure is both legally and morally suspect. Migrants generally set sail in rickety and unsafe boats because they are banned by immigration law from purchasing passage on safer, legal vessels. Then, when they do get close to the country they want to settle in peace — a country not riven by war or sweatshop slavery — they are captured, placed on a slightly less unsafe boat, and cut adrift on the open sea. The Australian government surely gives them some provisions and a presumably slightly better vessel, but the fact remains: the government is setting these people at sea, in reckless disregard of their human lives. To quote one media account,

Indonesian sources have told the ABC those on board came from Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The youngest aboard was 18 months old.

They also said the asylum seekers were fed and medically treated by Australian authorities, but claimed to have run out of food 48 hours before landing in Java.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says it is concerning that children were on board the lifeboat.

“I’m very concerned that there are reports that there were children as young as 18 months old, toddlers on board this boat,” she said.

“It is never safe to turn back a boat, push a boat back to the high seas with children that young on board.”

But hey, nobody’s died yet from these pushbacks, so maybe it’s ok to leave babies as young as 18 months afloat on a tiny vessel, days away from any shore, and have them fend for themselves — right? This is surely extremely morally dubious. And as it turns out, legally dubious too, if Ben Saul, Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney is to be believed:

Australia cannot turn back boats if it would expose a person to return to persecution contrary to the [UN] refugee convention. That includes sending people back to countries which do not offer effective refugee protection. Those can include transit countries like Indonesia and Malaysia where there is no refugee protection status given to people who are there to claim refugee status.

The second consideration is under the law of the sea. It is not legal to turn back a boat which is unseaworthy and on which the lives of passengers are in danger or at risk.

[Towbacks] would ultimately require the safety of the vessel to be ensured, so Australia presumably would then need to tow it right back to an Indonesian port. It couldn’t just then leave the boat stranded without a motor on the edge of the Indonesian territorial sea, for example.

Australia’s brazen disregard for ethics and the law is hardly unusual. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights sanctioned Italy for performing near-identical pushbacks. The only substantive difference? Rather than putting migrants into new lifeboats, Italy transported migrants on its own boats back to Libya, where the Gaddafi regime promptly imprisoned many of them. Some of the people who were pushed back were even later granted asylum by the Italian government, a tacit acknowledgement that their initial towback was wrong.

Consider the above interview with some of the migrants immorally and unlawfully sent back to Libya. Does it morally matter whether these people were put in harms way by setting them afloat on a tiny vessel at sea, by returning them to a tyrant’s jail, or by settling them literally in the Sahara Desert? Whether you die of thirst, exposure, or tyrannical murder, whatever the case may be, if you were sent to your death by the Italian government, was your death not effected at the hands of the Italian taxpayer?

This 2012 decision did not seem to affect the Greek government, which has reportedly sent masked commandos to effect near-identical pushbacks of migrants fleeing the mass murder of Bashar Assad and the Islamic State in Syria. And yes, Greece has drowned some of these poor people. About a year ago, the Greek coast guard was towing a refugee boat (survivors allege they were being taken to Turkey, while Greece claims it was towing them to a Greek island) when rough seas, poor handling, or a combination of the two caused the boat to sink, sending many — including children — to death by drowning.

Now, one could take a sympathetic view to the governments of rich countries. They are somewhere in between a rock and a hard place: people will complain no matter what they do. If they allow migrants in, people will circulate false claims of lavish government treatment for these poor people — while at the same time complaining that these people are also cluttering up the streets begging, and also stealing their jobs. If they don’t allow migrants in, they get some bad press, but it’s not their own citizens drowning in the sea or being tortured in some mass murderer’s jail, so nobody capable of holding them accountable will actually bother to do so. So these governments might as well get some blood on their hands; it’s easier than the alternative.

And facetious as I might sound, I do see some room to sympathise with the people effecting these pushbacks. It’s ultimately the citizenry and the institutions that are responsible for political outcomes, and so this political drowning of immigrants is not wholly the fault of, say, the Australian, Italian, or Greek governments. It is the fault of bigotry and the fault of institutions that allow bigotry to fester — that allow us to say our expensive shoes are worth more than human life.

