On Two-Steps And Fallacies

Readers of this blog know that there are many moral and practical reasons to favor open borders. Indeed, many open borders advocates, like myself, support open borders for a multiplicity of reasons. There are a lot of reasons to agree with any good idea.

There are so many good reasons for open borders that it can prove challenging for all sides of the debate to carry one particular case all the way through to the end of a single conversation. Nonetheless, staying on point is necessary to avoid miscommunication.

Take the economic side of the issue for example. Open borders advocates treat the issue like a classic import quota on labor: buyers of labor are forced to over-pay for something that is under-supplied, sellers of labor are forced to experience lower levels of employment, and thus society as a whole suffers a deadweight loss. Immigration restrictionists answer that increasing the supply of labor will drive down wages.

What should happen next is that the two parties debate the comparative merits of increased employment at lower wages on the one hand, and lower levels of production at higher wage rates on the other. Unfortunately, the debate all too often moves on to other issues. Open borders advocates might respond by saying that there is a moral case for allowing poor workers to compete for our comparatively higher-paying jobs, because the immigrants’ situation is desperate. Immigration restrictionists might respond by suggesting that immigrants change the social dynamic in their new communities in a way that the immigration restrictionists don’t like.

Either way, as soon as someone mentions a Topic B, we are no longer discussing Topic A. This doesn’t mean that either topic isn’t relevant or interesting. Instead, it means that the parties to the debate aren’t very good at staying on point.

The Open Borders Two-Step

We should keep this in mind when the likes of “The Crimson Reach” state that open borders advocates are “two-stepping.” Here he is in his own words:

I’m noticing a slippery dynamic when it comes to open-borders advocacy. Broadly, in plain English there are two different things one might mean by ‘open borders’ and in advocating for ‘open borders’:

1. The government has no right to restrict border crossing. (More immigration being, presumably, a result.)

2. More immigration should be allowed by the government; we should make the decision to allow it because it’s neat/good/etc.

Obviously #1 is the stronger claim (and seems to include #2, kind of) but it is also harder to establish. The most popular attempt involves invoking free association in the form of the immigration = employment fallacy, or similar.

But here’s the slippery part: when you take them seriously and therefore try to argue against #1 in good faith, you often get a retreat in response: hey, we’re just saying #2! We just think the government should, like, allow more immigration!

True, open borders advocates often make both of the above claims. But are these two claims mutually exclusive from a rhetorical standpoint? No: the first is an ideological claim, while the second is a political one. It stands to reason that #1 could function as a justification for #2. Likewise, #2 could be a pragmatic means of achieving #1. To make both claims simultaneously certainly presents no direct contradiction.

To see this easily, apply the same reasoning to the freedom of speech. Would it be a “two-step” to first assert that governments have no right to restrict speech and then to subsequently assert that existing restrictions on speech ought to be removed? Obviously not.

There is another important difference between these two statements. The first one is a deontological ethical appeal to natural rights. The second one is a consequentialist ethical appeal to social utility. If “The Crimson Reach” is correct that all good-faith efforts to engage open borders advocates on a point about natural rights results in change-of-subject to social utility, then he has made a fair criticism. The truth is, though, that there are many examples of open borders advocates directly addressing natural rights arguments. The majority of my last piece on this blog was devoted to the natural (property) rights case for immigration. Readers can also find a wealth of information on the natural rights cases for immigration on this blog’s Moral Case page and the links contained therein.

Morality seldom reduces to a single ethical theory. Freedom of migration is as much about personal autonomy and free trade as it is about economic gain. There is no need to choose between moral theories in the real world, and few of us do so.

As you can see, if there is any two-stepping going on, it is not something open borders advocates are perpetuating. As this website handedly demonstrates, many of us have gone to painstaking lengths to make the case for open borders on a variety of moral and practical levels. If immigration restrictionists feel there is more to debate, it is incumbent upon them to first become aware of our responses, and to then respond to them accordingly. While anyone in a passionate debate sometimes fails to stay on point, it would be wrong to categorically suggest that open borders advocates are unwilling to follow a single point to its conclusion. That is in fact what OpenBorders.info is all about.

Do All Immigrants Have Job Offers, And Does This Matter?

I would like to dispense with the “fallacy” to which “The Crimson Reach” so often refers on his blog. Because he seems to think our intellectual honesty is on the line, let me begin by stating outright: Not every would-be immigrant has a job offer. Not every legal citizen has a job offer. Some immigrants have jobs, but no pending offers; some have offers but no current jobs; and the same is true of domestic citizens. (But, in point of fact, Pew Research estimates that the labor force participation rate for illegal immigrants was 71% in 2010, compared to 65% among the legal workforce as measured by the BLS.) The real world is full of people who face a wide variety of circumstances. No one set of conditions is ever true of all people, all the time.

