All posts by Joel Newman

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

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our blog post introducing Joel
all blog posts by Joel

The Good, the Bad, and Immigration Restrictions

Many aspects of the current American immigration system and the attitudes that support it are troubling. There is the death and suffering the system inflicts on people simply wanting to improve their lives by moving to a different location on the planet. There is the discrimination against people based on nothing else than their place of birth, over which no one has control. There is the self righteousness of individuals who excoriate undocumented immigrants because they aren’t abiding by the immigration laws, even though those laws are unjust and, in their current form, have existed for less than half of the period since the U.S. was created

I also am bothered by the intersection of personal character and immigration restrictions, which has two components. The first is that there are many immoral native born Americans who are untouched by immigration restrictions, while at the same time there are many virtuous immigrants and would be immigrants who are negatively impacted by the restrictions. Moreover, it is possible that, on average, immigrants and would-be immigrants are better people than native born Americans, yet it is mostly immigrants who are tormented by the immigration laws.

It is acknowledged that classifying a person as good or bad can be subjective. However, here are some traits that many people would associate with being a good person, not necessarily in order of importance: hardworking, kind, generous, responsible, respectful, empathetic, compassionate, altruistic, helpful, honest, unprejudiced, and, in the context of family, loving and supportive. A bad person would demonstrate the opposite traits. Of course, nobody acts virtuously all of the time, and probably nobody acts badly every waking moment, but I think that many people lean towards either virtue or immorality.

The Bad

Notwithstanding the complexity of measuring a person’s decency, I will address the first component of the character issue. There are many people who exhibit deplorable behavior yet have had the good fortune to be born as American citizens. Despite their behavior, they are officially never at risk of detention or deportation by immigration agents. Unless they are convicted of certain offenses, they have access to an economy which provides relatively high wages, to a government safety net (if often insufficient), to the rule of law, to participation in a democracy, and to relatively safe communities. I am thinking here of murderers, rapists, parents who abuse their children, white supremacists, people who attack or harass others based on their ethnicity, gender, religion, race, or other traits, and people who are cruel to animals. (Some might suggest that stripping such people of their citizenship and deporting them would be an option, but there are other ways to punish these individuals without resorting to such an approach, which could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.)

And it is not just a matter of a few bad apples. For example, many Americans reportedly mistreat their children. According to J.D. Vance (as reported in the Yale News), author of Hillbilly Elegy, 40 percent of working-class children experience forms of domestic and household abuse. In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center lists almost one thousand hate groups in the U.S.

Some native born Americans with enormous power have acted unconscionably. Scott Pruitt, who was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator until this month, has been described by Justin Gillis, who is writing a book on global warming, as “… so fundamentally immoral that for momentary political gain, he is willing to risk nothing less than the fate of the Earth.” Pruitt claims that it is unclear whether human activity is a major contributor to global warming. Gillis suggests Pruitt is lying rather than deluded when he makes this claim because “you can tell by the way he words his statements, all that fine salami slicing about the need for more ‘precision’ before we can do anything.” Pruitt urged the president to abandon the Paris climate agreement and worked to dismantle climate change regulations established under the Obama administration. Meanwhile, Gillis reports that scientists “… are telling us that failing to get emissions under control would be to risk a mass extinction of life on Earth and would be very likely to create so much chaos in the human realm as to imperil the stability of our civilization.”

Donald Trump, the most powerful American, has a history of malfeasance. Before Trump became president, Thomas Friedman wrote,  

“Trump is not only a flawed politician, he’s an indecent human being. He’s boasted of assaulting women — prompting 11 to come forward to testify that he did just that to them; his defense is that he could not have assaulted these women because they weren’t pretty enough.

“He’s created a university that was charged with defrauding its students. He’s been charged with discriminating against racial minorities in his rental properties. He’s stiffed countless vendors, from piano sellers to major contractors. He’s refused to disclose his tax returns because they likely reveal that he’s paid no federal taxes for years, is in bed with dodgy financiers and doesn’t give like he says to charity.”