The challenges governments face in handling the problems of migrants, especially the most destitute, are very real. Take for example one report of the Thai government pushing back Burmese Rohingya migrants (though from the description, it sounds like these are actually true deportations, as these migrants have already landed):

The 259 will be put back on boats and sent back to Myanmar, said Police Colonel Sanya Prakobphol, head of Kapoe district police.

“They are Muslims from Myanmar … They are illegal migrants,” Sanya told Reuters by telephone.

“If they come in then we must push them back … once they have crossed the sea border into Myanmar then that’s considered pushing them back. What they do next is their problem.”

Sanya hardly sounds like a sympathetic character. Much like Australia, he intends to set people adrift at sea — and in presumably worse conditions than an Australian lifeboat. But he is really between a rock and a hard place:

Sanya said the 259 people were currently being held at a community hall and that his team were “looking after them like relatives” but that they would soon be put back on boats.

“Who will feed them? I’m struggling day to day to feed them,” said Sanya.

If he were a rich country official, one might be tempted to play him the world’s saddest song on the world’s smallest violin. But he is a developing country official with hardly any resources to effect an orderly resettlement of refugees. He can perhaps feed them for a while, but he cannot help them find homes or jobs. In his shoes, it’s hard to say we could do much different than deport these poor people back to persecution and suffering in Burma.

But this is only a problem because we continue to tolerate the bigotry that views deportation as an solution to poverty, and the bigotry that denies migrants the agency to run their own lives. The Rohingya fled for a reason: they would rather run the risk of starving in a hostile land than continuing to suffer in their own country. Pushbacks and deportations do not cleanse our hands of guilt.

If the Rohingya come to misfortune in our own countries because of their own failings, that is one thing. But if we send them back to the very suffering they toiled so hard to flee, we are directly complicit in all that may befall them — which, in the case of the Rohingya, often turns out to be slavery, summary execution, torture, or rape.

Who will feed them? Ideally, they should feed themselves. But irrespective of how they are fed, the answer to this question of feeding is not “Send them away to be enslaved, murdered, tortured, or raped.”

One would hope that the more “civilised” governments of the Western world would have a more elegant solution to this than Sanya’s “Send them back to the country that’s killing them, then it’s not my problem.” But unfortunately, besides elaborate commando gear and expensive lifeboats, there seems to be little that separates the rich world from poor in the matter of drowning migrants. Whichever the government may be, its callousness is galling.

People often take it to be a strawman when I say that defenders of the border status quo are in essence apologising for persecution and murder. But when governments are putting unarmed civilians adrift at sea, and don’t seem to care whether they live or die as a result, it surely behooves us to ask what on earth these people did wrong to merit such punishment, such endangerment. And when on occasion, someone does pose this question, as one British journalist did, we find the “protectors” of our borders proffering the following:

The British government’s position is that the rescues should stop, because they only encourage more migrants to attempt the crossing. All of the people I interviewed for this story made their first journey to Europe in a smuggler boat across the Mediterranean. Our government believes that, had any of them drowned, it would have been a useful deterrent to others.

We are drowning people for the crime of fleeing destitution and persecution. We are drowning people for seeking to preserve their own lives. We are drowning people to send a warning to anyone else who might dream of a life in a society where they can be free to pursue their ambitions and realise their potential. We are literally drowning innocent children.

I don’t claim to have all the answers for how we should implement immigration law, how we should deal with refugees, or how we should police our borders. But I do know that there is no satisfying rationale for why our governments drown people — metaphorically in the home countries they might want to leave, or literally in the seas surrounding our countries where they dream of being free from oppression and murder.

It is no strawman nor exaggeration to say that our closed borders kill people. Our border politics have led to our governments suggesting it would be quite literally better to let people drown.  And yet one of the most grating aspects of the status quo is that nobody even feels compelled to articulate a justification for so many parts of it that seem obviously wrong — like the fact that ostensibly civilised societies are condoning the drowning of innocent people.

Nobody feels pressured to justify the way we specifically treat immigrants. There are plenty of philosophical arguments for the state’s authority to “control” its borders, but none that specifically explain why throwing people into prison camps or literally refusing to rescue drowning people is a morally acceptable or required method of doing so.

