Tag Archives: open borders advocacy

Fourth-year priorities for Open Borders: The Case

As we celebrate three years since the founding of Open Borders: The Case, it’s a time to think more clearly and strategically about the next steps. Now that the site tops web search for open borders, gets a nontrivial amount of traffic, and has over 4000 Facebook likes, it’s time to work harder to improve the site’s quality and practical value to making open borders a reality. In this blog post, I describe some of my own priorities, as Open Borders: The Case founder, site administrator, and blogger, to help take the site and movement to the next level.

Complete the site revamp

A revamp of the site menus has long been in the works (the last update in the Open Borders Action Group was on December 28). There’s a lot of small things that need to be finished and cleaned up so that we can successfully wrap up the revamp. I hope to be done with the revamp in the next 2-6 weeks. Simplifying and improving the site structure can be crucial to attracting more people to it and helping them find content easily by navigating it.

Translation to Spanish

Noelia Rojo, who introduced herself to the Open Borders Action Group in December 2014, has agreed to work on a translation of the website into Spanish. She’ll begin working on the translation after I am done with the revamp. We hope to have it done by the end of this year.

More personal anecdote posts by people approaching migration from different vantage points, including people who don’t necessarily identify as pro-open borders

Some of our most popular posts have been our personal anecdote posts. Most of these posts have been written by one-time guest bloggers and occasional bloggers, rather than regular writers for the site. I’m hoping to expand to personal anecdote posts by people who may not themselves be migrants but have experience with other aspects of the migration system, perhaps as immigration lawyers or advocates or consular officers or enforcement agents, as well as people whose interaction with migration has been peripheral but who have nonetheless been influenced by their personal experiences to form opinions on the subject.

Move my own effort, as well as potentially that of other regular bloggers, to a deeper understanding of the status quo, the opportunity for marginal reform, and what these say about the long-term prospects for change

The personal anecdote posts by occasional and guest bloggers are part of a larger shift in vision that I outlined in an these two Open Borders Action Group posts. The upshot is that we are shifting to understanding hitherto undescribed aspects of the migration status quo, or exploring previously studied aspects from a new angle, with an eye to how change can be achieved in the short term, as well as the potential for laying the foundation for long-term change.

There are several types of exploration that fall within this broad category. Some that are most salient to me are listed below:

  • Exploration of current visa regimes, including regimes for high-skilled work visas, guest worker programs, family reunification, asylum, and the treatment of people in violation of immigration regulations. The high-skilled hacks series that I started earlier this year is an example. I also expect to do more one-off posts describing aspects of the de jure and de facto immigration regime similar to my posts on carrying Green Cards and the USCIS being funded by user fees.
  • Continued exploration of the “origins of immigration restrictions” series that co-blogger Chris Hendrix started in 2013 and began with a post on the Chinese Exclusion Act, and that I revived earlier this year.
  • A look at the efforts of philanthropic and advocacy organizations in the domain of immigration law and de facto practice. Our first post in this realm will be published fairly soon.

Related reading

I describe more of my own reasons for continued commitment to and interest in open borders in these posts:

These posts on open borders advocacy and what’s next for the movement are also relevant:

February 2015 in review

Febraury 2015 has been yet another decent month for Open Borders: The Case. It’s been a quiet month with steady traffic, despite a substantial reduction in the number of published posts.

Traffic patterns: overall summary

Controlling for length, February did almost exactly as well as January in terms of pageviews. Both months were a little lower than the unprecedently high-traffic months of November and December. Traffic is likely to grow at a slow and steady rate from this level, with occasional spikes during times when migration becomes a topical issue.

Social media successes

None of our posts published February were extraordinary successes. But some of our posts did perform well:

We had a much lower Facebook spend than usual. We only promoted the first two of the posts listed above, after it was established that they were doing quite well organically.

We also had some success with older posts, including:

Search interest

The pages we got traffic to based on search interest remained the same as in January 2015. See the January 2015 review for more information.

Open Borders Action Group highlights

Below are listed some posts in the Open Borders Action Group that generated considerable discussion. OBAG posts that led to subsequent blog posts aren’t included.

There’s a lot more discussion at the Open Borders Action Group. Do check it out and join the group if you’re interested in participating.

Site traffic: details

Pageviews for Open Border: The Case:

Month and year Pageview count (WordPress) Pageview count (Google Analytics)
February 2015 26,205 25,351
January 2015 28,149 25,702*
February 2014 14,964 15,409
January 2014 17,521 17,709

*Google Analytics was dysfunctional for a few days and a few hours on other days, causing that number to be an underestimate.