As president, in addition to his role in making an already cruel immigration system even more monstrous, Trump has repeatedly made false claims, which some consider a threat to America’s liberal democracy. Michiko Kakutani recently noted in The Washington Post that

“President Trump not only lies with astonishing temerity and abandon, but those lies connect into equally false narratives that gin up the worst fears and prejudices of his base. … The shamelessness and volume of Mr. Trump’s lies — The Washington Post calculated last month that he was averaging more than 6.5 false or misleading claims a day — are flooding the country in misinformation…

“With his mendacity and increasingly virulent attacks on immigrants, Muslims, women, the press, the judiciary, the intelligence services, the F.B.I. — any group or institution that he finds threatening or useful as a scapegoat — Mr. Trump is attempting the Orwellian trick of redefining American reality on his own terms. This assault on truth has the gravest consequences for our democracy. When lying is normalized, the sort of cynicism found in autocracies like Vladimir Putin’s Russia takes hold — people begin to assume that all politicians lie, that all knowledge is relative, that there is no point in voting or protest. Without truth, informed public discourse is hobbled and politicians cannot be held accountable.”

(See more here about Trump’s false statements.) 

Trump is a threat to our country, yet since he was born here, he’ll never be forced to leave the U.S. or fear such a scenario.

The Good

At the same time, there are many good people who wish to immigrate to America but are blocked by immigration restrictions or adversely affected by them. It is a safe assumption, a priori, that all countries have their share of good and bad people. But there also are individual examples of decent people harmed by immigration policy. Consider Roberto Beristain, who entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico in 1998 and was deported last year. He was the owner of a restaurant in Indiana which employed 20 American workers and is a husband and father. He apparently never broke a law in the U.S., and the mayor of a town near where he lived in Indiana referred to him as a “model resident.” The mayor wrote about Roberto that “…once he was here, in love and raising a family, did the system give him any better option than to do what he did, which was to keep his head down, work extremely hard, put his kids through school, support his wife, break no laws…” The mayor also noted that many in the community are “proud” to call Roberto a friend.

Similarly, Andres Magana, who lived in the U.S. for almost 30 years after illegally entering the U.S. from Mexico and returned there after being ordered to be deported, appears to have been a model resident. He picked coffee in Hawaii, saved up money, and bought his own farm. According to Hawaii News Now,

Over the years, Magana’s reputation has made him one of the most sought-after coffee growers on the Big Island. He’s known for his work to rid farms of the destructive borer beetle.

“‘He’s been taking care of this farm, and he’s got it down to about 2 percent or less bug problem,'” said Magana’s business partner, Brian Lindau.

“Lindau said he can understand the president’s desire to deport illegal immigrants who are here causing trouble, but can’t comprehend something like this.

“‘When you get a guy like Andres who’s a model citizen, been in business for years, pays taxes and is one of the heavy hitters in the coffee industry here, you’re shooting yourself in the foot and you’re shooting down the Kona coffee business,’ he said.”

The Washington Post added that “Hawaii’s congressional delegation wrote letters of support to top immigration officials and spoke on his behalf. A senior federal appeals court judge called him a ‘pillar of his community…’” 

Amer Adi was also a remarkable immigrant. He was deported back to Jordan earlier this year after spending almost 40 years abroad, mostly in the U.S. He has an American wife and four American daughters and owns several businesses in Ohio. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan fought for years to help Adi remain in the U.S. According to CNN, Ryan “describes Adi as a ‘pillar’ of their community, who creates jobs with his multiple businesses and distributes hundreds of turkeys to the poor on Thanksgiving.”

Then there are the many impressive DACA recipients, who were brought to the U.S. as children, lived without documentation for a period of time, received protection from deportation from President Obama, and whose status is uncertain under Trump. After receiving DACA status, Cristina Musch worked for an Arizona attorney, who described her as “an arduous, meticulous, and responsible worker.” Another DACA recipient, Alex Medrano, excelled in high school. After gaining experience working at a bank, he

now advises small businesses and entrepreneurs on launching their projects. He also volunteers financial planning advice to members of the Hispanic Contractor’s Association and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

“’Since 2014, I’ve been creating a little bit of a career,’ he says. Medrano is now leaning toward more community-oriented work. ‘I volunteer at a food pantry and attend city council meetings to share updates with my customers. I would love to work for a nonprofit and educate people in need about their finances.'”   

Other young immigrants are also honorable. William Perez of Claremont Graduate University has studied undocumented college students and has found that many of these students are interested in careers such as teaching, law enforcement, medicine, social work, and working in the nonprofit sector, which reflects a desire to help others. For example, an undocumented high school valedictorian, who received a full scholarship to Yale University and was praised by a teacher for her academics and her character, intends to be a physician. 

Thus far, I have described upstanding individuals who have been harmed as a result of their undocumented status. At the very least, they have lived with the fear that they or a family member could be detained and deported.  

