Tag Archives: border enforcement

When the Border Crosses You

American Indian communities on the Southwest border have become ground zero for immigration enforcement. In many cases border surveillance, checkpoints, and the construction of border fences takes place on their aboriginal homelands. Between the restriction of movement, increased drug trafficking activity, and Border Patrol’s abuse of authority, the consequences of immigration and drug laws threaten traditional lifestyles and cultural identities. In American Indian communities within the borderlands, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency closely resembles yet another occupying force.

Tohono O'odham Nation Map
Tohono O’odham Nation Map. Contemporary reservation in Red, Historical lands in Orange.

Prior to the colonization of the Americas, the Tohono O’odham inhabited what is today considered southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. The homeland of the Tohono O’odham was split in two in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase. Though their religious and cultural practices are connected to this geographic location, colonial powers never consulted the tribes when they made the international boundaries. At first, the border was merely symbolic, but as immigration laws changed the O’odham found themselves stopped, searched and sometimes “returned” to Mexico.

With the US-Mexico border cutting their sovereign territory in half, the people of Tohono O’odham are restricted from traveling freely within their own traditional homelands. According to Resolution 98-063 passed by the Tohono legislative council, “enforcement of the U.S. Immigration laws has made it extremely difficult for all Tohono O’odham to continue their sovereign right to pass and re-pass the United States- Mexico border as we have done for centuries as our members are routinely stopped by the U.S. Border when others have been actually ‘returned’ to Mexico even though enrolled”. In addition to the restriction of movement, the occupation of their traditional homelands includes 24-hour border surveillance that uses high-powered lights, drones, and black hawk helicopters.

Border Patrol prohibits tribal members from crossing the border anywhere but the official border crossings, even though some of these routes date back thousands of years and are relevant to their cultural and religious beliefs. The Tohono O’odham nation is the only tribe in the U.S. that grants enrollment to its people who happened to be born in Mexico. Regardless of Mexican citizenship, enrolled tribal members are entitled to health care services provided by the tribe in Arizona. Unfortunately, immigration restrictions have made routine healthcare visits less frequent and more dangerous. For the elders trying to seek medical attention for life threatening diseases, crossing the border often results in returning home if they lack the proper documentation. Enrolled tribal members are supposed to be allowed to freely travel across their land when they present a tribal identification card, birth certificate, or baptismal records. In practice however, this doesn’t always work out, especially for O’Odham elders who were never issued a birth certificate. According to American Indian Policy scholar Eileen Luna-Firebaugh, restrictive border enforcement on tribal land is viewed as an “assault on indigenous sovereignty, as well as an assault on the cultural integrity of native societies.”

Clinton era polices, such as the Southwest Border Strategy, sought to curb unauthorized entries at the busiest illegal crossing points. These policies would force immigrants to enter through the more remote areas or disincentivize immigration all together. One unintended consequence of increased restrictions was that immigrants and drug smugglers started to utilize entry points on tribal land. In 1999 tribal police officers assisted federal border officers with 100 undocumented immigrants per month; by 2002 Tohono O’odham police were assisting with over 800 per month. In 2008, roughly 210,000 pounds of marijuana was confiscated in the territory, increasing to 319,000 pounds in 2009. In 2002 alone, the Tohono O’odham reported about 4 million pounds of trash on tribal lands, as well as 4,500 vehicles abandoned by smugglers or immigrants. Luna-Firebaugh explains that tribes have “been concerned about the degradation of tribal land by federal officials, the cutting of roads in sensitive and/or sacred lands, and high speed pursuits over tribal roads, some of which are unpaved, which endanger tribal members and livestock.”

Within their traditional territory, the Tohono O’odham often encounter desperate immigrants seeking food, water, and shelter. Tribal members are also approached by organized crime. Cartels have been known to approach a Tohono household south of the border with a wad of cash and a bale of marijuana asking that they bring the package up north. The O’odham often worry that if they refuse they will be aggressed against by the cartels. Even without coercion, a poverty rate nearly 3 times that of Arizona creates plenty of incentives for taking advantage of this supplemental income. Many tribal members have been prosecuted for drug smuggling and/ or human trafficking, and in some cases both parents of a household are incarcerated. The problems faced by American Indian communities within the borderlands are a direct consequence of drug prohibition and increased enforcement within the border region. As other contributors to Open Borders have argued, reducing immigration restrictions and ending the war on drugs would weaken criminal gangs that operate within the US-Mexico border region. The tribe is squeezed by organized crime on one hand, and a belligerently unaccountable border patrol on the other.

On the Tohono O’odham nation the Border Patrol routinely violate the rights of American citizens on tribal land. There are countless testimonies by the Tohono O’odham that illustrate the on going abuses ranging from punching, kicking, and/or pepper spraying detainees, to shooting into vehicles. Border Patrol also claims the right to enter onto people’s property- without a warrant- if they are in a “hot pursuit” of an alleged immigrant or drug smuggler. A 2012 report by Amnesty International details how American Indians are subjected to harassment, intimidation, and frequent verbal and physical abuse at the hands of Border Agents.

The Tohono O’odham aren’t the only tribe affected by heightened border security; there are nearly 30 American Indian tribes living with the consequences of border enforcement. The Lipan Apache of the Texas-Mexico border find their property divided by a recently constructed border fence. In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which allowed the government to waive laws that would interfere with the construction of a border fence. Using this law, the DHS waived a total of 36 federal and state laws including laws protecting indigenous territory and environmental protection regulations. A recent report on the Racially Discriminatory Impact of the Border Wall on the Lipan Apache People of Texas outlines the injustices that the Lipan Apache endure within the borderlands such as restricted access to traditional lands, resources, sacred spaces, the abuse of eminent domain, and the construction of the border wall on the burial ground of Apache elders.

The current situation faced by communities like the Tohono O’odham demonstrates the unintended consequences of poorly constructed policies. On American Indian land within the border regions we find the bloody intersection of the war on drugs, restrictive immigration policies, and the politics of manifest destiny. A policy of open borders would reduce the inadvertent damage done to indigenous people and land while strengthening tribes’ ability to assert sovereignty and self-determination.

