All posts by Chris Hendrix

Chris Hendrix is a Masters student in history in Atlanta, Georgia with an interest in the history of borders. See also: Chris Hendrix's personal statement blog post introducing Chris Hendrix all blog posts by Chris Hendrix

How Did We Get Here? The Origins of Immigration Restrictions: Intro

As Vipul Naik has recently commented on, I am going to be starting a new series of posts here on  Open Borders. The goal of this series will be to examine how border restrictions have changed and what arguments were used to justify the new rules. Border restrictions of various sorts do have long histories, but why does a more open system tend to close up or a closed system become more open? How do the arguments made in the past compare to modern immigration arguments? Did those arguments hold up given the information available at the time? Do they hold up better or worse knowing what we know now? And in cases where dire predictions for or against immigration restrictions were made, how well did those predictions hold up?

This discussion can help move discussion away from a status quo bias. All else being equal, people tend to prefer the status quo to a change. This is very often a good thing. Indeed, the precautionary principle would indicate that the burden of proof should lie with new policies that they are not harmful. As an example, if you don’t know whether doing exploding a bomb will blow up the planet, but you think it might, then the safe action to take would be avoid blowing up that bomb. However, this principle holds less weight when the reason a status quo is in place to begin with is because of faulty reasoning and that status quo causes great harm itself. We have lots of examples on this site of how current policy creates lots of harm for the world be preventing what we could otherwise achieve or maintaining a status quo that isn’t working for hundreds of millions, but were there good reasons to put the restrictions in place to begin with? Did periods of greater immigration cause serious problems avoided by restriction? And have immigration systems been set up well given the concerns which motivated their creation? Here’s where historical examination and this series of posts in particular come in. I’ll be looking at the arguments used at the time and try to determine which made sense, which were over blown, and which were complete rubbish. Historically, all sides in immigration discussions have made mistakes, screwed up predictions, or even stated outright lies. Such is the nature of politics. But has one side or the other tended to be closer to the truth? If so, shouldn’t we be more suspicious of arguments from the opposite corner? If not, then at least we gain perspective that arguments for and against immigration have been equally bad and that the current status quo (whether one thinks too many or too few immigrants are allowed in) was established with shaky reasoning.

In any event, I hope to cover topics I already know some about such as the closing of the US border, Roman and early feudal restrictions, the end of passportless borders in Europe during World War 1, the partial re-opening of the US border starting in 1965, and the establishment of the open border Schnegen Area in Europe. If any of you readers have suggestions for other examples for me to look into please leave them in the comments and I’ll see what I can dig up! The first real post in this series will deal with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and when that goes up I’ll give a link in this post as well. Given that this kind of project takes quite a bit of time and that I am trying to keep sources mostly limited to data available online and in English (an unfortunate restriction but one that helps keep the conversation accessible to as many readers as possible), I’m always open to sources you all find! For the upcoming post the major sources I intend to use can all be found under the primary and secondary source sections of this page. So if there’s a decent source (whether primary or secondary…I figure my need for tertiary sources is probably met in most cases by Wikipedia), let me know in the comments.

Skirting Around the Restrictions: Will Technology Make Borders Obsolete?

The rise of modern communications technology has drastically changed the way humans interact with each other. Physical distance matters less than ever. You my dear reader may be seeing this post of mine from 10 minutes away from my apartment or from 12,000 miles away. Indeed the difference in time which you might theoretically be able to first read this is insignificant between those two locations. Compared to times when it took six months to traverse the silk road from Europe to China that is absurd. And this technology is not limited by borders (with some important exceptions, though just like real borders people find ways to sneak around that). Looking at the author list for this site even it’s possible to find people from across the globe writing about open borders. Technology might be beating us to the punch on open borders (for a similar argument that poverty might end before we open the borders see Vipul’s earlier post). So if this is all true does this mean there’s no point to open borders advocacy? Has technology already won the battle for us?

Sadly this post doesn’t end with me cracking open a bottle of champagne and celebrating victory (or maybe just a beer, champagne isn’t really my thing…anyways…). Continue reading “Skirting Around the Restrictions: Will Technology Make Borders Obsolete?” »

Do we need immigration?