It also is important to recognize the virtue of many of those who have benefitted from the American immigration system, at least eventually, by acquiring permanent legal status and sometimes citizenship. This helps to counter the efforts by some to further restrict the current system. One example is Hamdi Ulukaya, who founded the Chobani yoghurt company and who has a “reputation for being a man of outspoken civic duty and generosity.” He donates ten percent of the company’s profits to charity, he has given his full time employees an ownership stake in the company before it goes public, and hundreds of his two thousand employees are refugees.   Another is David Ho, who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 12 years old and became a medical researcher. His discoveries changed how AIDS is treated and led Time Magazine to chose him as its 1996 “Man of the Year.” A third standout is Raisuddin Bhuiyan from Bangladesh, who was shot in Texas shortly after 9/11 by an American “out ‘hunting Arabs.’” Bhuiyan survived, endured surgeries on his injured eye, forgave his attacker, and campaigned to save the attacker from execution. Not only did he demonstrate compassion and forgiveness towards his attacker, he created a program, A World Without Hate, to help communities affected by gun violence. 

On Average, Are Immigrants Better Than Native Born Americans?

At the same time, there are immigrants, documented and undocumented, who have done bad things, and there are many upstanding native born Americans. This leads to the question, “Are immigrants, regardless of status, better or worse people, on average, than native born Americans?” The answer to this question, the second component of the character issue, is difficult to determine. Yet some information suggests immigrants are, again on average, better people than native born Americans.

The data on crime supports this proposition. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, “… the social-science research on immigration and crime is clear: Undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens, with immigrants legally in the United States even less likely to do so.” One 2018 study cited by the Post found that “… not only does illegal immigration not increase crime, but it may actually contribute to the drop in overall crime rates observed in the United States in recent decades.” Similarly a 2017 Cato Institute study found that “all immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives relative to their shares of the population. Even illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans.” Furthermore, when the researchers subtracted out incarcerations in immigration detention facilities, the incarceration rate for undocumented immigrants was almost 50% lower than the rate for native born white Americans. Documented immigrants had an even lower rate. (See also here.)

In addition, some observers note that many immigrants exhibit exemplary traits that are less characteristic of many Americans. In a column this year, David Brooks, referencing Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart, which describes the social problems of many native born white Americans, notes that “one of Murray’s points is that ‘the feasibility of the American project has historically been based on industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity.’ It is a blunt fact of life that, these days, immigrants show more of these virtues than the native-born.” Brooks concludes his piece scathingly, stating that it is not surprising restrictionists “… react with defensive animosity to the immigrants who out-hustle and out-build them. You’d react negatively, too, if confronted with people who are better versions of what you wish you were yourself.”

In a 2006 column, Brooks highlighted the ways immigrants tend to be more supportive of family members and more community oriented than native born Americans. He wrote that

Over the past decade we’ve seen the beginnings of a moral revival, and some of the most important work has been done by Catholic and evangelical immigrant churches, by faith-based organizations like the Rev. Luis Cortés’s Nueva Esperanza, by Hispanic mothers and fathers monitoring their kids. The anti-immigration crowd says this country is under assault. But if that’s so, we’re under assault by people who love their children.  

“… immigrants themselves are like a booster shot of traditional morality injected into the body politic. Immigrants work hard. They build community groups. They have traditional ideas about family structure, and they work heroically to make them a reality.

“Hispanics and Hispanic immigrants have less money than average Americans, but they spend what they have on their families, usually in wholesome ways. According to Simmons Research, Hispanics are 57 percent more likely than average Americans to have purchased children’s furniture in the past year. Mexican-Americans spend 93 percent more on children’s music.

“According to the government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, Hispanics spend more on gifts, on average, than other Americans. They’re more likely to support their parents financially. They’re more likely to have big family dinners at home.

“This isn’t alien behavior. It’s admirable behavior, the antidote to the excessive individualism that social conservatives decry.

“… Women who have recently arrived from Mexico have bigger, healthier babies than more affluent non-Hispanic white natives. That’s because strong family and social networks support these pregnant women, reminding them what to eat and do…”

Another observer, Anand Giridharadas, who wrote a book about the experience of Raisuddin Bhuiyan, the aforementioned Bangladeshi immigrant, shares similar insights. He suggests that the willingness of immigrants to help one another is a superior model than the apparent go it alone ethos of some Americans. He writes that

“In mostly white, exurban communities that often see themselves as above the woes of inner cities, I found household after household where country music songs about family and church play but country-music values have fled: places where a rising generation is often being reared by grandparents because parents are addicted, imprisoned, broke or all three.