The drowning children are real, and yet we don’t have to do anything to rescue them; they can swim just fine on their own. All we have to do is allow them to save themselves. Yet we would rather use our own ships and our own taxes to prevent them from saving themselves, and watch them drown. Why do we do that? How can we justify it? Maybe you can tell me.

The image featured at the top of this post is an Australian government advertisement warning prospective immigrants and refugees that they are not welcome in Australia.

Related reading

You might be interested in all our blog posts tagged refugees.

Here are a few posts in particular that might interest you. Some of these are also linked inline from the post:

Where are the Spanish tweets?

A few years ago I was on a date with an open borders skeptic. While chatting my date complained that Hispanics were not assimilating quickly enough and refused to learn the language. I pointed out that her family was descended from Poles who had come over only a few generations ago. Today not one of them, including herself, could speak Polish. Why did she think Spanish would fare any better?

My date was not alone in her concern about language assimilation. One does not need to search far to find someone making the same basic argument: X group is not learning the language quickly enough. This will lead to the destruction of our nation! Or worse – the United States will become another Belgium.

I could write a few thousand words discussing why the United States doesn’t have to worry about becoming Belgium. Not that there is anything wrong with Belgium. Instead though I will present a question and a map.

Where are the Spanish tweets?


J.B. Post, Ken, and Peter Berlich have constructed a map showing the world by language use in twitter. North American is solidly grey (English). The only exception is the urban core of Quebec where French (in violet) has managed to persist. A few spots of pink (Spanish) can be seen in Mexico, but they fail to penetrate the US border. The full map can be shown here.

The beauty of the twitter map is that it shows us the language of choice among the millennial demographic, twitter’s core user base. First generation migrants may retain use of their native tongues but their millennial children certainly aren’t tweeting in Spanish, Chinese, or Tagalog. If migrants are not assimilating quickly enough we should see Spanish tweets dominating Texas, Florida, and California. Instead we see English continues to dominate the North American continent. Indeed, I suspect that the internet age has encouraged both English adoption among millennial children of migrants and by the world as a whole.

Further Reading:

Open Borders: The Case Page on Linguistic Assimilation, Linguistic and Cultural Fluency Requirements, and Assimilation Problems

Nathan Smith on Linguistic Externalities.

Vipul Naik on Two subtle lessons from the “Your in America” twitter bot. 

Open Borders page on Bloggers as Illegal Immigrants.

Tolerance as Not Strongly Opposing What Others Do With Their Own Person and Property

At EconLog, Bryan Caplan responds, in defense of tolerance, to my earlier post, where I had distanced myself from tolerance as a moral and political ideal. Of course, I approve much of what is done, and more importantly, not done, in the name of tolerance, but I would choose different words to express the grounds for my approval.

This is partly a substantive disagreement and partly arises from difficulties in definitions, and Caplan does good service by clarifying the latter. I had argued that “tolerance is subject to this paradox: that a society cannot be tolerant without being intolerant of intolerance,” which I illustrate with an example of a society where 95% of people tolerate both gays and anti-gay violence: such tolerance isn’t worth having. One way out is to define tolerance as respect for others’ rights, but Caplan dismisses this because “a homophobe who spends every day peacefully denouncing gays as disgusting and vile” would, implausibly, be “tolerant” by this definition. Instead, Caplan proposes that:

Tolerance is not strongly opposing what people (especially strangers) do with their own person and property. [To which I think Caplan implicitly means to add: as long as it doesn’t interfere with the person and property of someone else.]

Well done! If I’d thought of this definition before, I would have written the earlier post differently. I think this definition largely defuses the “paradox of tolerance” that I identified earlier. An individual or a society that was tolerant in this sense could still be resolute in defending the natural rights of minorities, while also tolerating the attitudes of intolerant minorities, as long as they remained merely attitudes, not actions.

What, then, is intolerance? What’s the negative of the above definition? Maybe this:

Intolerance is strongly opposing what people (especially strangers) do with their own person and property [even when it doesn’t interfere with the person and property of someone else].

While I find the definition useful as a way to clarify the discussion, I don’t find it as linguistically compelling as Caplan does. Thus, Caplan writes…

Return to Nathan’s hypothetical: A gang physically attacks a gay man.  A bystander pulls his gun and tells them to back off.  Morality aside, it seems linguistically odd to accuse the bystander of “intolerance.”