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Immigration Restrictions Enable Abuse

The writers at openborders.info frequently describe how immigration restrictions are immoral in the context of official policy.  Governments, in an effort to keep most people from immigrating to their countries, prevent would-be immigrants from entering their territories and detain and deport those who have managed to penetrate their borders; ending these official actions is our overarching goal.  The evils of restrictions are not limited to official government policies, however.  Immigration restrictions make immigrants and would-be immigrants vulnerable to mistreatment by individuals in myriad ways.

Before detailing this mistreatment, it is helpful to consider a similar dynamic in African-American history.  Ta-Nehisi Coates has described in the Atlantic how many whites in America have taken advantage of blacks in the context of government and societal discrimination.  He refers to “.. the marking of whole communities as beyond the protection of the state and thus subject to the purview of outlaws and predators.”  For example, Mr. Coates relates how an African-American sharecropping family in Jim Crow Mississippi, whose landlord was supposed to split the profits from the cotton with them, would lose most of the money to him. The father in the family told his son not to resist this situation “‘because they’ll come and kill us all.’”  In another example described by Mr. Coates, African Americans from the 1930s through the 1960s “were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market,” to a large extent due to Federal Housing Administration policy, which made black neighborhoods usually “ineligible for FHA backing.” As a result, “blacks were herded into the sights of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport.”

Borrowing terms from Mr. Coates, restrictions herd immigrants into the sights of the unscrupulous. To begin with, migrants crossing borders illegally, by attempting to evade government authorities, are put at risk of being robbed (or worse). A Mexican man who crossed illegally into the U.S. recalled that he was robbed two times that evening. Before he and the other immigrants in his group even crossed the border, they were ambushed by bandits who threaten them with ice picks. He was forced to strip and was robbed of $40. Then, approaching the border wall, another group of robbers approached with guns, but after the immigrants explained they had already been robbed, the second group left them alone. Soon after crawling under the wall into the U.S., they were approached by yet another group of robbers with ice picks. The man was forced to give up his tennis shoes and in return was given a pair of old, used shoes. (Cristine Gonzalez, “Journey to Wenatchee,” The Oregonian, 6/15/07) The New York Times reported that “illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border often encounter bandits, armed civilian patrols and rival smugglers bent on robbing or stopping them.” In February of 2007, men with rifles robbed 18 immigrants who had crossed into Arizona. A day later, a group of undocumented immigrants from Guatemala were traveling in a vehicle along a known smuggling route when gunmen fired on the vehicle, which then crashed. Three of the immigrants were killed, three were wounded, and several others were kidnapped. An official with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department said, “’There have been similar cases where undocumented migrants have been taken to a location and relatives in Mexico contacted and extortion took place.’”

Immigrants from Central America who cross Mexico on their way to the U.S. border are exposed to danger even before they reach it. It is easy to cross into Mexico from Guatemala, but, as reported in National Geographic, “it is at the southern Mexican border where the perils begin—the thugs, the drug runners, the extortionists in official uniforms, the police and migration agents who pack undocumented migrants into detention facilities before forcing them onto buses to be deported.” The Central American migrants in a Mexican city near the Guatemalan border “… because they’re isolated, vulnerable, and likely to be carrying money—attract assailants whose toxic presence alarms everybody in town.” The article adds that migrants who ride freight trains north through Mexico are sometimes accosted at stops by locals who beat and rob them, “sometimes with police watching or joining in.”

When undocumented immigrants make it in the U.S., their desperation to have legal residency and their vulnerability to deportation make them targets of other types of theft.  Some attorneys have reportedly defrauded immigrants.  A director of an immigrant advocacy group stated, “Immigrants are easy prey for unscrupulous attorneys, and they are often unwilling and unable to complain because they are likely to be deported if they do.”  People who are not attorneys similarly take advantage of the undocumented.  The New York Times reported several years ago that over a hundred undocumented immigrants in the New York area were cheated out of almost a million dollars by two men who had set up a church in Queens, New York. The immigrants were told that green cards were available through churches. They were also told to pay a fee in cash ranging from $6000 to $10,000. The immigrants drained their savings and/or borrowed money from others to cover the fees. After months had passed and the green cards did not appear, the immigrants began asking for refunds. After first threatening to report the immigrants to authorities, one of the schemers simply stopped answering calls and closed the church. “Many of the immigrants say they find themselves in deep financial holes at a time when work is scarce. Officials can offer only limited hope: Full restitution for victims is often difficult in cases of financial fraud, especially in immigration-related cases, which almost always involve cash transactions.” (See also here.)

Beyond enabling the fleecing of immigrants, restrictions also make immigrants vulnerable to sexual assault. The National Geographic article on Central Americans crossing Mexico refers to sexual assaults on migrants. In addition, a report by groups that monitor the U.S.-Mexico border states that “smugglers have been regularly accused of coercion, rape, and forced servitude…” (p. 13) The undocumented are also vulnerable to sexual assault when they work. According to an article on the Public Broadcasting Service site, a study of hundreds of low-wage employees working illegally in the U.S. “found that 64 percent of the janitors surveyed had been cheated out of pay or suffered some other labor violation. About one-third said they’d been forced to work against their will, and 17 percent of that group said they’d experienced some kind of physical threat, including sexual violence…” Immigrant agricultural workers are also abused, according to another article on the PBS website: “The combination of financial desperation and tenuous immigration status make agricultural workers vulnerable to workplace violence and less inclined to report crimes.”

Immigration agents themselves have mistreated immigrants beyond their official duties of stopping illegal immigration.  This should not be surprising, given the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which volunteers assumed the roles of either guards or inmates.  Soon after the experiment began, the guards began to mistreat the prisoners.  The experiment was shut down early because of the suffering that was occurring. (“The Slippery Slope of Evil,” Mother Jones, July/August, 2015, p. 56)

Restrictions make immigration agents the “guards” and undocumented immigrants the “prisoners.”  Along the U.S.-Mexico border, each year there are hundreds of thousands of apprehensions of undocumented immigrants by armed immigration agents, so it is not shocking that, according to a 2008 report by groups that monitor the border, “in a very small but extremely important set of cases, Homeland Security officers (including Border Patrol officers) have used lethal force. The wider pattern of abuses includes pointing guns at immigrants, wrongful detention, excessive use of force, and verbal and psychological abuse.” (p. 15) In one case, an immigrant reported that on December 19, 2007, “I crossed the border and almost immediately an agent was upon me with his flashlight drawn like a weapon. I turned to run back to the Mexican side, he tackled me and pulled my feet and then there was another agent hitting me. Even though I had reached the Mexican side, the agent pulled me back and the other continued to hit me, and jumped on my back. My chest, hand and leg were hurt, and my body had cuts all over. The agent that was hitting me also pointed his gun at my head and was yelling at me. After I was taken to the border patrol station, an ambulance was called and I was taken to a hospital. After I was released and taken to the detention facility, I had to go back to the hospital two more times because of my injuries.” (Also see here, pp. 9-10)