“In places bedeviled by anomie, immigrants from more family-centered and collectivist societies — Mexico, India, Colombia, Vietnam, Haiti, China — often arrive with an advantageous blend of individualist and communitarian traits.

“I say a blend, because while they come from communal societies, they were deserters. They may have been raised with family-first values, but often they were the ones to leave aging parents. It can be a powerful cocktail: a self-willed drive for success and, leavening it somewhat, a sacrificial devotion to family and tribe. Many, even as their lives grow more independent, serve their family oceans away by sending remittances.

“Mr. Bhuiyan seemed to embody this dualism. By back-home standards, he was a rugged individualist. But in America it was his takes-a-village embeddedness that enabled his revival: Immigrant friends gave him medicine, sofas to sleep on, free I.T. training and job referrals.

“…. the success of immigrants in the nation’s hurting places reminds us that the American dream can still work, but it helps to have people to lean on. Many immigrants get that, because where they come from, people are all you have. They recognize that solitude is an extravagance.

“American poverty is darkened by loneliness; poverty in so many poor countries I’ve visited is brightened only by community. Helping people gain other people to lean on — not just offering cheaper health care and food stamps, tax cuts and charter schools — seems essential to making this American dream work as well for its perennial flowers as its freshest seeds.”

Patrick Keefe, the author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream (New York: Doubleday, 2009), a book about the illegal immigration of Chinese to America, illuminates the self-sacrifice of many immigrants. He notes that for many of the immigrants he interviewed

“the ultimate success or failure of a single act of emigration can be measured only in generations: if the individual who transplants herself or her family to the United States undertakes extraordinary, even irresponsible risks in order to do so… those lapses will eventually be justified by the upward mobility of her children or their children, and the notion that some later generation will be born in America and have no solid grasp of how it was precisely that their grandmother or great-grandmother first crossed the oceans but simply know that she did.” (p. 324)

Conclusion

Character matters for the case for open borders. Open borders would allow many wonderful people to thrive in the U.S. and contribute to it, without having to fear detention or deportation by immigration agents. And maybe some of their virtue would rub off on the native born Americans who have moral deficiencies.

 

Building on the Outrage

I am no fan of James Comey, who infamously helped Trump get elected, but do appreciate that he recently raised an idea that resembles one that I addressed in a post a few years ago. In my post, I asked whether images of people being subjected to immigration enforcement might lead the American public to oppose immigration restrictions, just as television images of police mistreatment of civil rights activists in the 1960s created sympathy for the civil rights movement. Comey posits that large numbers of moderate Americans are being “stirred” by recent images of immigrant children who have been forcibly separated from their parents by the government, noting that the images recall those of African Americans being attacked in the South in the 1960s and perhaps suggesting that the heightened awareness of moderates after seeing those images helped the civil rights movement succeed. (Here is an audio recording of immigrant children taken from their families. Here are photos of immigrant children in detention.)

Comey’s underlying point is that this galvanizing of moderate Americans will lead to Trump’s defeat in 2020, not that it will lead to open borders or a dramatic change in immigration policy. Whether it will impact the 2020 election is unclear, but the widespread public outrage elicited by the separation policy may provide an extraordinary opportunity for open borders advocates to change public opinion about immigration restrictionism more generally.  Advocates can build on the current focus on this one horror associated with immigration restrictions to help the public realize that the cruelty of restrictionism is systemic.

To begin with, the remarkable events of the last few weeks should be noted.  First, polls were released showing that most Americans are against the separation of immigrant children from their parents, that less than one third of Americans support decreasing immigration, which is the smallest share who feel this way in over five decades, and that 75 percent of Americans say immigration is good for the country. Second, civil disobedience targeting the separation policy has occurred. In Portland, Oregon, protesters, apparently hundreds, camped outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, forcing the facility to shut down for a week before officers forced them to leave on June 28. Similar protests forced the closure of ICE buildings in other U.S. cities. Third, politicians and candidates are increasingly vocal in calling on ICE to be abolished or defunded.  (See also here.) A U.S. representative is planning legislation to abolish ICE, and he reportedly has support from other representatives. Fourth, numerous marches demanding the reuniting of immigrant families took place on June 30, apparently in all fifty states. The enormous negative reaction to the separation policy even forced Trump to officially end the policy

It also should be acknowledged that probably most people who are opposed to the separation policy, even including those who are calling for the abolition of ICE, don’t support open borders. There are likely a multitude of positions held on immigration policy more generally.

