All posts by Michelangelo Landgrave

Michelangelo Landgrave is an economics graduate student at California State University, Long Beach.

There is no Pro-OB Candidate

In the past few months readers have likely been barraged with messages about how voting for Trump is equivalent to declaring yourself a bigot. My preferred radio station currently has a series of ads encouraging listeners to vote ‘against misogyny and racism’ this upcoming election. Let me make the case that neither major candidate for US president is the clear ‘Open Borders’ candidate and that OB advocates would better serve the cause through other means.

There are those who claim that Trump has normalized anti-migrant sentiment and Clinton should be supported as a symbolic gesture that one opposes such sentiment. As I often remind readers, I am an illegal alien. I bring this up because, although it is taboo to speak ill of migrants in polite company, it is still acceptable in most cases to speak ill of “illegal” migrants. “Legal migrants are hardworking and contribute to our society, but illegals are destroying our social fabric.” Throughout my life I have had to tolerate hearing some absurd claims ranging from low brow jokes (“Why doesn’t Mexico do well in the Olympics? Any Mexican who can run and jump is in the US.”) to outright racist comments.

The thing about this is that I’ve heard these things throughout my whole life. I can’t point to a time when they ceased. Even Trump’s locker-room talk video was in my opinion mild. Just a few weeks ago I overheard a group of office workers talk about how they didn’t like Mexican men, but they liked Mexican women because of how ‘exotic’ they looked. It is true that Trump’s speeches are especially absurd compared to his contemporaries, but they differ in degree not kind. I suspect that a subset of Trump’s opponents dislikes him because he makes them realize how awful they themselves are.

I am worried that after Trump loses (at time of writing Clinton has a 78% chance of winning in the betting markets) those who publicly opposed him will feel they have moral license to act against migrants. “I’m not racist, I voted against Trump.” Such an effect is not unprecedented. Political psychologists have previously found that endorsing Obama gave voters moral license to discriminate against – “I don’t dislike blacks, I voted for Obama”.

There are those who believe a Clinton presidency will mean the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, and so a vote for her is one towards Open Borders on the margin. I am unconvinced this is the case.

The republicans are likely to retain control of the House of Representatives for the foreseeable future (see the betting markets) and won’t allow legislative reform. It is possible congressional republicans would tolerate the passage of migration reform as part of an effort to re-brand the party – but I don’t see it happening. If the party had been serious about re-branding itself, it would have done so after Romney’s loss in 2012. I think in the near future party elites, from both major parties, will be too busy fighting their respective populist wings to enact any significant legislative reforms.

President Clinton could end up enacting reform through executive actions in the same way President Obama has but reform in this manner has sharp decreases in returns. She can expand deferred action for larger portions of the unauthorized migrant population, but the legal fiction of deferred action is that it’s goal is to prioritize the deportation of other migrants. I am a doctoral student in a liberal California university so I am personally low on that priority list, but I am still on it. As are countless others whose only crime is wanting a chance to work to feed themselves and their families.

At any rate what happens for those of us in the United States is of relatively little importance. We’re already in the United States. Deferred action expanded the number of opportunities for those of us here illegally, but we were here before it and will be here after it. As difficult as life in this status is, it is still a better quality life than what we could expect in our countries of origin. If it weren’t we would have gone long ago.

Those who suffer the most, and for whom deferred action means little, are those who haven’t been able to migrate through legal or illegal means. We Mexicans are lucky; we need to cross only the US border. North Africans are also lucky; they only need to cross the Mediterranean. Those who suffer the most are those in Central America, Sub-Sahara Africa, and so forth and so forth who must cross multiple borders. Deferred action is not enough.

If you are still undecided whether to vote for Trump or Clinton, do not feel compelled to vote for Clinton out of belief that she is the marginal pro-Open Borders candidate. She isn’t. Nor should you feel compelled to vote against Trump to signal that you aren’t anti-migrant. If you wish to signal your support for open borders you would be more effective by helping plan an event for Open Borders day,contributing to this blog, or countless other things. Victory for open borders relies on winning over minds, not votes.

No Human Should Be Documented

Earlier this month Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson made it clear that he was against using the term ‘illegal immigrant’ and that he preferred the term ‘undocumented’. The issue of what to call illegal aliens is often discussed, see John Lee’s previous post and the general page on the topic.

Conservatives object to calling illegal aliens “migrants” on the grounds that it justifies their actions as a viable form of migration. Some in the alt-right go as far as to claim that “alien” is the proper term as it makes it clearer that ‘white’ countries are being invaded. The left on the other hand objects to the term “illegal” as it dehumanizes individuals. No human is illegal – so goes that slogan. The alternative term proposed is “undocumented”.

I am indifferent to the distinction between migrant and alien. I have to resist chuckling when I hear someone seriously worry about illegal aliens invading. Can I be blamed? My home state of California is littered with Spanish place names – Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, etc. What would the point of an invasion be at this stage? To rename Bakersfield to San Panadero?