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway, notes that as part of writing the book (on the deadly crossing of Arizona’s desert undertaken by a group of undocumented immigrants in 2001) he spent hours in Border Patrol stations and trucks. He reveals some Border Patrol views of undocumented immigrants. “Illegal aliens, dying of thirst more often than not, are called ‘wets’ by agents… ‘Wets’ are also called ‘tonks,’ but the Border Patrol tries hard to keep that bon mot from civilians. It’s a nasty habit in the ranks. Only a fellow border cop could appreciate the humor of calling people a name based on the stark sound of flashlight breaking over a human head.” (p. 16) And this: “There are other games the Border Patrol guys like to play. Sometimes they toss a recently shot rattlesnake, dead but still writhing and rattling, into the cage with the captured wets. Ha ha—that’s a funny sight, watching them go apeshit in the back of the truck.” (p. 27)

In addition, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are literally prisoners in detention facilities in the U.S. each year.  Some are in state and county criminal jails, while others are in facilities run by immigration authorities or private contractors. Amnesty International reports “pervasive problems with conditions of detention, such as commingling of immigration detainees with individuals convicted of criminal offenses; inappropriate and excessive use of restraints; inadequate access to healthcare, including mental health services; and inadequate access to exercise.” (p. 7) The New York Times has described the immigrant detention system as “a sprawling network of ill-managed prisons rife with reports of abuse, injury and preventable death… a system that puts little children in prison scrubs, that regularly denies detainees basic needs, like contact with lawyers and loved ones, like soap and sanitary napkins. It is a system where people who are not dangerous criminals by any definition get injured, sick and die without timely medical care.” A recent report from The Center for Migration Services and The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that “attorneys and pastoral workers from Catholic agencies have learned first-hand of the sexual abuse of women detainees, women forced to deliver babies in restraints, frequent hunger strikes, suicides…” (p. 15)

The role of smugglers and employers in the exploitation of  undocumented immigrants is more ambiguous.  There have been cases where smugglers and employers have clearly mistreated undocumented immigrants.  I earlier noted reports of sexual assault on immigrants by employers and smugglers.  In addition, in at least one case smugglers of Chinese migrants had enforcers extort more resources from them during the voyage. (Peter Kwong, Forbidden Workers: Illegal Chinese Immigrants and American Labor, 1997, p. 80) When smuggled Chinese migrants arrived in America, they would sometimes be tortured to force the migrants’ relatives to pay off the smuggling fees and would even be forced to work without pay. Migrants from Syria and Eritrea often are smuggled across the Sudanese portion of the Sahara Desert on their way to the Libyan coast (and then on to Europe). An article in the Guardian states that “All must brave the desert – and not everyone makes it. At every stage, migrants are at the mercy of the smugglers in that particular area; kidnappings for ransom or for slave labour are common. There are stories of smugglers abandoning their clients in the dunes and of dozens dying of thirst.” Some of those who make it to Libya “are essentially kidnapped by smugglers or even local businessmen… whoever is doing it seems to be holding migrants in warehouses, or treating them as slave labour, until they pay what they owe.” In addition, “there are reports of beatings to extract more money from people while they wait” to begin the trip to Europe.

Employers can use immigration agents as a way of exploiting their immigrant workers. A report relates a situation in Louisiana in which
immigrants working to clean and repair an apartment complex damaged by Hurricane Katrina labored long hours, lived in moldy apartments in the complex, and were owed 15 weeks of unpaid wages. “The employer regularly threatened to call immigration authorities in response to workers’ demands for their pay.” A few days after an attorney sent a letter in 2008 to the employers on behalf of the workers demanding payment, ICE “agents arrived at the exact time and place that the immigrant workers were required to check in for the day, and arrested seven of the workers who had sought back pay.” At least two workers have been deported to Honduras. “As has been the case with many raids conducted by ICE, none of these workers had committed crimes, and the employer was not charged with anything or held liable for its abuse of the workers.” (“Raids on Workers: Destroying Our Rights,” Report of The National Commission on ICE Misconduct and Violations of 4th Amendment Rights, 2009, pp. 40-41) Another report stated that “in raids documented by NNIRR’s HURRICANE initiative in 2008, where employers cooperated fully with ICE’s enforcement operation, employers were subjecting workers to egregious labor rights violations. This included not paying minimum wage, non-payment of wages, including overtime work, threats of deportation, denying access to or not providing safety equipment and not meeting safety standards, sexual and verbal abuse and harassment by immediate supervisors.”

Notwithstanding these cases of abuse by smugglers and employers, on balance I agree with Vipul that “helping illegal immigrants by smuggling them or employing them, even when done for selfish reasons, is a good thing (if nobody were willing to smuggle people across the border, or employ them once they were on the other side, this wouldn’t be good for the immigrants).” (See here and here for Vipul’s elaboration of this perspective.)

The exploitation and abuse of undocumented immigrants described in this post is not a complete survey of all the suffering inflicted by immigration restrictions.  I did not explore the suffering and death from exposure to the environment in an attempt to evade immigration authorities, whether that involves crossing a desert or a long stretch of sea.  I did not relate the suffering caused by deportation and raids and the “normal” suffering associated with detention, such as separation from loved ones.  I did not address the lost opportunities for those prevented from migrating to a different country.  It should be kept in mind that the mistreatment discussed in the post accounts for only part of the suffering associated with restrictions.

It also needs reemphasizing that the ultimate responsibility for the mistreatment related in this post should be assigned to the people who create the laws that restrict immigration (and, in democracies, the citizenry that elects them). The immediate perpetrators of misdeeds against immigrants, whether they are border agents, robbers, swindlers, or prison guards, certainly bear responsibility for their actions, but they have been enabled by the policies that make immigrants vulnerable to their depredations. When immigration restrictions disappear (while keeping limited restrictions such as the exclusion of terrorists) and open borders are realized, the ability of people to abuse immigrants should dissipate.