However, the enormity of the opposition to and the protests against the mistreatment of immigrants by immigration authorities is apparently unprecedented, despite Trump’s constant propaganda alleging that many immigrants are a threat to America. The reaction seems to dwarf even the opposition to the travel ban implemented in early 2017.

So what should open borders advocates do to extend this outrage to restrictionism generally?  Per James Comey, we should acknowledge that the current opposition to family separations is a visceral response to images and sounds of inhumanity, especially those of children suffering. Therefore, it makes sense to also expose the American public to images of immigrant suffering arising from immigration enforcement in other contexts. We need to illuminate the many horrors caused by immigration restrictions, helping people understand that the entire restrictionist system, not just the Trump separation policy, is immoral. (This proposition admittedly is contrary to the conclusion I reached in my earlier post.)

As open borders advocates know, the separations are but the tip of an enormous iceberg of suffering caused by immigration restrictions.  As Francisco Cantu, a former Border Patrol agent, has noted: “It is important to understand that the crisis of separation manufactured by the Trump administration is only the most visibly abhorrent manifestation of a decades-long project to create a ‘state of exception’ along our southern border.”  (“State of exception” refers to the suspension or diminishment of rights and protections for people.) And the suffering extends far beyond the southern border.

To start with, ending the Trump administration’s policy of taking immigrant children away from their parents doesn’t mean an end to family separation caused by immigration enforcement. The traditional way of breaking up families under all presidential administrations has been to detain and/or deport one or both undocumented parents, often of children who are citizens. According to The Washington Post, more than 100,000 citizens lose a spouse or parent to deportation each year. For example, as I noted in a previous post, “after a father of two U.S. citizens had been in detention for six months, his wife reported that ‘her 2-year-old son wakes up crying for his father every night, while her 3-year-old daughter has refused to learn to count or tie her shoes until he comes home.’” When parents are deported, family reunification can come at a high price: relocating children to dangerous countries and/or countries with limited economic opportunities.  

Deportees themselves suffer immensely. According to The Atlantic, many Central American migrants are deported by Mexican authorities before reaching the U.S., especially since the U.S. in recent years has been infusing money into a program to enable the Mexican government to block the migrants’ trip north. To give one example, late last year a Honduran teenager was deported from Mexico while journeying to the U.S.  He had fled his country after gang members tried to shoot him. The boy now rarely leaves his home. When he does go out, he is at risk from both gang members and the police, who often view all teenagers as potential criminals and who could arrest him on almost any pretense.

“Once arrested, he’d be in their hands—’almost a death sentence,’ he said. He feared they’d torture or kill him, practices identified by social organizations and journalists across Central America… Edwin had spent his short life on the run: from gang members, from U.S.-supported police in Mexico, from U.S.-supported police in Honduras.”  

In a previous post, I highlighted the suffering of other deportees.

In addition, U.S. immigration enforcement causes many deaths.   According to the government, at least 6,000 people have died trying to cross the U.S. Mexico border since the 1990’s.  Others suggest the number may be much higher, as The Guardian reports:

The US Border Patrol agency has engineered the death and disappearance of tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants by using the desert wilderness as a ‘weapon,’ according to an advocacy group.  Agents chase and scatter border crossers across hostile terrain in a strategy that leaves many people injured, dead or lost, turning the US’s south-western frontier into a ‘vast graveyard of the missing,’ the Arizona-based group No More Deaths said…”

Moreover, many Haitians and Cubans may have died attempting to reach the U.S.

Documenting on video or taking photos of the experiences of deportees, of the physical harm caused when migrants try to evade border controls, and of various forms of family separation due to immigration enforcement and then widely disseminating the images would help more Americans comprehend, viscerally, the impact of immigration restrictions in general, building on the current focus on Trump’s separation policy. Documenting other consequences of restrictionism, from attacks on immigrants by agents to harsh detention conditions, also might “stir” the American public.

Perhaps once many Americans are convinced of the systemic cruelty of restrictionism, they will be more receptive to the more abstract cases for open borders that we have shared on this site. The summer of 2018 may be the beginning, with enough finesse on our part, of a shift in public opinion towards open borders.

 

Open Borders for the Rohingya

Open borders means admitting immigrants who are rich and poor, persecuted and privileged, educated and uneducated, skilled and unskilled, from all countries. It means the opportunity for all people (with very few exceptions) to live in the country of their choice.