… but (in my view) it would be odd to “accuse” the bystander of intolerance only because one accuses people of doing bad things, whereas pulling the gun on the gang was a good, courageous action. I don’t think it would be odd to praise the gunman for his intolerance of violence against gays. I could imagine him becoming a local hero, and the town boasting, “See! We don’t tolerate violence against gays around here!”

And by the way, if we take Caplan’s definition straight, without modifying it with my bracketed clause, it would imply that the gunman is intolerant. He is “strongly opposing what other people”– the gang– “do with their persons”– their arms, fists, whatever– “and property”– any weapons they might be using. Only if we assume the extra clause about “when it doesn’t interfere…” is the gunman not a case of intolerance.

In general, I see nothing odd in saying that American society is intolerant of wife-beating, child abuse, and slavery, and that these are among its virtues. I find this to be a rather precise and useful way of expressing an important point. Similarly, open borders advocates want to make the world intolerant of migration restrictions.

Still, if we accept Caplan’s definition of tolerance (with my clarifying clause), an interesting disagreement remains. Caplan strongly favors tolerance, in theory and– on the basis of all my personal interactions with him– in practice. (It’s a genial feature of many libertarians that, whatever one is doing, as long as it doesn’t involve asking the government for any help, they approve of you.) I’m ambivalent about it.

Caplan offers five arguments in defense of tolerance, of which I’ll focus on three:

1. People’s moral objections to how others use their own persons and property are often greatly overstated, or simply wrong.

2. People’s moral objections to how others use their own persons and property are usually superfluous because the Real World provides ample punishment.

3. Intolerance is bad for the intolerant, because being angry at others makes you unhappy.

Caplan admits that his arguments are “not watertight.” Or as I would put it, they are wise and true, except when they’re not.

To (1): yes, of course, it’s undesirable for people to make moral objections to the behavior of others if those objections are mistaken; but correct moral objections may be very desirable. And while people are often mistaken in all sorts of moral judgments, I’m not at all sure that they’re more likely to be correct in moral judgments concerning themselves and those close to them, as they are in moral judgments concerning strangers. People have more of a certain kind of information in their own case, but also more bias.

To (2): yes, vice often (in the eternal Christian perspective, always, except by the grace of God) carries its own punishment; but people are usually much better off if they don’t have to “learn the hard way” (a fortiori in the eternal Christian perspective). Sex is a standard example. Suppose young people feel certain very powerful urges, while a vast literature attests to the disastrous consequences of acting on them. Yes, if society doesn’t scare a girl into chastity by strongly opposing premarital sex, then she’s likely to learn the benefits of chastity ex post through the travails of single motherhood. Similarly, the lazy man may realize after ten years of playing video games in his mom’s basement that his poverty, low social status, and lack of marriage prospects are his own fault, and vow to reform. But he’s lost ten years, and has to overcome a lot of bad habits. He might have been much better off if the insults of contemptuous strangers had shaken him into moral maturity back when he was twenty. Of course, people don’t necessarily learn the right moral lessons even with a lag. They might lead impoverished lives till the day they die, because their neighbors are too tolerant to educate them in the way of virtue.

To (3): Yes, intolerance is not a pleasant feeling, but is it one’s intolerant attitudes, or someone else’s offensive behavior, that is to blame? Simplifying somewhat, a person confronted with offensive behavior has three options: tolerate, oppose, or withdraw. Manipulating oneself psychologically so as to reduce, or possibly eliminate, one’s felt disgust at the offensive behavior, is not costless. You may never feel as good as you would if the offensive behavior stopped. Strongly opposing the offensive behavior may assuage the conscience of a truthful person as silence would not, and better yet, it might cause the offensive behavior to cease. If so, very importantly, it spares others, not just oneself, from the offensive behavior. I may tolerate the chatterer in the classical music concert, hoping he’ll just stop, but I’m grateful to the man who confronts him with an angry “Shhhh!”

