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

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.

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 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.