All posts by Joel Newman

Joel has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon. See also: our blog post introducing Joel all blog posts by Joel

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.

Resistance to U.S. Immigration Restriction: Echoes of the Opposition to the Fugitive Slave Laws

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the United States enacted laws to facilitate the recapture of escaped slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required citizens to help recapture slaves and delegated power to federal commissioners to decide whether those arrested would be freed or sent back to slavery. Both this law and its predecessor, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, imposed fines on those who interfered with the recapture process.

There was resistance to the laws in the free states. As history.com notes, “… most Northern states intentionally neglected to enforce” the 1793 law, with some establishing laws making it more difficult for slaveowners to recapture their slaves. There was also resistance to the 1850 law: “States like Vermont and Wisconsin passed new measures intended to bypass and even nullify the law…” At the same time, individuals assisted runaway slaves, including helping slaves migrate to Canada. Groups of activists in the North even physically liberated escaped slaves from federal control.

The current tension between a U.S. government intent on apprehending and deporting large numbers of undocumented immigrants and states, localities, and individuals working to shield these individuals from immigration enforcement is reminiscent of this history.

One parallel is the wide resistance from non-federal governments to both the fugitive slave laws and immigration enforcement. An article in The New York Times reports that five states “limit how much the local police can cooperate with federal immigration agents” and that over six hundred counties across the U.S. “limit how much the local police cooperate with requests from federal authorities to hold immigrants in detention.” Similarly, many big cities “have reaffirmed plans to defy the administration and act as a kind of bulwark against mass deportations.” In an unpublished paper, Allan Colbern cites a scholar who notes that the city of Chicago refused to enforce fugitive slave law in the 1850s and that today it similarly balks at enforcing immigration law. (At the same time, some localities currently resisting immigration enforcement are located in former slave states.)

Another parallel is the financial threat for interfering with federal law. As with the ability to fine those protecting fugitive slaves, the federal government apparently can withhold federal money from localities that restrict local law enforcement from passing along information to immigration authorities about the immigration status of prisoners. The Trump administration has threatened to punish localities in this way for not cooperating with immigration authorities.

A third parallel is the involvement of individuals in protecting those being pursued, whether slaves or immigrants. The New York Times reports that “members of churches and synagogues are again offering their houses of worship as sanctuaries for undocumented people fearing deportation…” Hundreds of houses of worship are either providing refuge for undocumented immigrants in their buildings or are providing resources such as legal aid. Families in various states also are making their homes available as safe havens for undocumented immigrants. Moreover, a “modern-day underground railroad” may be created to help undocumented individuals move “house-to-house or into Canada.” (Similarly, a farmer in southern France has helped smuggle migrants through France without compensation and has criticized the government for blocking the entrance of African migrants from Italy. (See here and here.))

Furthermore, resisting immoral institutions is a likely motivation behind the efforts to assist both runaway slaves and undocumented immigrants, whether the institution is slavery or immigration restrictions (or at least deportation). People generally won’t help murder suspects or convicts on the run, but they might help individuals who are oppressed for reasons beyond their control, such as the color of their skin or their place of birth. (In the case of local governments limiting their cooperation with immigration authorities, the motivation often may be concerns that collaboration with those authorities would interfere with law enforcement because residents fearful of immigration enforcement might be unwilling to report crimes to the local police.)

The Fugitive Slave Laws were eventually repealed during the Civil War, and slavery itself was abolished shortly after the war. Hopefully, immigration restrictions will disappear as well in the not too distant future.

The U.S. and Canada Should Open Their Borders to Syrian Refugees

I had hoped that the Syrian civil war would produce, against the odds, a democracy which protected the diverse ethnic groups who live in the country. Either non-jihadist democratic Syrian rebels would prevail and be charitable towards those who have supported the Assad government, or an agreement between the rebels and the Syrian regime would transition the country toward democracy.

None of this has materialized, Syria is devastated, and with the oppressive Assad regime firmly in control of the western portions of the country, political progress appears impossible. According to David Lesch, writing in The New York Times, most Syrians now live in extreme poverty, the unemployment rate is over 50%, half of Syrian children are not enrolled in school, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other diseases are endemic, hundreds of thousands are dead, and millions are injured. Different forces, including the Islamic State, control different parts of the country, and fighting likely will continue between these groups. Hundreds of billions of dollars would be needed to rebuild the country, and Mr. Lesch believes that other countries will not step up to provide reconstruction money.