As for withdrawal, I’m not sure whether it qualifies as tolerant or not. It seems to fit Caplan’s definition, but would we consider a person “tolerant” whose invariable response, upon finding out that someone is gay, is quietly but irrevocably to terminate the acquaintance? I’m not sure. Caplan and I are enthusiastic Bubble-dwellers, and I’ve come more and more to congratulate myself on the virtues of my immediate circle of acquaintance relative to American society generally. But part of what makes my bubble so nice is that lewdness, blasphemy, and vitriol against undocumented immigrants are not tolerated there. Now, if I can satisfy the duty of tolerance by withdrawal, that’s some comfort. But isn’t it a bit harsh for those from whom I withdraw, to be ostracized without knowing why. At least sometimes, mightn’t it be better to tell them what they’re doing wrong? Then they have the option of changing their behavior to keep my acquaintance, or if not, at least they know why they lost it.

As usual, Jesus sets the right example here. Up to a point, Jesus was tolerant in Caplan’s sense. He never seems to have sought out people who were minding their own business and started blasting them for their sins. He did seek out some and gently call them: “As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew… And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me'” (Mark 1:16-17). He taught “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1), and illustrated it with a beautiful, rather comic parable about not taking a speck out of your brother’s eye when there is a log in your own. He drove the money changers out of the temple by force (Matthew 21:12), but the temple is a special place, and He doesn’t seem to have interfered with them anywhere else. He was most intolerant of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees– “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell?” (Matthew 23:33) But their problem is that they were hypocrites, that is, they were constantly condemning others in the name of the law, without practice it themselves:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 32: 2-4)

Scathing condemnation of hypocrites seems appropriate. Surely people who spend their lives condemning others in the name of a law they themselves are not observing, deserve to be condemned. And inasmuch as people on the receiving end of the Pharisees’ self-righteous condemnations were troubled and oppressed thereby, it might be impossible to relieve them without attacking the Pharisees’ moral authority at the root. But when Jesus was presented with the woman caught in adultery in John 8, He was merciful. “Neither do I condemn you,” He said, but also “Go and sin no more” (John 8:1). Should He have said, “Free love is OK,” or “It’s none of my business what you do with your own body?” Would that have been comforting? Would that have been loving? If sin destroys happiness and damns the soul, one who fails even to advise against it is deficient in mercy. If tolerance means not warning someone that they’re driving over a cliff, it is no virtue. All in all, I think Jesus’s practice is close to tolerance in Caplan’s sense, but not quite the same. But then, Caplan specially advocates “moderate benevolence,” as opposed to loving every stranger as your own child. Jesus did love everyone as His own children, so He couldn’t be quite as tolerant.

While “intolerance” has an unpleasant sound, “moral suasion” sounds nicer. But moral suasion is a form of nonviolent intolerance, and as such, it is an alternative to coercion which libertarians should find attractive. Would you rather private racism be eliminated by pervasive intolerant attitudes of racism, or by a police state reading people’s e-mails and bugging their homes? How about pollution, littering, or loud parties at night? Surely it’s better if communities can deal effectively with negative externalities non-coercively, through intolerant attitudes towards anti-social behavior, than if preventing negative externalities becomes the job of an invasive nanny state.

Bryan Caplan and Vipul Naik seem to feel there’s a connection between tolerance and open borders. I think the two ideas are largely orthogonal: one can argue from any side of either question to any side of the other without about equal plausibility. Here are a few of the possible arguments:

1. Tolerance => Open borders. We shouldn’t strongly oppose anything that people do with their own persons or property. Therefore we shouldn’t restrict immigration. (But this will seem question-begging to a proponent of the collective property rights argument against freedom of migration.)

2. Tolerance => Migration restrictions. Tolerant moral and social values are a distinctive Western achievement which will be diluted if we let in foreigners from less tolerant cultures. So we should keep  most foreigners out.

3. Intolerance => Migration restrictions. Foreigners engage in many repugnant practices. We should exclude most of them to avoid being offended by these practices. In this connection, someone suggested that I take the opportunity to score points against the horrible Hans Herman Hoppe, godfather of restrictionist (pseudo?) libertarianism by this quote from Democracy: The God That Failed:

There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They–the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism–will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.