It is the promotion of the term “undocumented” term that concerns me. Just as no human is illegal, I see no reason why we should promote the idea that humans should be documented. To me being “documented” conjures up the image of a dystopian future where we are branded with identification numbers that are needed for every little transaction. Indeed, I consider the term undocumented to be worse than illegal since it implies that all individuals, including natural born citizens, should be documented in this manner. At minimum the term implicitly justifies a program like e-verify, a de facto form of national ID in the United States, which makes one’s right to work dependent on government approval.

This is not to mean that an open borders regime would do away with all forms of identification. It would be possible to still require potential migrants to undergo a background check in order to screen out criminals. However there is a difference between a background check and requiring everyone, migrant and natives alike, to constantly present documentation.

Both terms then, illegal and undocumented, should be objected to. Alternative terms have similar failings. “Dreamer”, a moniker used to describe to illegal aliens who entered as children and are pursuing higher education, implicitly suggests that “normal” illegal aliens should be deported. “Unauthorized” still implies, if subtly, that states have the right to restrict migration.

I personally prefer the term illegal alien because, at least in the United States, I think open border advocacy needs to be focused towards conservatives. This is not to mean that the left has embraced open borders mind you, but there are more leftists in the movement than conservatives. I am willing to concede the terminology debate if it means that there is more time to make the rest of the case for open borders.

Political considerations aside, what should these individuals be called? I think the answer should be obvious to open border advocates: humans. Under open borders all individuals are humans with the same inherent rights.

We need to win minds not votes

The Supreme Court recently ruled against the Obama administration’s expanded deferred action program. The program, first announced in November 2014, would have granted de facto amnesty and work authorization (but not a pathway to legalization!) to a large portion of the illegal aliens in the United States. The program was an expansion of an earlier program that granted similar benefits to Dreamers, illegal aliens who came over as children. The decision was tied 4-4, meaning that the earlier appellate court ruling was upheld. Since it was a tie the Supreme Court may review the case again in the future.

Within minutes of the announcement my mail box was being filled by Dreamer and other migrant advocacy groups. United We Dream, one such Dreamer advocacy group, sent a mass email declaring that:

“Make no mistake – the GOP took DAPA away from us, and now they’ll come after DACA. We need your help to stop the hate and defend the immigrant community… This November we need to vote to ensure that we never face a defeat like this again. We will remember this day and these conservative politicians when we turn out our allies to take to the polls in November.”

Note the emphasis on getting votes to punish the GOP. This is not an isolated message, but part of a wider trend among Dreamer networks. The feeling I often get when I interact with other Dreamers is that what they want is a president who is willing to enact their preferred policies regardless of the political institutions in place.

This would not be a problem if they were arguing that the constitution never gave the federal government the power to regulate migration – see here, here and here. I greatly sympathize with this latter reading of the Constitution.

However in my interactions with other Dreamers I get the impression that they have a view of the Constitution painted by their close attachment to the progressive political machine. To be fair Dreamers hold their reservations against the mainstream Democratic Party, but they have no love for conservatives. One survey found that roughly 50 percent of Dreamers consider themselves Democrats, 45 percent identify as independents, and 5 percent as other. This close attachment to progressives means that the Dreamer’s version of the Constitution is missing the 9th and 10th amendments, along with other key parts restricting the power of the executive. As far as most Dreamers are concerned they are not advocating a reading of the Constitution that denies the federal government the power to regulate migration. Dreamers are advocating the expansion of executive power.

Seeking an increase in executive power isn’t the answer though. By promoting the increase of executive power we may get a pathway to legalization for ourselves, but we also weaken the institutions that have made the United States a prosperous nation. Our parents left their countries because of how awful the governments there are. If anyone wishes to live in a country run by strong man politicians they have plenty of choices south of the border.

It is true that the United States’ political institutions have led to several injustices. Slavery and institutionalized racial segregation were both upheld as legal before they finally began to be dismantled. It is saddening to think how long it took the United States to outlaw slavery.

The same institutions have also served as safeguards for minority groups. The United States is a country where communists, and KKK clansmen alike can protest and preach their beliefs without fear of legal reprisal. Dreamers in the United States have an untold amount of privilege compared to their counterparts worldwide.

Indeed, where else has a Dreamer culture developed? Where else could a Dreamer culture develop? Where else could illegal aliens hecklethe President and get away with it? Illegal immigration is not unique to the United States, but the Dreamer culture is.

In Mexico, and other countries with poor institutions, the government has no qualms simply killing student protesters. In 1968 an unspecified amount of student protesters were killed before the Olympics were scheduled to start in Mexico City. In 2014, 44 student protesters in southern Mexico were kidnapped and killed under the orders of the regional government.