Not surprisingly, almost five million Syrians have fled their country, not including millions of others who have been displaced within Syria. Almost a million have migrated to Europe. About 18,000 Syrians have been resettled in the U.S., and about 40,000 Syrians have gone to Canada. Most of the refugees are stranded in Turkey (about 2.5 million), Lebanon (about 1 million), and Jordan (about a half million), with limited opportunities to resettle elsewhere.

It is past time for the U.S. and Canada to allow the millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to immigrate to their countries. In addition to the fundamental moral reasons that oblige countries to open their borders to almost all immigrants, there are several compelling reasons why there should be swift acceptance of these refugees.

First, while multiple nations and groups have been involved in the Syrian war, the U.S. bears some responsibility for the catastrophe. Since the U.S. has the world’s mightiest military, it always has the option to intervene and have an impact on a conflict. In Syria, the U.S. intervened by providing some support to rebels fighting the Assad regime, but the intervention never was forceful enough to quickly resolve the conflict. According to Philip Gordon, who worked on Middle Eastern affairs at the U.S. National Security Council from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. has only prolonged the Syrian war: “… our policy was to support the opposition to the point that it was strong enough to lead the regime and its backers to come to the table and negotiate away the regime. And that was an unrealistic objective…I think it is fair to say that we ended up doing enough to perpetuate a conflict, but not enough to bring it to a resolution.” The U.S. could have disabled the regime’s air force, as Senator McCain has recently advocated, especially before the Russian military became directly involved in the conflict. That might have saved the lives of many civilians targeted by Syrian aircraft and perhaps led to a settlement between the rebels and the government. (I recognize that direct military action doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes, considering the results in Iraq and Libya.) In addition, other actions short of direct attacks on the Syrian military could have been undertaken to protect civilians, as Nicholas Kristof has noted. These include creating safe zones in Syria protected by the U.S. military and destroying military runways so Syrian warplanes couldn’t be employed. Accepting Syrian refugees would be some compensation for the U.S. failure in Syria to resolve the conflict and protect civilians.

Second, Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are struggling. (Some refugees are also struggling in Greece.) Many children are not able to go to school, it is difficult for adults to get work, and the refugees are becoming impoverished. (See here and here.) Some Mercy Corps teams “have seen families living in rooms with no heat or running water, in abandoned chicken coops and in storage sheds.” The desperation of the refugees is reflected in the attempt by many of them to reach Europe by making risky sea crossings, during which some have perished.

The host countries are apparently unwilling and/or unable to incorporate the newcomers into their societies. According to Mercy Corps, in Jordan and Lebanon, “weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain.” As to Turkey, one observer stated: “It remains unclear how the embattled country – which is also dealing with declining GDP, multiple attacks, and a war against Kurdish fighters in the southeast – will be able to accommodate nearly three million refugees, the vast majority of whom are young adults and children seeking jobs and education.”  The U.S. and Canada, with wealthier economies, more political stability, and a tradition of incorporating immigrants, would provide a better refuge for the Syrians than the Middle Eastern countries.

Third, the rapid migration of Syrian refugees to Canada and the U.S. could diminish the threat of terrorism. It is risky to continue the Obama policy of allowing very few Syrian refugees to enter or maintain the Trump policy, which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from the country. The longer Syrian refugees are stuck in their host Middle Eastern countries, the greater the risk that they will become radicalized. According to a Brookings Institution article, “the risk of radicalization is especially heightened where IDPs and refugees find themselves in protracted situations: marginalized, disenfranchised, and excluded. Finding solutions for displaced populations should be an urgent priority for humanitarian reasons but also as a security issue.” (See also here. )

While ideally the Obama administration’s thorough vetting of refugees for admission into the U.S. would continue, its sluggish nature makes it imprudent to maintain. A faster screening process must be implemented in order to bring the refugees into economically advanced, mostly tolerant North America, where they could thrive and become more immune to radicalization.