Shudder. But anyway…

4. Intolerance/Moral suasion => Open borders. Immigrants will bring with them some practices that are morally wrong, or distasteful. It will often be impractical and/or unjust to use force to reform them. Fortunately, intolerant attitudes are a good substitute for legal force. Our strong disapproval of offensive practices will often suffice to make immigrants abandon them. Indeed, one of the benefits of open borders is precisely that a lot of people will come under the influence of our disapproval, and be effectually pressured to conform to our higher moral standards. By contrast, if they remain in their home countries, they will be too far away to notice and be influenced by our disapproval. That may injure our peace of mind to the extent that we know of these practices, but even if they don’t bother us psychically when they’re far away, practices that are really, objectively moral evils should be stopped.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the Victorian Age was better able to accommodate open borders in part because it was more socially intolerant, e.g., of blasphemy or sexual license. Strong normative values that pervaded society made the Victorians better able to assimilate immigrants. Also, a civil society strong in its normative values did some of what the modern welfare state does, so the welfare objection to open borders wasn’t a factor in the way it is today.

An addendum to visa versus authorized stay: “automatic visa revalidation”

In my previous post on the distinction between visa and authorized stay, I had stated that, unless you are a citizen or a permanent resident (Green Card holder), you need to have a valid US visa if you’re entering the United States as a student or temporary worker, even if it is a re-entry. However, you don’t need a valid US visa to stay in the United States. Recently, I discovered an interesting exception to this rule: “automatic visa revalidation” for people who make short trips to Canada and Mexico lasting less than thirty days. Here are here are official US government pages on the subject, and here and here are more details from the University of Washington and Murthy Law Firm respectively.

Basically, this allows people on some types of visas to re-enter the United States with an expired visa but a valid I-94 (Arrival Record Card). The following conditions are necessary:

  • The person’s absence from the United States was 30 days or less.
  • The person did not visit any countries other than Mexico or Canada in that period.
  • The person does not have a pending (or rejected) application for a new visa.
  • The person is not a citizen of one of the countries designated by the US as a state sponsor of terrorism. This includes Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan (more information here).

Additionally, the usual checks applied at a port of entry also apply here (for instance, those on the “F” student visa need to have an up-to-date travel signature, those on work visas need a letter from their employer indicating that they are still employed).

The typical use cases for this are:

  • People with family or other connections in Mexico and Canada can make short trips to visit family and friends back home.
  • Those engaging in tourism or sightseeing have their life made somewhat easier: a US student or temporary worker can go for a brief vacation in Mexico.
  • Those going for short academic or business trips, such as attending conferences, can do so.

The most interesting aspect, to me, of automatic visa revalidation is that it does not allow you to make a short trip to renew your visa. This means that somebody making a short trip to Mexico or Canada to renew an expired visa is taking the risk of being locked out of the US.

Why might those who have a pending application for visa renewal be excluded from automatic visa revalidation? This sheds a little more light on the observation from my preceding post that it is not possible to renew a US visa in the United States. I suspect that the same reasons apply: applying for a new visa should really be done in a context where a rejection can be used to credibly foreclose the person’s return or continued stay in the United States. If people with pending applications are allowed to return, then you might end up with a situation where somebody whose visa has been declined is legally present in the United States.

In fact, as the Harvard International Office explains, even if you have a currently valid US visa, applying for a new one as a Third Country National in Canada or Mexico makes you ineligible for re-entry into the United States until your new visa is approved:

Harvard students and scholars who hold F or J visas should not plan to travel to Canada or Mexico to apply for a visa from a U.S. consulate without consulting their HIO advisors in advance. Any Third Country National (a person applying at a U.S. consulate/embassy in a country other than his/her own) who applies for a visa in Canada or Mexico must have the application approved before returning to the United States. If the applicant is unable to get approval of the new visa application in Canada or Mexico, s/he will not be permitted to reenter the United States. The applicant may need to travel to his/her home country directly from either Canada or Mexico to apply for the proper visa in order to reenter the United States.

Featured image credit: H-1B wiki

PS: Co-blogger Michelangelo alerted me to a similar provision called “advanced parole” that is relevant for asylum applicants and might be used for DACA/DAPA recipients. See the USCIS page on Form I-131 for more. Michelangelo might do a blog post on the subject. I’ll link to it once it is published.