In truth, there is no fallacy, because no one has ever claimed that every single human being who wants to immigrate has a job offer. “The Crimson Reach” is wrong whenever he suggests otherwise. If something sounds silly, it usually is silly.

Instead, what open borders advocates say is:

(All of the above statements appear on “The Crimson Reach”’s blog as examples of an open borders “immigration = jobs fallacy.” )

The argument reflected by these statements is this: we consider it a basic human right to search for a job and accept it wherever it happens to be located. Another way to say this is that we feel immigrants ought to be allowed to participate in the US labor market whether or not they can ultimately procure a job. That’s not a job, it’s a job search.

Of course, this point strikes open borders advocates as being a bit pedantic or banal. Does the difference between having a job offer and merely searching for one impact the argument for open borders? Only if you believe that accepting a job in a foreign country should be permissible, but searching for it ought not be. As this is not the open borders position, it is an irrelevant distinction to us.

However, it might be a fair question to ask of immigration restrictionists: Will “The Crimson Reach” go on record as stating that anyone who has a job offer in a foreign country ought to be allowed to immigrate?

Still, many immigrants do have job offers. There are recent college graduates (international students) who find domestic job offers before their student visas expire, as is the case with several of my own friends and family members who graduated this past Spring. There are currently-legally-employed workers whose visas allow them only to work for their current employer, who are barred from accepting job offers from other domestic employers even though they are legally entitled to work here – and are actually doing so. There are migrant agricultural workers who slowly work their way across the country, following the harvest season from south to north before ultimately returning to their homes abroad. There are families of legal immigrants who must follow special visa applications in order to legally contribute to their families domestic income.

And, yes, the fact that so many illegal immigrants also find domestic work to the tune of 71% labor force participation proves in no uncertain terms that immigrating with a job offer is not unique to highly skilled legal immigrants.

There are other reasons to immigrate, of course, beyond just getting a job. Some people immigrate to be closer to family. Some do it because their spouse-to-be is a citizen of that country. Some do it to seek political asylum. There may be as many reasons to immigrate as there are immigrants. But, as I said at the outset, we cannot possibly speak to all of these points simultaneously each time we wish to speak to one of them individually. To suggest that we commit a “fallacy” each time we make one point, just because we don’t dedicate limited print space to every other point, is wholly unreasonable.


Immigration is a multifaceted issue, so it’s easy to get lost among all the different reasons to embrace open borders. We all have a responsibility to stay on point, and to that end, OpenBorders.info has assembled and organized information on all the major cases for, and arguments against, immigration. We do not dodge or “two-step” any aspect of this issue.

Even so, it is useful to refer to points concisely. Those of us close to this issue – including passionate immigration restrictionists like “The Crimson Reach” – often refer to larger points using shorthand language. We often say, “Accepting a job offer is not a crime” because it is more concise and identifiable than writing a multi-page explanation of the labor market freedom every time we have something new to say about it. If, in doing so, we have fallen short of outlining the basic idea, my hope is that what I’ve just written will be accepted as an explanation for the general idea. Whether “The Crimson Reach,” or anyone else, finds this explanation a fully persuasive justification for open borders is probably not in question, but perhaps at the minimum the debate can now advance beyond false accusations of fallacy.

Ryan is a software consultant originally from Utah. His interest in immigration is the natural result of its ubiquity in his life, but his embrace of the open borders paradigm is the result of the many conversations he has had over the years with friends about their pre-immigration lives.

See our blog post introducing Ryan, or all blog posts by Ryan.

2 thoughts on “On Two-Steps And Fallacies”

  1. I read Crimson Reach’s post as well and posted a bit on my own blog about the difference between racism and genetic determinism. But I was baffled by the claim that all open borders logic rests on the assumption that every immigrant has a job offer. I have literally never heard that. The author seemed a bit blinded by his rage. Still, doesn’t hurt to address the issue. Thanks.

  2. Even though I’m a hard-core immigration restrictionist, fan of The Crimson Reach and do not think it is “a basic human right to search for a job and accept it wherever it happens to be located” I really like this post.

    I think it is an excellent summary of the ideological and political open borders case, it does a good job of acknowledging the fact that open borders folks are ultimately interested in the rights of migrants to come to this country for a variety of reasons, but especially to look for a job which they think most will find (and I acknowledge the data backs them up).

    Of course, I still think those quotes from “EconLog” are morally loaded and not really fair to my side of the debate; but putting that aside, I’m embarrased by the blog love affair I currently am conducting with Mr. Long. The next thing I know he’ll come to Chicago and we’ll be visitng ‘little India’ here and having a Bollywood viewing party at my house!

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