In addition to rescuing the refugees from potentially radicalizing conditions in the Middle East, there is another mechanism by which admitting them might prevent terrorism. In a previous post, I suggested how open borders could help protect receiving countries from terrorism, including by freeing up resources for screening immigrants for terrorist threats, by improving government relations with Muslim immigrant communities which could assist with stopping terrorism, and by providing more Muslim immigrants who could join Western intelligence agencies. Similarly, admitting Syrian refugees from the Middle East could generate goodwill among the American and Canadian Muslim communities, perhaps resulting in an increase in the number of Muslims willing to assist in preventing terrorism.

Evidence of this may be found in the German government’s recent admittance of over a million immigrants, many of whom are Syrian refugees. This may have earned Germany more support from its Muslim community in efforts to prevent terrorism, according to Robert Verkaik, writing on CNN‘s website. He notes that

In October last year, two Syrians managed to capture a terror suspect in Leipzig who was planning a bomb attack on German airports… And in November last year, a German Muslim man who had returned from fighting ISIS in Syria provided information to German security services that led to the arrest of a major extremist cell. These examples show that the German security services, in common with agencies across Europe, critically rely on intelligence passed on by members of its Muslim communities.

He also seems to suggest that a Muslim informant warned the security services about the suspect before the attack on the Berlin Christmas market last year.

Many people are concerned that Syrian refugees could commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. However, they should consider that about half of the refugees are children, who “don’t fit the typical profile for terrorists.”  And, as noted elsewhere, most Muslims are peaceful. (Some Syrian refugees are not even Muslim.) Furthermore, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has determined, based on historical data, the statistical chance of being killed by a foreigner committing a terrorist act in the U.S.: 1 in 3.6 million per year. For the risk of being killed by such an act by a refugee, the risk is 1 in 3.64 billion per year. If the 9/11 attacks are excluded, “21 foreign-born terrorists succeeded in murdering 41 people from 1975 through 2015.” Nowrasteh’s conclusion is that “foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event.” Its risks are minuscule when compared to other causes of death.

It is also notable that, as co-blogger Hansjörg points out, the German experience with the recent influx of Muslim refugees belies the predictions by restrictionists that their admittance would result in lots of terrorist acts there. Hansjörg notes that the number of lethal Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany (ever) is in the low single digits. There is minimal risk involved for Canada and the U.S. to accept millions of Syrian refugees, even without consideration for the aforementioned ways their admittance could actually help prevent terrorism.

Furthermore, it might be better for the Syrian refugees to go to North America than to some European countries. Many argue that the U.S. does a better job than European countries at integrating immigrants. One writer notes that “the conditions of Muslims in some European countries can create fertile breeding grounds for extremism, whereas societies with more-integrated Muslim populations like the United States are less susceptible.” (See also herehere, and here.) David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, states: “Europe is coping poorly with its large population of alienated, under-employed, and in some cases radicalized Muslim immigrants and their children. It seems then the zenith of recklessness to make that population larger still.” Another writer even suggests that radical Muslims in Europe will infect Syrian refugees with their ideology, although he proposes vigorous integration efforts rather than exclusion from Europe.

At the same time, some are sanguine about European integration of its Muslim residents.  Shada Islam of Friends of Europe asserts: “Make no mistake; while extremists of all ilk may decry multi-cultural Europe, the process of adaptation, accommodation, integration, of Europe and Islam is already well underway… Europe’s once solely security-focused approach to dealing with Muslims has been replaced with a more balanced view that includes an integration agenda and migrant outreach programmes.” Similarly, co-blogger Hansjörg, who lives in Germany, states that “on the whole, my personal impression is that integration works quite well also in Europe. There is a tendency, especially in the US (but also in Europe from those who are critical), to present this as a story of severe problems, divides that cannot be bridged, etc. I don’t think that is true (not to say there are not some problems).”

Finally, admitting millions of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Canada may not be very disruptive in other respects. A study for the Centre for European Economic Research on the recent migrant influx into Germany has found that there are “no signs of quick and clear deleterious effects in Germany post ‘migrant crisis’ involving, as the authors conclude, ‘more than a million’ migrants entering Germany in 2014-15 on native employment, crime, or anti-immigrant politics specifically linked to the presence of migrants on the county level.” In the U.S. it is notable that “eleven percent of Syrian immigrants to the U.S. own businesses, according to a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. That compares to four percent of immigrants overall and three percent of people born in the United States.” According to one Syrian immigrant, self reliance is emphasized in Syrian culture, a trait that is compatible with American culture. Moreover, a research director at the Fiscal Policy Institute states that Syrian immigrants in the U.S. have generally been successful and could help the refugees adapt to life here.