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If you liked this post, you might also find the following relevant:

Contra Tyler Cowen, closed borders should scare people

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution recently graced us with a pretty bracing set of criticisms:

In my view the open borders advocates are doing the pro-immigration cause a disservice.  The notion of fully open borders scares people, it should scare people, and it rubs against their risk-averse tendencies the wrong way.  I am glad the United States had open borders when it did, but today there is too much global mobility and the institutions and infrastructure and social welfare policies of the United States are, unlike in 1910, already too geared toward higher per capita incomes than what truly free immigration would bring.  Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.  (The clever will note that this problem is smaller if all wealthy countries move to free immigration at the same time, but of course that is unlikely.)

Co-blogger Nathan Smith has already taken Tyler to task on the economics, asking Tyler specifically if keyhole solutions like immigration tariffs would address his concerns about the risks of open borders. Tyler issued a laconic response, which referred to Nathan’s suggestions as “surrender”, presumably because any sort of immigration restriction is inconsistent with open borders. Nathan has already  updated his post to address Tyler’s riposte. Since we have covered the economics around Tyler’s thinking fairly comprehensively already, I want to tackle something different: exploring what we mean by open borders, and why an open borders agenda (as opposed to some generic “liberal immigration policy”) matters.

But first off, as reasonable as Tyler’s critique may be, I find it strange in how it implies that restrictionist myths and urban legends deserve more credence than any economist would give them. The tone of Tyler’s criticisms about the risks of open borders strikes me as slightly reminiscent of Paul Krugman’s tone on macroeconomic policy: worded just so, to avoid falling afoul of the economics, without really dissuading people from mistaken beliefs about what the economics says. Paul Krugman hardly ever directly contradicts the mainstream economist consensus that monetary policy can be effective at the zero lower bound. But if you ask any layperson reading Krugman what Krugman believes about the efficacy of monetary policy when interest rates are low, I’d bet you the median layperson thinks Krugman believes monetary policy is totally ineffective, making fiscal policy the only game in town.

Likewise, if you ask him, Tyler is all for liberal immigration policies (as he said himself, right before launching into his critique). He doesn’t buy into the myths that immigrants are fatal drains on the welfare state, or deadly threats to the working class of the developed world. The prevalence of these two myths, in the face of all the economic evidence, is depressingly common; it is as if the lay person believed “all Chinese are opium addicts” or “deporting Jews will reduce the prevalence of poisoned wells”.  Like numerous other economists, Tyler has explicitly declared he repudiates the popular scaremongering myths about immigration’s economic effects. It is all the more surprising then that he declares “people should be scared” of open borders — when, as he’s said time and time again, the main reasons people fear immigration have nothing to do with fact.

To solidify his critique, Tyler says that he is in particular worried about a scenario where:

  • The US is the only country that opens its borders
  • The US opens its borders essentially overnight (i.e., from highly restrictive one day to highly liberal the next)

But other than as thought experiments, I daresay you won’t find any blogger on this site who would say “Yes, that’s a regime I’d be happy with and world that I’d gladly sign up to live in, because the risks are so obviously worth it!” There’s more than one way to skin a cat.  There are plenty of ways to gradually open the world’s borders while mitigating their risks. Here, the three most obvious options off the top of my head, with links to prior Open Borders posts where we’ve explored them (those posts are far from the final word, but they show just how untapped an intellectual well this area of thought is):

  1. Have a steadily increasing immigration quota
  2. Establish free movement unions or areas, similar to customs unions or free trade areas
  3. Abolish deportation as a form of punishment, except in extreme cases

All three options are eminently practical ways of achieving open borders which address the perennial question, “But what on earth would you do with 500 million new American residents tomorrow?” And there are plenty of other practical ways to open the borders; I see no reason to wed ourselves to a particular approach. Maybe some countries will only be able to open their borders via guest worker visa regimes. Maybe others will only be able to open their borders via immigration tariffs or surtaxes of some kind. Still others may be able to get away with true open borders. And I’m confident many countries are capable of mixing and matching. You can imagine a North American free movement union between Canada and the US (or perhaps even, as Barry Goldwater envisioned, such a zone that includes Mexico) which imposes a different regime on immigrants from other countries. The destruction of all conventional immigration policies on some longer timeframe than “within the next 24 hours” is something I’d be happy to see. But even that is only one possible means to the end of open borders.

At this point, you’re probably either scratching your head, or nodding it in agreement with Tyler’s point from earlier about surrender, because what I’ve just outlined may well strike you as utterly inconsistent with the label of “open borders”; after all, what is open borders if not a total rejection of conventional immigration policies? But I don’t define open borders as one particular policy regime or one particular set of immigration laws. I define open borders simply as the principle that, subject to clearly-defined (i.e., not wishy-washy, unclear, or opaque) necessary constraints, people are free to travel, live, and work wherever they want. I am happy to accept any policy regime that satisfies this principle.

Tyler’s critique focuses on an airy-fairy type of open borders which any reasonable person can see is not going to happen, and likely shouldn’t happen at all. So while we’re at it, we might as well criticise a single world government too, since that’s also going to be an absurdly impractical and unreasonable way to open the borders. Where I find Tyler’s critique goes astray is that it focuses on one particular means of opening the borders, instead of the end itself — thereby lending more credence to restrictionist myths about the evils of open borders.

Ultimately, open borders is an end; it is the freedom to author your own life story. It is about being able to sleep safe in your own home, with your family, amongst your community of friends, knowing the government doesn’t have the arbitrary and unchecked power to take you away from all of them tomorrow morning. It is about being safe in the knowledge that the job your employer hired you to do can’t be eliminated by government fiat tomorrow because you made the mistake of being born in the wrong country. All of these are rightful ends for anyone to aspire to. They may well be unattainable on some level, but that is no reason to reject open borders out of hand, any more than the infeasibility of economic “perfect competition” constitutes a reason to reject economic liberalisation. Rejecting open borders because you reject one possible open borders policy is an oddly narrow-minded approach unworthy of an economist or thinker of Tyler’s stature. Even mainstream immigration liberals who remain skeptical of open borders like Matt Yglesias find Tyler’s stance here bemusing.