This is the question asked by Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies. In particular in an interview with NPR in 2011 he argues:

“Our take on it is really that a modern society has no need for any immigration,” he says. “We don’t actually need immigration. Our land is settled, we’re a post-industrial society, and so … from our perspective, we need to start from zero — like zero-based budgeting — and then say, ‘Are there groups of people whose admission is so compelling that we let them in despite the fact that there’s no need for this sort of thing?’ “

So do we need immigration? Krikorian goes into more detail on his reasoning in his book, The New Case Against Immigration:

A better approach would be to learn from the principle of zero-based budgeting, defined in one dictionary as “a process in government and corporate finance of justifying an overall budget or individual budget items each fiscal year or each review period rather than dealing only with proposed changes from a previous budget.”

So in considering the amount and nature of legal migration, we shouldn’t start from the existing level and work down; instead, we should start from zero immigration and work up. Zero is not where we’ll end, but it must be where we start. From zero we must then consider what categories of immigrant are so important to the national interest that their admission warrants risking the kinds of problems that the rest of this book has outlined.

To tackle this argument we need to consider whether the “needs” of the society are the primary issue at stake here, or even one of significance. This is not to say that society and concerns about it must be discarded, but they may not be particularly relevant even given pessimistic assumptions about the results of large-scale immigration. But first, why should “zero-based” budgeting be our analogy here? Continue reading “Do we need immigration?” »

The Most Uplifting Form of Human Allegiance

A position long held by Steve Sailer is that citizenism is ” the least destructive and most uplifting form of allegiance humanly possible on an effective scale.” Long term readers of this blog might guess that many of the bloggers here would tend to disagree. But here Sailer argues that of our options, we aren’t going to get better than citizenism.

My starting point in analyzing policies is: “What is in the best overall interests of the current citizens of the United States?”

In contrast, so many others think in terms of: “What is in the best interest of my: identity group / race / ethnicity / religion / bank account / class / ideology / clique / gender / sexual orientation / party / and/or personal feelings of moral superiority?”

Given the options he presents, I might be hard pressed to say that citizenism is any worse than those options and it is clearly superior to many of them. “Personal feelings of moral superiority” for instance seems to devolve simply into straight egoism. Meanwhile the other options have problems of either arbitrariness or stifling of diverse ideas. But is universalism, namely the idea that all humans should carry equal moral weight to each other, truly not possible on “an effective scale”?

Continue reading “The Most Uplifting Form of Human Allegiance” »

With Friends Like These

The New York Times last month ran a series of viewpoints on immigration. Now, as much as finding ways to argue against restrictionists can be enlightening (and maybe fun as well) today I’ve set out on a different task: pointing out bad arguments/strategies coming from a more pro-immigration (though not quite a pro-open borders) angle. To that end, Gary Segura’s article “Path to Citizenship Must be Included” is the target for today.

In this piece, Dr. Segura sets out four “must have” points for any immigration reform bill in the United States. I’ll take these from the least problematic to the most (a clever ruse to get you to read the whole post). To that end, we’ll start with demand number two:

Requirements and penalties for seeking legal immigration status should not be so onerous or punitive that they render the reform pointless. High fines or “touchback’’ rules that require immigrants to return to their home countries before applying would render status adjustment unattainable for many. Any reform that does not actually improve the lives of those affected is not acceptable.

This demand more or less works from my perspective, and to show why let me restate it: “immigration reform that is effectively not immigration reform is pointless.”

Now this isn’t to say that gradualism isn’t acceptable. On the contrary, gradualism may be the only way to actually eventually achieve any kind of open borders policy. But if a reform results in the vast majority of currently illegal immigrants staying in that condition then there is little progress achieved while potentially slowing the pace of future reform. A bad reform bill might still convince people that there does not need to be immediate action right afterwards. The real key is what constitutes restrictions so heavy that the bill is no longer worthwhile. Some level of fines, though perhaps not ideal, could still be better than nothing. The 1986 Immigration Reform Act required back taxes and some fines for legalizing many illegal immigrants and yet legalized three million immigrants. While making the fines and limitations as limited as possible will help more immigrants and create closer steps to open borders, a “no-limitations-or-no-deal” stance could derail even otherwise moderate reform. Personally I might like to see immigrants legalized with as few fines or limitations as possible, but that doesn’t mean that legalizing several million immigrants isn’t worthwhile. For this point, my main concern is just to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good, a fault that seems to occur often in this piece.

Continue reading “With Friends Like These” »