The economic impact on the U.S. actually could be positive. People throughout the U.S. welcome refugees because they know from experience the beneficial effect that refugees have on communities, according to David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee. He writes that “to take one example, over the course of a decade, refugees created at least 38 new businesses in the Cleveland area alone. In turn, these businesses created an additional 175 jobs, and in 2012 provided a $12 million stimulus to the local economy.” In Rutland, Vermont, the mayor has advocated resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq in his city to help address a declining and aging city population. Population loss there could lead employers like General Electric to leave the city. (A 2013 post looks at efforts by various American cities to attract immigrants in order to help their economies.)

In summary, allowing millions of Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. and Canada not only would be morally warranted, it could minimize the risk of future terrorism, relieve the suffering of many, and enrich both countries. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, with Trump ordering an indefinite stop to the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. The longer he blocks their entry, the greater the perils for both the refugees and the West.

Deportation Constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment

“As Justice Brandeis recognized long ago, deportation is akin to the loss of property or life, or ‘all that makes life worth living.’” (Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, 1997, 2(18), p. 737)

Donald Trump recently suggested that U.S. citizens who burn the American flag should be punished, perhaps by being stripped of their citizenship. This elicited a reminder that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that revoking someone’s citizenship in order to punish that person for a crime is unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.” In that ruling, the court stated that revocation of citizenship

“… subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress. He knows not what discriminations may be established against him, what proscriptions may be directed against him, and when and for what cause his existence in his native land may be terminated. He may be subject to banishment, a fate universally decried by civilized people.”

For undocumented immigrants and other immigrants vulnerable to deportation from the U.S., the court’s language describes their predicament, especially for those with deep roots in the U.S. They fear losing their work permits (those who have them), apprehension, and deportation, and if expulsion comes, it is devastating. (It is undoubtedly also devastating for those who have spent less time in the U.S., especially if they are sent back to a country where they are endangered, but here I am limiting my focus to those immigrants whose experience is very similar to that of a denationalized citizen.) The ruling thus suggests that the suffering caused by the U.S. deportation regime, which includes both deportation itself and the threat of it, constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” let alone being immoral from an open borders perspective. (The term “punishment” is used here because it connects to the Constitution. Punishment of any kind based on immigration status is, in my opinion, immoral.)

Joseph Carens would likely agree that expelling immigrants who have long resided in the U.S. constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” In addition to arguing for open borders generally, Carens has emphasized the injustice of deporting immigrants who have established roots in a society:

“Living and working in a society makes immigrants members of that society over time, even if they arrived and settled without permission. This is clearest for those who arrived as young children. Everyone has heard stories about the Dreamers, young people who were raised in the United States and who are now stuck in limbo because they do not have legal status. They are Americans in every respect that should count, and they can’t be blamed for coming here because they were only children when they arrived. So it would be morally wrong to kick them out… when people have been here for a long time, living peacefully and contributing to the community in ordinary ways, the morally right thing to do is to let them stay, regardless of how they arrived.”

The election of Donald Trump has exacerbated immigrant suffering, heightening their anxiety and threatening greater numbers of deportations, although it is unclear what his policy will actually be. At times, he has pledged to deport all undocumented immigrants.  More recently, he has suggested he would focus on immigrants with criminal records. It is also unclear whether he will overturn President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation and provided them work permits. (It should be remembered that, despite DACA, the deportation regime thrived under Obama.)

Immigrants who are protected under DACA are certainly distressed by the possibility that their protection will disappear under Trump. The New York Times, which has reported on some of these young immigrants, notes that if Trump terminated the program, at first they would lose their work permits, depriving them of sometimes middle class salaries: “…the Dreamers could see the accouterments of middle-class life — a studio apartment in Brooklyn, a driver’s license, a biweekly paycheck with deductions for retirement, a coveted desk in a financial firm — disappear.” A teacher at a middle school said of possibly losing her work permit, “‘I wouldn’t lie to say it won’t devastate me.’”  Moreover, there is the fear of being deported: “Advocacy groups have been inundated with calls from people afraid or despondent,” reports The New York Times. A 27 year old financial consultant stated: “‘The first thought I had is that I have done everything right and it is all going to be taken away from me… It feels a little bit like a betrayal. I’ve been here since I was 4 years old. I’m an American.’” A legal assistant who has been in the U.S. for almost thirty years, said “‘It feels like a step backward, to be back in this insecure place where you don’t know what the next step might be,’ she said, her voice breaking with tears. She has tried not to cry in front of her children and to assure them that she is safe.”