I can imagine no better label for a world with freedom of movement than a world of open borders. What else captures the sentiment so concisely? If Tyler is so unhappy about calling the goal of free movement “open borders”, he’s free to propose a catchier title. But I really don’t think freedom of movement is something Tyler opposes. He may well have ideas about how to achieve open borders that don’t jive with mine. That’s fine. I’m happy to have a debate about how to achieve open borders. I think Tyler’s on the same page with me here, which is why he kicked off this debate about whether rhetorically, the open borders label is tactically useful.

But while Tyler’s gotten to that point, what concerns me more right now is how far the rest of the world is from reaching that point. Most people don’t give a second thought to the fact that people die every day thanks to the governments we elect and the taxes we pay.  We so blithely accept that the state has total, virtually unlimited power to abuse innocent and unarmed civilians. It’s one thing to disregard a destitute person living in, say, Zambia. None of us is responsible for giving that person a job, or for preventing that person from finding work in Zambia. But it’s a completely different thing to disregard how our tax-funded armed forces treat that person as a life-threatening enemy of the state, simply because he or she tried to find work in our country.

When it’s our money and our political authority being used to prevent that person from finding or holding down a job someone in our country is willing to hire them to do, I have a huge problem with that. The use of armed force against armed force is one thing. The use of armed force against civilian job-seekers or civilians seeking to be with their family is another; it is galling. We would never accept it against those born in our own country. Why do we so easily accept bringing tanks and gunships to bear against those innocents born outside our own country? Once we accept that this is a problem, we might still conclude that there’s no reasonable solution to the immigration problem, and that current policy to risk the lives of unarmed civilians is the best we can hope for. But most people, unlike Tyler, aren’t even willing to accept that this is a problem!

Given Tyler’s libertarian leanings, I imagine he won’t disagree much with me on these points. So it’s all the more puzzling to me then that he slips into the trap of encouraging popular fallacies used to justify the torture and slaughter of innocent immigrants. As Tyler points out, people fear the risks of more liberal immigration. But they will be fearful whether you call it “amnesty”, “comprehensive immigration reform”, or “open borders”. And their fears, in almost every single case, will be far more grounded in speculation and conjecture than any empirical fact. Tiny, statistically insignificant effects on a subsegment of the native working population will be blown up into “They took our jerbs!”-style paranoia. Economists quite bravely stuck their necks out for the cause of free trade, despite knowing the popular fears and risks. What keeps them from preaching the same consensus they’ve reached on immigration?

Putting modern economics aside, reasonable people in the US once feared letting blacks into the labour market (they had this “reasonable” fear that freed blacks would lynch them in retaliation for centuries of slavery — for what it’s worth, a more reasonable fear than the notion that Latin American immigration would turn the US political system into that of Chavez’s Venezuela). Pretty reasonable people once feared the impacts of letting women into the labour market. People fear any kind of change. Citing fears instead of facts is no way to make a reasonable policy argument.

It’s not news to anyone that the notion of open borders is scary. Dramatic policy changes should scare any reasonable person, because that’s only human. But scariness in of itself is not a plausible reason to come down firmly on one side or another. Many historical struggles for justice and human rights were shockingly frightening. Abolishing slavery or allowing women into the labour market constituted far more radical and scary reforms than would be dramatically liberalising immigration quotas, or dramatically halting most deportations. You tell me, what’s more dangerously untried and radical: allowing an illiterate, newly-freed black to buy his own land and farm his own crops in 1870; allowing a woman to build an aeroplane in 1940; or allowing a Pole to work on a UK construction site in 2010?

And on the flip side, it’s impossible to ignore how radically totalitarian is the immigration status quo. None of us can condone an immigration system that bans a woman from attending her daughter’s wedding because it suspects she’ll want to immigrate (never mind that, legally present or not, she won’t be eligible for most state entitlements). None of us can condone a legal system that gives government uncontrolled, unchecked, arbitrary power to destroy jobs, families, and homes in one fell swoop. I can’t see anyone signing up to defend a legal system that arbitrarily decides who you can love or who you can work for based on which emperor technically ruled the piece of dirt your ancestors happened to live on two centuries ago.

As the recent tragedy at Lampedusa, Italy illustrates, our legal systems often as good as murder people — people whose lives are so full of suffering that they willingly risk death to immigrate to our jails. We force people to choose between dying in sweatshops or dying at the hands of our border patrols. As some Syrians trying to flee chemical warfare are learning first-hand today, our ostensibly humane laws declare that it is better to force people to be gassed by a dictator than to let them try to make ends meet in our countries. How is any of this not radical? How is it not frightening that we supposedly have to resort to these measures to make the world safe for “civilisation”?

Are we truly happy and safe today because our border guards force Bangladeshis to die in sweatshops and Syrians to suffocate under clouds of sarin? Yes, inasmuch as today’s policies are inefficient and inhumane, the right solution isn’t tearing down every guard post and every border fence in the world within the next 24 hours. But beginning to think about a good alternative to closed borders consistent with both security and dignity is surely a moral imperative. I don’t think any of us want to live in a world that has to destroy human rights in order to preserve them. The problem with the traditional liberal approach towards immigration reform is that, implicitly or explicitly, it embraces closed borders. It might want to open them a little, but it has no sound reasoning (other than “this feels right, I guess”) for picking a trade off point between open and closed borders.

Open borders matters because it is the only paradigm that rejects the fallacious and unethical presumptions of closed borders, and the only paradigm that provides a sound moral basis for moving towards liberal immigration policies in the first place. Open borders presumes a right to move, one that can be overridden as necessary. Closed borders presumes a total ban on movement, one that can be overridden as necessary — a ban nevertheless so strong, it has to be enforced by punishments that destroy mutual employment, family, and community relationships; punishments that sometimes result in the taking of human life. Tyler may well draw a different line than I, or many others, do about what sorts of immigration restrictions are necessary. But I believe we are all on the same page: that people should be free to move, and that this right should only be denied when clearly necessary.

Defenders of the status quo ban essentially assert that a fascist totalitarian regime which kills unarmed civilians is the only way to preserve civilisation and safeguard people’s lives and property. Maybe they think our policies should kill slightly fewer people per year, but they otherwise are comfortable with the status quo as it is. Baldly saying ,”We need to open the borders”, forces a rethink of how readily we can accept the status quo. We know there’s a problem today, a problem that costs the human race thousands of lives and billions of dollars every year. Have we truly explored every possible alternative to the totalitarian border regime we have today?