By all means the United States is not above harassing student protesters. It is easy enough to find stories where Dreamers have had their work authorization denied due to past political activities. The Kent State shootings show that the United States is capable of using violence against student protesters. Even at its worst though the magnitude and the response of the public has been drastically different when the United States tries to pacify student protesters versus other nations. I for one would feel safer protesting in the United States than Mexico.

Life as an illegal alien is terrible, but it is preferable to life in a banana republic. The Supreme Court ruling is disappointing, but we should not think the Supreme Court and other institutions are antiquated because of it. We should certainly not try to swap those institutions for a stronger president. Instead we should concentrate our efforts to spreading the case for open borders. In the end it will be ideas that lead to lasting change.

Open Border advocates, especially libertarian OB advocates, in turn have a duty to reach out to Dreamers. Dreamers have a painted view of the Constitution, but can they be blamed when libertarians and conservatives have failed to reach out to them? Worried about Dreamers voting for progressive politicians when they get the vote? Don’t donate to Numbers USA or CIS. Instead buy a few pocket constitutions and send them to your nearest Dreamer group.


Further Reading:

OBAG coverage of the Expanded Deferred Action Program
Ilya Somin on the SCOTUS decision [External]
Is There a Downside to Presidential Nullification? By Nathan Smith
Executive Action, Not Legislative Reform, Is How U.S. Immigration Policy Gets Made Now by David Bennion

A Survey of OB Advocates

Late last month I conducted an informal polling of the Open Border’s Action Group (OBAG) membership. As we begin to move forward in advocating for open borders I thought it useful to get an idea of who composes our ranks. That way we know which demographic groups we need to target more.

Respondents were all relatively young with an average age of 28. A large portion of OBAG members, 45 percent over all, were foreigners. Open Borders: The Case has members from across the globe so a foreigner was defined as someone who resides somewhere else than their country of birth.

Select Demographics of OBAG Members:

Political Affiliation Identified as Christian Foreign-born  Average Age
  # % # % # %
Libertarian 25 66% 8 21% 12 32%                  29
Progressive (Center-Left) 8 21% 0 0% 3 8%                  27
Socialist 2 5% 0 0% 0 0%                  19
Moderate 2 5% 1 3% 2 5%                  36
None of the above 1 3%
Total 38 100% 9 24% 17 45%                 28

A clear majority, 66 percent, of respondents identified as libertarians. This is unsurprising as many of the site’s early writers were libertarians. We occasionally get linked to by moderate and center-left publications, but a significant portion of our traffic still comes from libertarian affiliated websites. The second largest sub-group was composed of progressives and others in the center-left. Moderates are a minority, but I am not too worried about that. Open Borders is not widely discussed in the mainstream and so we should not be surprised to see few moderates among us.

What is surprising is that no one identified as a conservative. There is slightly depressing as we often write about why conservatives should favor open borders. See my co-bloggers Nathan Smith and John Lee. One possibility for the absence of conservative respondents is that conservatives who embrace the idea of open borders end up embracing other free market positions and end up identifying as libertarians instead.

When asked for their religious affiliation, most respondents selected ‘None’. When the question is broken down by political affiliation though we see that a significant minority of libertarians identify as Christians. This is similar to an old report by the Brookings Institute that found libertarians had a sizable Christian sub-component (see pg 14). Progressives on the other hand had no Christians. No one identified as a Jew, Muslim, or Buddhist. A few identified as ‘Other’.

I suspect that this sub-group, Christian-libertarians, is where the missing conservatives are. Conservatives may embrace free market positions when they switch over to the libertarian ship, but many retain their views on social issues. Christian-libertarians make 21 percent of all respondents, which makes me hopeful about the possibility of reaching out to the wider conservative base.

The poll was of course informal and had a low response rate. However I am confident it is fairly representative of Open Borders advocates. Our readership likely differs. In the future we may wish to conduct a more comprehensive survey, preferably during Open Borders Day or during one of our meet ups. Other surveys may also wish to include questions to gauge respondent’s attitudes towards open borders.

Related reading

Open Borders Day 2016 round up

Open Borders Day is held annually on March 16. It is held to raise awareness on the usefulness of open borders as a development tool and to make the case of freedom of movement as a basic human right. Last year we released a manifesto, which you can still sign. This year several Open Borders Day events were independently organized in DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere. You can still catch a few of them today – click here for venue details.

Off-Site Posts about Open Borders Day

The glorious lasting accidental liberalization by Bryan Caplan

How to argue for immigration restrictions by Jason Brennan

Open Borders Day 2016 by Chad Nelson

Migration: a human capability by Paul Crider at Sweet Talk, a cross-posting of an older OB post.

Some thoughts on open borders and conservatism by Ilya Somin

Open borders for conservatives by Fabio Rojas

Why Canada needs open borders by Fergus Hodgson

This listing will be updated throughout the day. Feel free to contact us via email or the OB facebook group if we miss any. We thank everyone for their participation.