Non-DACA undocumented immigrants who spent many years in the U.S. but who have been deported have suffered immensely, as The New York Times also has shown. Juventino Martin Gonzalez was deported to Mexico after working in the U.S. for 20 years and having three children here. A month after being deported, he came to the border fence separating California from Mexico “for a glimpse of the American side he still considers home. He said, ’I belong over there, not here… this is the closest I can get…’” Miguel Romero was also deported to Mexico:

“For 16 years, he had worked as a glazier in Brooklyn. He married and was raising five children. But earlier this year, immigration officials arrested him while he was installing glass in a storefront in lower Manhattan, Mr. Romero said… His wife, also in the United States illegally, decided not to join him, and he says he does not blame her, since wages here average about $10 a day… He does not dare cross the border illegally again, for fear of getting caught and serving time in jail. ‘My whole life I spent up there, and it’s hard for me to come back,’ he said in perfect English. ‘We have been up there so many years, and most of us don’t commit crimes. People that do nothing but work should get a break.’”

Many additional immigrants who lived in the U.S. for many years have been deported, not because they were undocumented but on account of a criminal record. My opinion is that immigrants (who have not become citizens, in which case they generally are immune from deportation based on their criminal records) who have been convicted of a crime in the U.S. should be punished through the justice system, as would a U.S. citizen, but that they should not face deportation because of the crime, regardless of the offense. Regardless of one’s position on this issue, it is clear that those deported (often for very minor offenses) after living rooted lives in America suffer. The Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School has noted that many Cambodian immigrants to the U.S. have been deported after committing crimes. The center observes that “The U.S. separated them from their homes and families and sent them to a country with which they had little or no connection.” While some individuals eventually accept their life in Cambodia, many struggle to adjust, with some committing suicide. Especially devastating is the separation from loved ones in America: “Deportation destroys these relationships. It forces non-citizens to leave their friends, parents, siblings, and spouses. Furthermore, many must abandon their U.S. citizen children. Of the forty-eight returnees interviewed for this report, twenty-five left behind sons or daughters in the United States. As U.S. law makes it all but impossible for returnees to obtain a tourist visa, most will never see their children again.” One man was deported after forging a $900 check to pay his bills and has never seen his baby girl, who was born while he was in immigration detention before being sent to Cambodia.

Those under the threat of deportation because of their criminal record also are distressed. Lundy Khoy was born in refugee camp in Thailand, arrived in the U.S. thirty five years ago when he was a one year old, and has legal permanent resident status. He is not an American citizen but states “there is no way I am not an American.” In 2000 he pleaded guilty for possessing seven tablets of Ecstasy with intent to sell. His conviction made him deportable, even though he later received a pardon from the governor of Virginia. He has not been deported but has spent almost nine months in immigration detention (he is now released) and is fearful: “If I was deported, I would be sent to Cambodia. But I had never been to Cambodia!”

Another immigrant who faced a similar situation is Qing Hong Wu, who immigrated legally from China when he was five years old. When he was fifteen he pleaded guilty to muggings he had committed. After serving three years at a reformatory for his crimes, Wu worked to become a vice president for Internet technology with a national company. However, almost twenty five years after coming to the U.S., Wu was detained by immigration agents and subject to deportation because of his criminal record. In a telephone interview from detention with The New York Times he said, “’Being permanently banned from the U.S., that’s the biggest stress I’m under… That’s the harshest penalty any person can ever receive.’” Fortunately, after Wu spent four months in detention, the governor of New York pardoned him, which erased the grounds for deportation, unlike in Khoy’s case.