Writing off open borders as an unattainable goal without exploring all avenues we have to get there I think amounts to saying “It is just and right that we force people to die under a cloud of poison gas or in a sweatshop’s fiery inferno, because that is an appropriate punishment for daring to be born in the wrong country.” Sure, that’s a strawman, since no reasonable person wants to sign on to that trade-off. But that trade-off is exactly the one our governments make in our name every damn day, and it’s a trade-off they’re making based far more on “scary” prejudices than it is on any evidence or fact. Opening the borders is the only way we can put an end to the unholy, inhumane slaughter of innocents — the slaughter of slightly less fortunate people who, same as you and me, just want a better life for themselves and their family. Before we reject open borders, and say there’s nothing we can do to stop the killing and dying, let’s at least be sure we’ve covered all our bases.

Championing Both Open Borders and An End to the U.S. Drug War

Even advocates of open borders acknowledge that its realization is very unlikely for many years to come.  Similarly, campaigns for the legalization (or at least the decriminalization) of drugs face an uphill battle, although there have been successes in recent years in the U.S. and Europe.  Despite the challenge of realizing both of these radical causes, the legalization of drugs would complement some of the advantages of having open borders.

The failed war on drugs

Image source Failed drug war: U.S. and Mexico losing battle against cartels

Coincidentally some progress on both fronts has occurred this summer in the U.S.  The Senate passed a bill that would raise legal immigration levels by 50 to 70 percent within five years and legalize the millions of undocumented individuals already in the country, although the enforcement provisions of the bill are unwelcome.  On the drug policy front, the U.S. attorney general signaled that federal prosecutors would no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentence laws for some drug offenses.

Let’s begin with some background information on the war on drugs in the U.S. In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindedness  Michelle Alexander argues that the war on drugs has placed many African-Americans and Latinos into a new “racial undercaste.” (p. 185) The latest version of the war on drugs was instituted because some politicians were trying to “…appeal to poor and working-class whites who, once again, proved they were willing to forego economic and structural reform in exchange for an apparent effort to put blacks back ‘in their place.’” (p. 186)  The war on drugs began being pursued in earnest during the Reagan administration (p. 49), and as a result over the next three decades there was a huge increase in the U.S. prison population. (p. 59 and p. 99) Ms. Alexander adds that “In the drug war, the enemy is racially defined… Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino.” (pp. 96-97)  And even after those who have been incarcerated for drug violations are released, they “will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives–denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits… They become members of an undercaste–an enormous population of predominately black and brown people who, because of the drug war, are denied basic rights and priviledges of American citizenship and are permanently relegated to an inferior status.” (pp. 181-182)

Similarities Between Immigration Restrictions and the War on Drugs

Before exploring the advantages of ending both immigration restrictions and the the war on drugs, consider several similarities between American immigration restrictions and Ms. Alexander’s description of the war on drugs.  One is that both were created largely due to racial biases.  As we have seen, some politicians supporting the drug war were appealing to white insecurities about African Americans.  Similarly, the imposition of vigorous federal immigration restrictions was motivated by concerns about the race of certain immigrants.  In the late 19th century, Chinese were excluded by federal law from immigrating based on what Chris Hendrix calls “knee-jerk racism.”  Later, the 1924 Johnson-Reed immigration legislation, “the nation’s first comprehensive restriction law,” was largely propelled by racism.  (quotation from Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America by Mae Ngai, p. 3)  Politicians were concerned over immigration from southern and eastern Europe and the maintenance of America’s northern European “stock.”  John Higham, in Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, notes that as the House of Representatives worked toward the 1924 legislation, its champions “now largely ignored the economic arguments they had advanced in behalf of the first quota law three years before.  Instead, they talked about preserving a ‘distinct American type,’ about keeping American for Americans, or about saving the Nordic race from being swamped.  The Ku Klux Klan, which was organizing a vigorous letter-writing campaign in support of the Johnson bill, probably aided and abetted this swell of racial nativism…” (p. 321)

Both systems also involve racial profiling.  In Opening the Floodgates: Why America Needs to Rethink Its Borders and Immigration Laws, Kevin Johnson writes that “racial profiling in immigration enforcement… harms the dignity of persons stopped by immigration officers and stigmatizes U.S. citizens, especially Mexican-Americans, who are subject to immigration stops because they fit the ‘undocumented immigrant profile.’” (p. 108) Similarly, Ms. Alexander notes that “studies of racial profiling have shown that police do, in fact, exercise their discretion regarding whom to stop and search in the drug war in a highly discriminatory manner.” (p. 130)

Under both systems authorities have significant power to intrude on people’s lives.  Within 25 miles of international borders, Border Patrol agents have access to private land.  Even in a zone extending 100 miles from borders, their “authority extends beyond that of other law enforcment agencies,” and agents in that zone regularly ask bus and train passengers for identification and question them.  Similarly, Ms. Alexander notes that rulings by the Supreme Court during the War on Drugs have made “… it relatively easy for the police to seize people virtually anywhere–on public streets and sidewalks, on buses, airplanes and trains, or any other public place–and usher them behind bars.  These new legal rules have ensured that anyone, virtually anywhere, for any reason, can becom a target of drug-law enforcement activity.” (p. 62)

In addition, both legal systems produce an “undercaste.”  Like drug felons, undocumented workers in the U.S. live under a different set of rules than most residents.  They are legally barred from employment, cannot access many public services, and live in fear of detention and deportation.  Mr. Johson writes that “… a new, but often invisible, racial caste system slowly emerged in the United States.  Immigration law in the United States allows for labor exploitation along racial lines.  It is a new Jim Crow system.” (p. 129) (emphasis mine)

Finally, the behavior that both systems target is non-violent, often born out of limited economic opportunities, and often harmless.  Ms. Alexander notes that in 2005 most drug arrests were for possession and that most of those imprisoned for drug offenses do not have violent histories.  Many arrests are for marijuana possession, which is “less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.” (p. 59) Because of a decline in employment opportunities in inner cities due to globalization and industrialization, she notes that there are “increased incentives” to sell drugs. (p. 50 and p. 123) With regard to immigration, there is lots of information at this site and elsewhere showing that immigration benefits receiving countries and any negative consequences can be mitigated by keyhole solutions.  Immigration itself is peaceful and largely arises from a desire to improve one’s economic situation.

