Open Borders Allow People, Not Their Place of Birth, To Control Their Lives

Fabio Rojas has written that to convince the public to support open borders, advocates “need a simple and concise idea that undermines the belief that people from other countries must be forcibly separated from each other. This idea must subtly, but powerfully, undermine the distinctions that make people believe that only citizens have the right to travel and work without impair.”  He suggests that this idea must appeal to “basic moral intuition” and that “lengthier academic arguments,” while persuasive, are ineffective.  I propose the following intuitive, simple message to help convince people to favor open borders: Open borders allow people, not their place of birth, to control their lives.

The content of this message is not original, although the wording may be.  The content is borrowed in part from John Lee,  who has implored, “… let’s not use birth as a reason to deny those less fortunate than us some of the same opportunities you and I had.”  Similarly, R. George Wright of Indiana University has written, in “Federal Immigration Law and the Case for Open Entry,” how those with the “undeserved good fortune to have been born in the United States resist… accommodation of the undeservedly less fortunate.”

There are several reasons why this message may resonate with the public.  First, it refers to “people,” not “immigrants.”  Using Fabio’s language, this “undermines the distinctions” between those in immigrant receiving countries and would-be immigrants by emphasizing the common humanity between both groups.  Second, at least for the American public, its emphasis on “control” taps into commonly held values of individualism and self reliance.  Third, again at least in an American context, the idea that birthplace should not be permitted to negatively impact opportunity connects with the widely accepted notion that people should not be discriminated against based on congenital traits such as gender and skin color.

To humanize the message, examples of people constrained by conditions in their birth country must be provided. An powerful example would be the Dalits, or “untouchables,” of India.  A report   by two Dutch organizations explains the plight of this group:  “The caste system divides people on the basis of birth into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Dominant castes enjoy most rights and least duties, while those at the bottom – the Dalits–in practice have few or no rights. They are considered ‘lesser human beings’, ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’ to other caste groups. Untouchables are often forcibly assigned the most dirty, menial and hazardous jobs, such as cleaning human waste. Caste discrimination is outlawed in India, but implementation of legislation is lacking. It is estimated that in India there are around 200 million Dalits.” (page 9)  A Mother Jones article on abusive conditions for girls who work in garment factories in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu describes the situation in a village where some of girls come from: “Most of the tea workers are from the lower castes and make about $3 per day; it costs a month’s salary just to outfit a child with books and a uniform for school.”

Another example of conditions ruling lives is provided by Luis Alberto Urrea in The Devil’s Highway, which chronicles the suffering of a group of Mexicans who crossed into the U.S. through the Arizona desert in 2001.  Mr. Urrea notes the economic conditions at the time in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, where several of the individuals in the group came from:  “The people were killing themselves working the ranchos on the outskirts.  The fishermen couldn’t catch enough protein in the sea.  The cane cutters couldn’t cut enough cane.  The small peasant farmers couldn’t get good enough prices to cover the costs of planting and harvesting their coffee… Prices kept rising, and all families… were able to afford less and less.  Food was harder to come by: forget about telephones, clothes, cars, furniture.  Even chicken feed… was expensive.  Pampers, milk, baby formula, shoes, tuition, tools, medicine… Between Americanized prices for their frijoles, and the unpredictable spikes in the price of tortillas, the Veracruzanos sometimes didn’t even know how they would feed their families.” (pp. 44-45)

Beyond poor economic conditions, there are also numerous situations to be cited in which people’s lives are controlled by unsafe conditions in their home countries, such as the civil wars in Syria and Central African Republic.  Even without mass conflict, in many countries the average person has little protection from the violent whims of others.  In a recent column entitled “The Republic of Fear,” David Brooks notes that in many countries, especially in the developing word, unless a person is part of a wealthy, powerful elite, he cannot “take a basic level of order for granted.”  Mr. Brooks writes that “People in many parts of the world simply live beyond the apparatus of law and order.” As I have written previously, women especially have little protection from family members or strangers in many parts of the world.

Lack of control over one’s life is especially apparent in parts of the world where people cannot practice their religion, cannot choose what they wear, cannot marry whom they want, or cannot be openly gay.  In western countries that value such freedoms, emphasizing the opportunity open borders would provide individuals to acquire these freedoms should particularly resonate with the public.

The message emphasizing control also must be accompanied by evidence that open borders would not negatively impact the lives of most people in immigrant receiving countries and that there would be mechanisms instituted to compensate those who might experience economic losses from open borders.  (Vipul has summarized these mechanisms.)  The Immigration Policy Center site provides more such evidence, as does this site (Here, here, here, and here).

It is true that no one has total control over their lives.  Even in advanced countries, the family environment in which we were raised, our natural abilities, and our health often determine our options.  The idea in the message Open borders allow people, not their place of birth, to control their lives is to remove place of birth as a limiting factor.

Hopefully advocates will reach a consensus on a simple, powerful message supporting open borders that will resonate with the public.  The message promoted here can be a starting point.

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

9 thoughts on “Open Borders Allow People, Not Their Place of Birth, To Control Their Lives”

  1. Open Borders would be wonderful if we lived in a Utopia. But, we find ourselves currently residing in a nation where illegal aliens can get on a dole of so-called “Entitlements” at the expense of plundering the honest taxpayers fruits of their labor.
    We are also experiencing illegal aliens entering this sovereign nation who with full out venomous hatred wishing and attempting to undermine and destroy any notions of liberties, freedoms and unalienable rights of the individual.

    1. What made the nation sovereign, the fact that our ancestors murdered and pillaged the peoples who lived here before us?

      The immigrants aren’t looking to destroy your way of life, they’re looking to enjoy it with you. If there’s just “not enough to go around”, then there is something terribly wrong with our way of life.

      We need to end state intervention in as many areas of our life as possible to achieve real freedom, allowing our government to draw up lines about who’s allowed to go where just exacerbates the issue. We’re all peers on this planet, regardless of our citizenship. We need to demand that those in our nation act accordingly.

    2. If an individual has unalienable rights, the individual may be sovereign. However, a state is not an individual and has no such rights. It cannot be sovereign.

      Conversely, the sovereign rights of the individual are unalienable. If they derive from natural law they extend to the individual regardless of origin.

      Now, if a state violates your liberty – by taking your taxes under the threat of violence – this is wrong. Yet it does not give cause to violate the liberty of the foreign individual: free movement across land. This is to turn their unalienable rights alienable. We can’t argue for liberty for ourselves, on the basis of unalienable rights, then limit liberty due to the inconveniences it would pose for an arbitrary state.

  2. World Bank economist Branko Milanovic estimates that 2/3rds of global economic inequality is determined entirely by your country of birth:

    In other words, under the global political system we have in place today, the country you were born in matters more to your economic status than literally everything else about you.

    And more powerfully, there is no reason to accept the global status quo as immutable. Milanovic estimates that in the era of open borders, country of birth determined only 1/3rd of economic inequality in the world.

    Milanovic says that today, “if I know nothing about any given individual in the world, I can, with a reasonably good confidence, predict her income just from the knowledge of her citizenship.” But there is absolutely no reason things have to be this way. As Eli Dourado says, we can and must smash the new aristocracy:

  3. Open the borders, it’s clearly a human rights issue. States immigration restrictions are blatantly self-serving. You can shout about national security and entitlements until the cows come home, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t still unjust discrimination.

  4. I support open borders, as long as immigrants are restricted to neighborhoods where politicians live who support welfare and racial discrimination (affirmative action).

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