I believe that deportations are immoral, except in extradition cases in which individuals face criminal trials in other countries. However, I am not a lawyer and am not arguing here that the deportation of immigrants with strong roots in the U.S. could be found unconstitutional by a court. Apparently, a legal claim that deportation violates the Eighth Amendment probably would be unsuccessful, since deportation is not legally considered a punishment. The New York Times notes that “under the 19th-century legal doctrine still at the heart of much of modern immigration law, however, neither detention nor deportation counts as punishment, just as administrative remedies for the failure to exclude an undesirable foreigner in the first place, experts say.” It is evident, though, that deportation and the threat of it cause immigrants to suffer the equivalent of what the Supreme Court has deemed to be  cruel and unusual punishment, which is a damning indictment of both the status quo and a possibly even crueler future under Trump.

Help American Manufacturing With Open Borders

A major theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was decrying the loss of American manufacturing jobs to other countries and pledging to bring them back. He plans to accomplish this by changing U.S. trade policy. Ironically, open borders, which is anathema to Trump, could be the best way to increase manufacturing in the U.S.

Few Americans work in manufacturing today, mostly because automation obviates the need for large numbers of workers. (See here and here.) However, according to the Economic Policy Institute, manufacturing is a vital component of the American economy: “Manufacturing provides a significant source of demand for goods and services in other sectors of the economy… The manufacturing sector supported approximately 17.1 million indirect jobs in the United States, in addition to the 12.0 million persons directly employed in manufacturing, for a total of 29.1 million jobs directly and indirectly supported, more than one-fifth (21.3 percent) of total U.S. employment in 2013.”

Some argue that the key to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. is the availability of a skilled workforce in the U.S., given the high tech nature of manufacturing today. However, there apparently aren’t enough American workers with the necessary skills for manufacturers to relocate to the U.S. A Brookings Institution report stated that “employers in the manufacturing sector report difficulty filling available high-skilled positions. Even at the height of the Great Recession in 2010, companies reported 227,000 open jobs. Factory owners note that is difficult to bring manufacturing jobs back when they cannot find the talent they need to expand.”

One of the recommendations of the Brooking Institution report is to have skilled workers from other countries fill these positions.  An open borders policy would make it much easier for American manufacturers to find workers for their vacant positions. Manufacturers would literally have a world of workers from which to choose. By helping to fill manufacturing positions, open borders both would encourage manufacturers to return production to the U.S. and discourage them from moving current production abroad. As previously mentioned, the expansion of manufacturing in the U.S. would ripple throughout the economy, creating more jobs for both citizens and immigrants.

In addition to manufacturing, the Brookings Institution report identifies other areas of the American economy which have a shortage of workers. (CNN also notes that there are millions of unfilled jobs in the economy, indicating that often employers can’t find people with the right skills.) These sectors are agriculture, health care, and technology. Finding workers for vacancies in all of these areas would enable companies “to better compete, grow, and create more jobs for American workers.” Again, open borders would facilitate this dynamic.

Filling vacancies through the current restrictive immigration system is difficult. The Brookings Institution notes that the American immigration system “is not designed for today’s economy” and admits immigrants on employment visas at a rate much too low to meet America’s needs. Their report states that “regardless of whether the field requires low or high skill levels, industry officials say the process doesn’t work well and is overly bureaucratic.” For example, “surveys have found that three-quarters of foreign graduates of American universities with degrees in
science, technology, engineering, and math would like to stay in the United States but have few opportunities to do so. They have the skills required to fill the job vacancies noted above, but can’t get timely visas. The result is that many of them return to their native countries, where they innovate, build businesses, and create
jobs that otherwise might have taken place in the United States.”

For those concerned that open borders would harm American workers, the Brookings report argues that immigrants should be seen as complementing rather than competing with American workers. However, there isn’t agreement on this point among economists. Pia Orrenius of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank states that while many citizens benefit from immigration, including complementary workers, some workers do compete with immigrants and experience falling wages, at least initially. These negative effects mostly impact low-skilled workers. However, other economists contend that immigration has little or no effect on workers without high school degrees. And should some workers be negatively impacted by immigration under open borders, they could be compensated by the government, such as through taxes on immigrants.

The Brookings report on worker shortages states that “a smart immigration system can help prevent (worker shortages) by filling needs so companies can expand operations in the U.S. and don’t have to move them overseas.” Such a system also would encourage some manufacturing in other countries to return to the U.S. Open borders would be a smart way to address U.S. worker shortages, which would strengthen manufacturing and the overall economy while benefitting immigrants themselves.