Nevertheless, I often write about how open borders would help groups that are extraordinarily impoverished, oppressed, and/or endangered, such as the people of Haiti, Syrian refugees, Central American migrants, and women from many countries. I do this both to emphasize the enormous benefits these groups would gain from open borders and to illustrate the negative consequences of the status quo.

However, co-blogger John Lee, in a post partially titled “I don’t care about immigration sob stories,” suggests that highlighting cases where the status quo adversely affects certain groups does not provide a foundation for open borders. Instead, he writes, open borders rests on having laws that are fundamentally just.

I agree that open borders is based on a number of ideas that demonstrate that open borders is the only just approach to immigration, but hopefully noting the tangible ways that such a policy would relieve the suffering of certain groups will help galvanize more support for our cause.

The hundreds of thousands of U.S. DACA recipients certainly constitute a sympathetic group that would benefit from open borders. Protecting them from deportation recently has been a primary focus of those concerned about the welfare of immigrants. I have argued that deporting DACA recipients, as well as other immigrants with deep roots in the U.S., would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”

At the same time, there is an even more vulnerable group, about the same size as the DACA population, which could benefit from moral immigration policies: the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Many Rohingya have fled Myanmar over the past six months.  Despite having resided in Myanmar for generations, for years they have been denied citizenship, deprived of medical services, and confined to certain areas of the country. More recently, they have been subjected to horrifying attacks by the Myanmar military and others. Civilians have been murdered and raped, and Rohingya villages have been destroyed. (See here, here, and here.)

While fleeing to Bangladesh has put the Rohingya out of the reach of the Myanmar military, their existence in that impoverished nation is extremely precarious. They are not allowed to work in Bangladesh, and they are concentrated on land that will be ravaged by monsoons next month. As reported by National Public Radio:

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have built makeshift shelters on steep, sandy hills in Bangladesh… The monsoon season is expected to start in April. When the monsoon comes, bringing 20 to 30 inches of rain a month at their heaviest, aid officials worry that many of the hillsides where the Rohingya are living could collapse. There’s also concern that hastily-constructed latrines could be flooded, contaminating the refugees’ drinking water and sparking a major disease outbreak.

Already, many refugees are suffering from illness and malnutrition. The heavy rains will exacerbate the misery. Returning to Myanmar is not a safe option; returnees face more violence or imprisonment in concentration camps. (See here.)

With Bangladesh unwilling and probably unable to permanently accept the Rohingya, other countries must step forward and offer a permanent home for this persecuted group. One option could be for the wealthy Persian Gulf countries to admit the Rohingya. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have the resources to help the Rohingya resettle, they share the Muslim faith with the Rohingya, and they are accustomed to hosting huge numbers of migrants.

Unfortunately, this scenario is unlikely. The Gulf countries have been unwilling even to accept fellow Arabs who have fled war ravaged Syria.  They also are attempting to create more employment for their native populations at the expense of resident migrants.

Therefore, Western countries should offer refuge for the Rohingya. They should do so because it is morally warranted, they have the resources to absorb the relatively small Rohingya population, and, as I noted when arguing for the U.S. and Canada to accept the millions of Syrian refugees stranded in various countries, resettling refugees helps prevent the rise of extremism.

Of course, the political winds are blowing strongly against immigrants, especially those who are Muslims, throughout most of the West. It is impossible to imagine the Trump administration even considering allowing the Rohingya to immigrate into the U.S. Australia is very resistant to accepting refugees, and many Europeans are anxious about having admitted many migrants in recent years.

Apparently Canada seems like the most viable location to which the Rohingya could migrate. It is a wealthy, multicultural country which has already been relatively welcoming to refugees from Syria and whose government is controlled by a non-nativist party. Reportedly it was the first country to resettle Rohingya refugees over a decade ago, and Canada’s immigration minister has indicated the country is open to accepting more Rohingya in the future. The minister also has stated that Bangladesh won’t permit Rohingya refugees to leave the country, but it seems that with financial incentives the Bangladeshis would be happy to have the Rohingya resettled elsewhere.

Absent the Canadian option, there is another possibility, albeit much less desirable and much more complicated.  Co-blogger Nathan Smith has suggested, if necessary, “creating an archipelago of passport-free charter cities around the globe, supported by enough aid to make sure they’re economically viable,” where the Rohingya could find refuge.  A historical example of this would be Shanghai in the 1930s, which did not require entrance visas until 1939 and to which thousands of German and Austrian Jews fled from the Nazis.