WordPress traffic by day for the past few weeks:

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 11.01.35 AM

Google Analytics traffic by day for the past month:

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 11.03.25 AM

  • Facebook likes for our Facebook page stayed fairly steady over the month, increasing from about 4180 to about 4250. We did not spend any money on page promotion. This was very similar to last month’s growth number.
  • The Open Borders Action Group expanded from 867 members to 905 members.
  • Our Twitter account @OpenBordersInfo saw its follower count increased from 1048 at the beginning of the month to 1084 at the end of the month. This was very similar to monthly growth in January.

How do you convince people to sustainably support migration liberalization?

I think open borders is a radical proposal, given how far the world is from it. I also think that open borders (or even partial steps in that direction) will significantly transform the global economy, culture, and society, and the details can’t clearly be predicted. Economists have estimated that open borders will increase global production by 50-150%. Even though I think this might be overstated, I think that even with that overstatement, open borders is still worth pushing for, which is why I’m sticking with it.

If open borders is such a big deal and the consequences are so unclear and uncertain, why should people who are already well off support it? If you lead a comfortable life in the First World and are generally risk-averse, open borders may well not pass a cost-benefit analysis for you. You might gain somewhat economically and in terms of cuisine options, but on the other hand you might see a slight wage dip and have to deal with changes to your neighborhood that you may not like. Even if you gain a bit on net in expectation (and I think there are good reasons to believe that most First-Worlders will benefit from open borders, both as natives of countries receiving migrants and because their own migration options have increased), it may not be enough to get you excited.

Co-blogger Nathan says something similar when discussing differences between the open borders movement and the gay marriage movement:

An important difference between open borders and same-sex marriage is that it is widely and plausibly held (though I think it’s a half-truth at best) that same-sex marriage is a victimless reform which will have hardly any effect on the lives of non-LGBT individuals, or for that matter of LGBT individuals who don’t choose to marry. If so, supporting same-sex marriage isn’t just cheap talk but cheap action. Open borders, by contrast, will involve, if not perhaps great sacrifice, then certainly great upheaval. Many will benefit– perhaps wisely-designed policies could even ensure that everyone benefits— but lives and societies will be transformed. That doesn’t alter the fact that saying one is for open borders is a cheap and easy way to display one’s virtue and benevolence.

Economic illiteracy and xenophobia probably explain a large part of why the world is far from open borders, but even if you get rid of these, open borders simply isn’t an exciting proposition for many reasonably well-off First Worlders from a purely self-interested and risk-averse perspective. What I mean by this is that, if open borders were to become the status quo, they’d probably get used to it and be quite okay with it over a long timeframe. But it’s not something whose benefits are huge, tangible, and clear.

For me in particular, open borders is interesting because of its global impact (undoubtedly, I would likely personally benefit from it, but not enough to justify all the time and effort I’m spending on it). But most people aren’t that interested in global impact. They (rightly or wrongly) care about their personal lives and their neighborhood (hence all the focus on territorialism, local inequality aversion, and the border as blindfold). They may bear no ill-will to foreigners but aren’t particularly concerned about them.

Given that freeing up migration often involves changing policy in receiving countries, how do we overcome people’s apathy/risk-aversion, even assuming we could overcome the arguably bigger problems of economic illiteracy and xenophobia? What’s a sustainable way of doing this? In this post, I discuss three strategies:

  • Glossing over harms and exaggerating benefits
  • Buying support
  • Moral inspiration

After discussing them, I outline my own ideal strategy mix. Continue reading How do you convince people to sustainably support migration liberalization?

International Migrants Day versus Open Borders Day

Last year, we decided to observe March 16 as the annual Open Borders Day. The date was chosen because Open Borders: The Case, the website, officially launched on March 16, 2012. Broadly, the goal of the day is to ponder a world with open borders, the moral case for it, and how such a world might differ from the status quo.

Before settling on March 16, we had an internal debate among our regular and some of our guest bloggers about the choice of date. Various dates, including the Fourth of July, had been proposed, but we ultimately decided to go with our own day, so that it would be free of the baggage (positive or negative) of other days, and could be used to highlight open borders as an issue in its own right. At the time, I (and as far as I can make out, the others participating in the discussion) weren’t aware of perhaps the closest contender: International Migrants Day. The day was designated and is recognized by the United Nations to be on December 18 each year, starting in the year 2000. The Migrant Rights Network has a nice-looking website devoted to the day.