The Advantages of Ending Both Immigration Restrictions and the War on Drugs

There are several advantages to ending both immigration restrictrictions and the war on drugs.  First, much of the pressure on the border would be eliminated with these changes.  Along the U.S.-Mexican border, the Border Patrol focuses on illegal immigration and drug smuggling.  With the changes, these would no longer be issues for the Border Patrol, since immigrants would have no reason to sneak into the U.S. and, particularly if Mexico were to end their drug enforcement efforts and the U.S. didn’t regulate the flow of drugs over the border, the same would be true with the movement of drugs.  Border Patrol agents, who are officially Customs and Border Patrol agents, could focus more on customs matters at ports of entry, look out for potential terrorists, and address weapons smuggling.  In addition, landowners along the border who have endured drug smuggling, people smuggling, and/or individual immigrants coming through their property would no longer experience these intrusions.  Currently, in some rural border counties, “the threat of cartel-related crime, whether the smuggling of drugs or illegal immigrants, has caused people to arm themselves to an extraordinary degree and take other precautions.”  The undesirable impacts of border fencing could also be avoided.

A related benefit would be a weakening of criminal gangs that operate along the U.S.-Mexican border.  In Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, Philippe Legrain observes that immigration restrictions force some immigrants to rely on criminal gangs to smuggle them. (p. 38) Similarly, “organized crime, gangs and drug cartels have the most to gain financially from prohibition” of drugs.  Sometimes a criminal enterprise does both, smuggling immigrants and drugs.   For immigrants, according to an article in the New York Times, sometimes “… the only way to get across (the border) is to deal with gangs that sometimes push migrants to carry drugs.”  With open borders, immigrants wouldn’t have to rely on these groups to cross the border, and legalizing the drug trade would allow non-violent economic competition which would be detrimental to the groups.

Second, open borders and terminating the war on drugs would benefit African-Americans and Latinos in the U.S.  As we have seen, both groups have disproportionately suffered from drug enforcement during the drug war, from being subjects of racial profiling to going to prison to dealing with the harsh economic consequences of having a criminal record once released.  Latinos must deal with immigration enforcement as well; Latinos, whether citizens, legal residents, or undocumented, are subjected to profiling of them as undocumented individuals and, if they are undocumented, face exploitation by employers, detention, and deportation.  There are also many Latino mixed status families, all of whose members suffer if the member(s) who is undocumented is apprehended by immigration authorities.  Ending these types of enforcement would liberate African-Americans and Latinos from the terrible burdens associated with them.  (To help those convicted of drug crimes succeed, their records would have to be expunged, and they should be allowed to not have to reveal these convictions on applications for jobs and public benefits.)

Furthermore, increased immigration under an open borders policy could help African-American communities get back on their feet after enduring decades of the drug war, deindustrialization, and other negative factors.  A summary of a study released in June by the Immigration Policy Center and conducted by Jack Strauss of St. Louis University demonstrates how immigration helps these communities:   “A comprehensive analysis of Census data from hundreds of U.S. metropolitan areas indicate that immigration from Latin America improves wages and job opportunities for African Americans. This analysis serves to dispel the common myth that African Americans are negatively impacted by the immigration of less-skilled workers from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America… The positive economic impact of Latino immigration is related to population. Many metros, particularly in the Midwest, including Cleveland, Dayton, Detroit, and St. Louis, are not experiencing vibrant population growth. Instead, aging baby boomers and negative net migration are leading to a hallowing out of cities, declining school revenue, falling housing prices, big businesses moving their headquarters, and a dearth of small businesses. St. Louis, for instance, has experienced a sharply declining population, and at the same time, very little Latino immigration. As a result, Saint Louis has closed more than a dozen schools in recent years, which has cost the jobs of hundreds of African American teachers, administrators, and staff. Our research shows that an increase in immigration from Latin America would have sustained St. Louis’s population, tax base, school enrollment, and most of the lost African American jobs. Further, it would have reduced crime among young African American men by giving them more economic opportunities.

“Why are population size and composition so important for economic development? Edward Glaeser and Joshua Gottlieb argue that larger cities are successful because they have thriving clusters of people and companies working together. More people from Latin America increases the vibrancy of a city, its culture, and the opportunities it offers. Further, research shows that specialization by encouraging different skill patterns leads to higher wages and more jobs.”

Third, ending both immigration restrictions and the war on drugs would allow the U.S. to avoid the expense of incarcerating huge numbers of individuals and would free up law enforcement and the courts.  According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the U.S. more than $50 billion is spent annually on the war on drugs and more than 1.5 million people were arrested in 2011 on nonviolent drug charges.  The tab for immigration enforcement is close to $18 billion, and hundreds of thousands of immigrants are apprehended and/or deported each year.  Over three hundred thousand people were in prison for drug offenses at the end of 2011, and a similar number are put in detention each year by immigration authorities.  Many immigration violations have become criminalized, and Kevin Johnson notes that “as it did during Prohibition, the criminalization has created a caseload crisis in the federal courts.” (p. 179)  Many drug and immigration cases have reached the Supreme Court, and Mr. Johnson states that federal courts of appeals have been flooded with immigration cases. (p. 179)

So what about all of the money that would freed up from ending the expensive enforcement associated with the drug war and immigration controls?  (Even more money would be availabe with the legalization of at least some drugs, which would allow the government to tax the trade.)  Some of the money would have to continue to go toward border monitoring: customs enforcement, controlling weapons flows, and keeping watch for terrorists.  Ms. Alexander notes that many Americans are financially vested in the war on drugs, including rural communities where prisons are build to house offenders, prison guards, private corrections companies, and others, so some of the money could be spent on helping some of these individuals adapt to an America with far fewer prisoners.  Some of the money could go toward additional drug treatment and prevention programs, even if drug use rates do not significantly change.  The remaining money could be used to help inner cities that have been devastated by the drug war and to help Americans who might be adversely affected by rising immigration under open borders.  In effect, ending the drug war could be a keyhole solution that would help ease the transition to open borders.

Finally, from a libertarian perspective, these radical changes would end government intrusions into the lives of millions of people, including those who have no involvement with drugs or immigration.  For those wishing to immigrate legally or possess drugs, it would be a dramatic expansion of individual liberty.