Robert Rotberg of Harvard, in an opinion piece titled “Nothing is more urgent than saving the Rohingya,” has urged Canada and other countries to intervene militarily in Myanmar to protect the Rohingya. However, there is an easier solution than military intervention or creating charter cities. Canada should shame the Gulf countries, the Americans, the Europeans, and the Australians by being the sole country to offer the Rohingya a chance to start over.

 

Immigration Restrictions Hurt Americans Too

American immigration restrictions inflict immense suffering on immigrants and would-be immigrants. Thousands have died attempting to enter the U.S. through the desert, and others have perished attempting to make sea journeys. Tens of thousands languish each year in detention centers. Others are abused by government agents or criminals. Many are deported from the U.S. after having lived many years here. Millions of undocumented immigrants live anxious lives, not knowing if or when they will be arrested and deported.

Another group is also harmed by the restrictions: American citizens. Like immigrants, they suffer in myriad ways.

To begin with, Latino citizens sometimes must endure profiling by authorities seeking undocumented immigrants. NBC News notes that “Latino and immigrant groups say that due to increased enforcement, being Latino in some places is enough to be pulled over under the guise of a minor traffic stop and be asked to prove American citizenship.” Several years ago Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona (who is no longer sheriff) was ordered by a judge to cease stopping people to check their immigration status because the stops amounted to racial profiling. And “the ACLU, border-town residents, members of Congress and even some border patrol agents argue that the rapid and vast expansion of immigration enforcement in the years since the Department of Homeland Security was created, without expanded oversight to match it, has turned the southern border of the U.S. into an occupied police state, where abuses of power and harassment by agents are an everyday occurrence.”

Some American citizens actually have been detained and perhaps deported by immigration authorities. Over the last decade hundreds of U.S.. citizens have been detained, either at local jails at the request of immigration officials or at immigration detention centers, even though immigration agents do not have the authority to detain citizens. One citizen was imprisoned for over three years because he was mistakenly considered to be a non-citizen. Another spent almost two years in detention. One researcher suggests that some citizens have actually been deported in recent years. Looking further back in history, probably hundreds of thousands of citizens of Mexican descent were deported to Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s.

In addition, deportations and detentions of non-citizens often negatively impact U.S. citizens. This is because, in the words of a report by the Center for American Progress, “undocumented immigrants do not live separate and walled-off lives from the documented, but instead live side by side in the same communities and in the same families.” It is estimated that about 4 million children who are citizens have one or more undocumented parents, and The Washington Post reports that more than 100,000 citizens lose a spouse or parent to deportation each year. (See here and here.)

Deportations separate citizen children from parents and, for families who have not yet experienced deportation, create fear among children that they could be separated from their parents in the future. Detentions also are traumatizing for children. For example, after a father of two U.S. citizens had been in detention for six months, his wife reported that “her 2-year-old son wakes up crying for his father every night, while her 3-year-old daughter has refused to learn to count or tie her shoes until he comes home.” (See also here.) Citizen children also experience raids on homes by immigration agents.

Adult U.S. citizens, like citizen children, suffer when immigration enforcement targets family members. In one case, an American wife of a man facing deportation was diagnosed with situational depression after he was detained. Another American wife accompanied her husband when he was deported but wanted to be able to return to the U.S. with him and their child, stating “’We do not have any family or friends here (London). We are all on our own… We desperately want to come home.’”

Immigration enforcement also hurts many U.S. businesses. Farmers sometimes can’t find enough workers to harvest their crops because of immigration restrictions. (See here and here.) Different kinds of firms suffer if their workers are deported. (See here.) Businesses can be punished for hiring undocumented workers.

At the same time, citizen workers in some cases may endure poor working conditions because employers, using the threat of reporting undocumented coworkers to immigration authorities, can stifle efforts to unionize or report labor violations. As one article noted, “immigrants’ inability to invoke their rights results in weakened employment protections for all American workers—and in some instances, means that American workers are subject to violations of minimum-wage and overtime protections, wage theft, and other forms of employment violations, such as unsafe working conditions.”  In 2009 the AFL-CIO and other organizations reported that

One of the most devastating illegal employer tactics is the threat to call immigration authorities on workers. The chilling impact of employers’ unlawful threats is felt not only by undocumented workers, but by their co-workers. Documented workers and U.S. citizens may be reluctant to organize their workplaces because properly timed threats to turn workers over to immigration authorities can undermine the union election process. And if workers should win a union election, deportation of their undocumented co-workers will dilute the power of the bargaining unit. No industry relies solely on an immigrant workforce. The Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey found that of more than 330 occupations, only two have immigrant majorities. This means that threats to call immigration authorities deprive workers in nearly every industry of their right to a voice at work.