In this blog post, I explain three ways that International Migrants Day and Open Borders Day differ:

  1. Focus: the status quo versus open borders
  2. The attention to migrants as a separate class of people
  3. The focus on migrants, territorialism, and the overlooking of quantity issues

Continue reading International Migrants Day versus Open Borders Day

A Skeptic’s Movement: Open Borders and Mistrust of Authority

Open Borders is a skeptic’s movement. Advocates claim that one of the world’s most important, and fairly popular, public policies is immoral, inhumane, and inefficient. For some, even the concept of Open Borders is shocking. Aren’t governments supposed to control borders? Won’t Open Borders lead to chaos and disorder?

Open Borders is not the only movement to rely on mistrust of the state. For example, privacy advocates are concerned about the abuse of surveillance by law enforcement agencies. Not only should we be concerned that state officials might use surveillance for personal goals (tracking an ex-girlfriend, for example) but we should also be concerned with more systematic abuse. When state officials gain more access to our bank accounts, phone records, and emails, state repression is more likely.

Similarly, the recent anti-police movement in the United States expresses skepticism of government. These activists argue that police can’t be trusted to use force without supervision and that they should face consequences for their actions. While these activists wouldn’t identify themselves as anti-police, they do criticize the current US policy, which is that police officers are rarely sanctioned for use of force because the law makes it extremely difficult for prosecutors to show that police officers were not concerned about their safety.

An important question to consider about the skeptical movements is how Open Borders relates to mistrust in government as expressed by these other movements. To answer this question, it helps to distinguish between short term mistrust created by specific incidents and deeper distrust emerging from a more sustained criticism of policy.

Mistrust Emerging from Short Term Incidents

Sometimes, people become skeptical of government policy because of a specific incident or cluster of incidents. The reactions to the recent deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and other young Black men in the United State are examples of mistrust driven by incidents. At the time of this writing, there does not appear to be a whole sale criticism of police or the laws that make it easy for police to commit these acts. Yet, a movement has sprung up that seeks punishment for specific police officers or reform in certain places.

Incident-driven skepticism of government can still be useful for movements. They bring attention to an issue, people provide resources, and so forth. An industrious activist can make the connection to broader issues, but this is often hard. Perhaps the most important outcome of these incidents is to challenge local conditions. The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri might lead to change in that city, even if it does not result in national reform of the police.

For Open Borders, I suggest the following. There are incidents that can erode the public’s views on migration restrictions and they can be useful, but do not expect them to transform the movement. Instead, use them as short term opportunities to build a movement. Use them to bring people together who might not otherwise interact. They can also be used to gather the resources needed for more systematic action. When incidents occur, Open Borders advocates may provide the intellectual heft that can be used to bolster and support a sustained reform effort in specific places.

Cultivating Deeper Skepticism about Migration Control

In general, it is not clear to me that the distrust around issues like mass surveillance or police violence can be immediately tranferred to migration because policy evaluation seems to depend a lot how people bundle issues. Currently, people bundle issues according to political party, which political scientists call “polarization.” I do not think it is wise to turn open borders into a Democratic or Republican issue just to curry favor from people in one party who might be skeptical of police violence (Democrats) or mass surveillance (libertarian leaning Republicans). Thus, unless we turn open borders into, say, a Democratic issue, it would be hard to bring all the “skeptics” together.

What do I suggest instead? I might avoid thinking about mistrust altogether and focus on showing how open borders is not consistent with popular values. This is a strategy of creating wide scale cognitive dissonance. There are many ways to do this. Incidents that create negative impressions of closed borders can be used to bring people together. But so can educational efforts, court cases, and other forms of action. This is more valuable because it is an alliance that exists independently of parties and of specific incidents, which have short term impacts.

One popular value is human rights. Nearly all democratic governments will base their laws on some form of basic human rights. In the US, the constitution focuses on the rights of speech and due process. In other nations, people may have citizenship rights. Regardless, Open Borders activists may erode support for migration controls by simply pointing out that human beings have a right to peacefully move across national borders as they would internal borders. Open Borders is a natural extension of the belief that people should be left to do as they please as long as they do not harm others.


We often see events that bring existing policy into question. The NSA revelations did this for our nation’s security agencies. Recent police shooting have triggered a similar process for local police departments. But these have not yielded wide scale reform and the attention given to these issues can be ephemeral. Instead, open borders is a movement that shouldn’t be attached to one specific issue, but instead to arguments that can hold together a wide group of people outside of the party system.

Related reading

See also all our blog posts tagged open borders advocacy.