Based on how the outcomes of ending these two oppresive systems of enforcement could complement each other, should open borders advocates also vocally begin calling for an end to the drug war?  It might alienate some, although I suspect that many who would be receptive to open borders would also be supportive of ending drug enforcement.  The case for open borders also might receive more support from the African-American community if it were paired with ending the drug war.  American open borders advocates should consider attaching the campaign to end the drug war to their efforts to change immigration policy.

Open Borders editorial note: As described on our general blog and comments policies page: “The moral and intellectual responsibility for each blog post also lies with the individual author. Other bloggers are not responsible for the views expressed by any author in any individual blog post, and the views of bloggers expressed in individual blog posts should not be construed as views of the site per se.”

Do Images of Immigrant Suffering Along the Border Help the Open Borders Cause?

Television footage showing the mistreatment of nonviolent civil rights activists during the 1960s may have greatly benefitted the civil rights movement.  William G. Thomas III of the University of Virginia observes that Historians, commentators, and participants have suggested connections between the media, especially television news, and the course of the civil rights movement. Generally those who consider television news as a powerful force for change refer to the nationally broadcast images of police dogs and fire hoses turned on the demonstrators in Birmingham. They see this moment and other similar ones that followed, such as the violence at the Pettus Bridge in Selma, as key turning points when Americans witnessed violence, repression, and hatred directed at African Americans and began to change their minds about the U. S. South and segregation. According to one activist, shortly after the attack on civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama by troopers, people arrived from New Jersey and told activists “‘We are here to share with the people of Selma in this struggle for the right to vote.  We have seen on the television screen the violence that took place today, and we’re here to share it with you.’”  Two days after the attack, “… Washington was saturated with telegrams and newspaper editorials condemning the Selma attack and demanding the passage of voting rights legislation… By afternoon the president had issued a statement deploring the brutality, guaranteeing protection for Alabama marchers, and promising expedited legislation.” (from The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-1968 by Steven Kasher, New York: Abbeville Press, 1996, p. 168)

So how do Americans react when they see government authorities physically stop immigrants who are seeking a better life in the U.S. or when they see other images of immigrant suffering caused by immigration enforcement along the border?  Sympathy for these immigrants could lead to support for open borders, just as media images created support for the civil rights movement.  Unfortunately, open borders advocates shouldn’t rely on images of border apprehensions and other consequences of immigration enforcement to shift public opinion towards favoring open borders.

Denver Post photo on dead bodies in bags

Dead bodies in bags: part of the Denver Post’s photo collection on border deaths

In late March, a group of U.S. senators toured part of the U.S.-Mexico border.  They witnessed “border agents apprehend a woman who had climbed an 18-foot-tall bollard fence” and crossed into the U.S. from Mexico. One might think that being directly exposed to the apprehension, in which an immigrant presumably desperate to enter the U.S. is intercepted by agents, might arouse sympathy for her and discomfort with the apprehension.  Apparently not.  Charles Schumer, one of the senators, had this reaction:  “‘Well, I’d have to know all the details there to give you a judgment,'” Schumer said. “’One of the things we learned is that a lot of people cross the border are doing it for drug purposes, too. But I don’t know what happened in this situation.'” (What he “learned” is contradicted by the remark below by Senator John McCain.) Senator Michael Bennet benignly stated that what he saw was “surprising” and “I just have never seen it before.” Senator John McCain tweeted: “Just witnessed a woman successfully climb an 18-ft bollard fence a few yards from us in Nogales. And Border Patrol successfully apprehended her, but incident is another reminder that threats to our border security are real.”  To Mr. McCain’s credit, he later stated that “One of the sad things about all of this is that most of those people who jump over the fence are doing that because they want a better life… And I understand that. So we separate the drug cartels from individuals or somebody trying to cross over so they improve their lives.”

Like the senators, the American public generally doesn’t seem to be affected by television footage or photographs of immigrant apprehensions or immigrants being sent back to Mexico.  Americans can see footage of apprehensions on television news (this footage was located on news sites and was presumably previously aired on television) and on National Geographic Channel’s “Border Wars” reality series and website.   There are also photos of apprehensions on the sites of major newspapers such as The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. I could not locate evidence of protests against or public discomfort with these apprehensions.

People have reacted more to instances of mistreatment of immigrants by authorities along the border.  At least one instance of such abuse was caught on tape, which led to a small protest. There are groups that monitor the mistreatment of immigrants along the border, but again there is no widespread public outrage over these incidents. (Mistreatment of immigrants by smugglers is also in part a side effect of immigration enforcement.)

Thousands of immigrants have died over the last two decades from the harsh desert elements while trying to avoid immigration agents. There are some images of the bodies of immigrants who died trying to cross the border illegally. An organization that provides aid to those crossing deserts has been working to highlight this issue, but once more public reaction is muted.

On the other hand, there is some public disapproval of immigration enforcement away from the border.  There have been small protests against the apprehension and deportation of immigrants around the country. In addition, polls show widespread support for legalizing the millions of undocumented already in the U.S., especially for those who entered the U.S. as children. This resistance to internal immigration enforcement seems to reflect in part the personal attachments that Americans and legal residents make with immigrants in their communities, as well as a widespread perception that immigrants are good for America.

What explains America’s general apathy toward immigration enforcement at the border?  Perhaps since apprehensions are not usually violent like the aforementioned civil rights television footage (and violent ones usually go unnoticed) and since cases where immigrants suffer or die from exposure to the elements are usually not captured in videos or photos, they do not viscerally affect audiences. Another explanation may be that, unlike undocumented immigrants who have settled in the U.S., many Americans may perceive immigrants crossing the border illegally as being disconnected from American society.

Even if the public were exposed to more images of immigrants dying or suffering along the border, Fabio Rojas of Indiana University suggests that so long as Americans are convinced that immigration restrictions are acceptable, suffering caused by immigration enforcement will not change Americans’ views about immigration policy. He argues that what is needed to change public opinion on immigration restrictions is “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.”

So for now, images in the media and on the Internet of border apprehensions, violence, and deaths won’t be the ally of open borders advocates that it was for the civil rights movement.  Perhaps public reaction to images of immigration enforcement and its consequences is a barometer of public support for open borders; the more advocates can convince the public of its merits, the more outrage there will be to images of the suffering caused by border enforcement.

Open Borders note: See also John Lee’s post I don’t care about immigration sob stories. This is about justice, not compassion.