Open borders would end all of this suffering endured by so many American citizens. Citizen spouses and children wouldn’t have to worry about or experience the arrest, detention, and deportation of a loved family member. Citizens themselves wouldn’t be detained or deported. Workers’ efforts to report labor violations or organize wouldn’t be undermined by immigration enforcement, and businesses could depend on a free flow of needed labor. Open borders would benefit immigrants and citizens alike.

The Most Privileged Target the Most Disadvantaged

Opportunity means having the option to work towards a life with sufficient or even prodigious resources. Unfortunately, equal opportunity does not exist either within or between countries. Differences in opportunity are, however, especially pronounced between countries. This is a major reason why open borders is so attractive; open borders would reduce the opportunity gap by allowing those who live in countries with very little opportunity to improve their circumstances by moving to a country with more opportunity. It is also why efforts by the most privileged individuals in developed countries to deny open borders to the disadvantaged of less developed countries are so egregious.

The hierarchy of opportunity in the world looks roughly like this. The most privileged are those born into wealth in both developed and less developed countries. Next on the rung would be those born into the middle class of the developed countries. (It is unclear where the middle classes of the less developed countries would appear on the hierarchy; it probably depends on the individual country.) The working classes in the developed countries would follow, with those in countries with stronger safety nets above the U.S. working class. The poor in developed countries would follow, with the poor in less developed countries occupying the bottom. This group itself could be ordered according to the level of poverty and political dysfunction they experience. At the very bottom would be residents of Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan, where people must survive apocalyptic conditions.

The wealthy U.S. President Donald Trump has always occupied the top level of this hierarchy. He was born into wealth in a stable liberal democracy (which some would argue he is working to undermine). Chuck Collins, author of Born on Third Base, notes that Trump “was set-up for success.”

Rather than adopt a perspective of noblesse oblige, Trump is targeting those at the bottom levels of the privilege hierarchy: undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and would-be immigrants from poor and/or violent countries. (The majority of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico and other less developed countries.) The Trump administration has moved to make it easier to deport people. It is also attempting to ensure the detention of asylum seekers from Central America while their cases are pending and to punish Central American parents for trying to get their children into the U.S. His homeland security secretary even raised the idea of separating children and parents who arrive in the U.S. from Central America to deter others from coming, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed federal prosecutors to make cases against those who cross the border illegally a higher priority. Trump also has promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and has tried to stop the entrance of Syrian refugees into the U.S. altogether.

Trump is not the only very privileged American to target disadvantaged immigrants and refugees. Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is the chairman of the House immigration subcommittee. He supported a 2005 bill that would have made being in the U.S. without authorization a criminal offense. According to The New York Times, he “has no tolerance for illegal immigrants, either in his political life or personal life.” At the same time, he is also among the wealthiest members of Congress, with a net worth of almost $25 million in 2014. The New York Times reports that he received “a fortune” from a great-grandfather, and ABC News lists him among the “top five political heirs.”

While apparently not born into wealth, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s aforementioned attorney general, was listed among the wealthiest members of Congress, with a net worth of over $7 million in 2014. The Washington Post has noted that in his previous job as senator “Sessions has opposed nearly every immigration bill that has come before the Senate the past two decades that has included a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.”

At the same time, apparently more privileged Americans, as represented by a higher level of education, are generally more receptive to immigration than their less privileged peers. In fact, a National Academy of Sciences report suggests that well off Americans benefit from immigration. Thomas Edsall quotes from the report: “In summary, the immigration surplus stems from the increase in the return to capital that results from the increased supply of labor and the subsequent fall in wages. Natives who own more capital will receive more income from the immigration surplus than natives who own less capital, who can consequently be adversely affected.” (Note that some economists assert that immigrants have little or no effect on workers with relatively little education.)

So it is surprising when privileged Americans voice opposition to immigration, since they apparently gain financially from it. Of course, such individuals may be concerned about the cultural impact associated with immigration, or they may be concerned about its impact on their disadvantaged compatriots. Or, if running for public office, they may be cynically appealing to voters’ fears about immigrants.

Whatever their motivation, from a moral perspective it is appalling when privileged Americans, among the most privileged people in the world, oppose the immigration of individuals who are among the most disadvantaged. It is especially disconcerting when they have the political power to realize this opposition, as in the cases of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and James Sensenbrenner.