Open Borders

Reading Time: 12 minutes
Publisher’s Note

America is the greatest country in the world. Many people wish to immigrate to our country with hopes of opportunity, freedom, and a fresh start. For many, America is the end goal. Within America, however, there is much dispute as to how, if at all, our borders should be restricted. Our authors do an excellent job depicting their sides’ views.


The Faireway Staff

The Libertarian Argument
Connor Kianpour, UC Davis
People always wonder how it was possible for German citizens to stand idly by while undeserving Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust, or how it was possible for Americans to turn the other cheek as Japanese citizens were brutally interned. And to them, I ask –– how do you justify your inaction as our government turns away individuals who yearn to seek better life prospects at our country’s borders? While some may read that hypothetical and scoff at what seems to be hyperbole, I challenge you to acknowledge the truth which that question harbors. Many people who desire to immigrate to the United States do so because their livelihoods are in jeopardy, much like the victims of the Holocaust and Japanese internment. Their home countries are rife with political turmoil that prevents them from being able to achieve their plans of life, so they come to the United States to give themselves and their children opportunities that they are abjectly denied elsewhere. Many in favor of border restrictions claim to have no problem with immigration though, as they claim that the problem is illegal immigration. If these immigrants were to adhere to the bureaucratic procedures necessary to ensure the safety of the American people, then they would have no problem with those individuals immigrating to the United States.Those very bureaucratic procedures which delimit the manner in which individuals are able to pursue their life goals, however, are a fundamental violation of human rights –– both of citizen, and of alien.In Joseph H. Carens’s “Aliens and Citizens: the Case for Open Borders,” the renown political philosopher makes this very case, demonstrating the extent to which border restrictions affect not only the right of free movement of aliens but also the right of property of the citizens of that very country. Put succinctly, individuals have a fundamental right of being able to voluntarily enter into contractual agreements, even if that means contracting with individuals across state borders. If one were to accept this principle, it would necessarily follow that he or she would support the right of an immigrant who engaged in a voluntary transaction with a citizen to live on the property of said citizen if those were the terms of the contract. Therefore, the government has no legitimate interest in obstructing free migration, because its doing so would be a direct violation of the associational rights of both alien and citizen, though the emphasis is placed on the injustice dealt against the citizen.

Some argue that allowing for contractual agreements to be made between aliens and citizens creates an economic climate where citizens would be placed at a competitive disadvantage because they would have to compete for employment against not only other citizens but also against aliens. There are, however, two major problems with this criticism that implicates a restrictive border policy. The first is that this criticism rests on the assumption that citizens of the United States arbitrarily possess a right which citizens outside of the United States do not –– namely, a right to competitive advantage. However, no such a right exists as competition is an inherent consequence of living in market economy. Even if such a right existed, empirical evidence shows that immigrants do not take the jobs of citizens. According to, immigrants have actually been shown to fill labor gaps that were not going to be occupied by citizens anyway, and that the population growth inherent to immigration is responsible for much-needed economic stimulation.

Other proponents of restrictive border policies may make the argument that an open border policy would adversely impact the security aims of the country, increasing crime and creating chaos. Again, there is both a principled and empirical sense in which this line of argumentation falls short. The idea that border restrictions ought to be put in place because it will be in the interest of national security presupposes that national security supersedes the rights of individuals who constitute the nation. Those who make this argument, however, seem to have forgotten the truth of Benjamin Franklin’s age-old adage: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The reason individual rights are enforced in this country is because the Founders believed there were some aspects of human existence that could not be negotiated for the sake of a majority; and since a right of property and a right of free movement are both indispensable to meaningful human existence, it cannot be the case that a majority can strip a minority of these rights.

This principled argument aside, it is also just empirically untrue that increased immigration would result in increased crime and violence. The American Immigration Council has found that higher immigration is negatively correlated with crime rates and that immigrants on the whole are less likely than natural-born citizens to commit crimes or be behind bars. Perhaps it could even be argued that the resources put toward enforcing restrictive border policies could be reallocated to deter actual crime that implicates victims once an open border policy is adopted in the United States. Those who are border patrol guards can become law enforcement officers who could crack down on crime that is overtly and pressingly harming individuals around the country rather than criminalizing well-to-do-peoples that yearn for favorable circumstances.

It is for the reasons previously delineated that I believe the American people would be better off for embracing an open border immigration policy. Making illegal actions that are predicated on the inviolable rights of individuals to freely move on property that is considered public is creating a criminal where there is no victim. Furthermore, it undermines the importance of a great American symbol and the text scrawled patriotically beneath it: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. To spread the light of liberty world-wide for every land.”–
The Conservative Argument
Jorge Plaza, University of Notre Dame

Since the 2016 presidential election, the discussion on immigration has become an uncomfortable subject in the American psyche. The harsh rhetoric of President Trump has forced the conversation to the center stage of politics. Rather than defaulting to the vague moderate Republican position of a “strong border with a simple path to citizenship”, Trump declared confidently and bombastically “I will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it”. In response, the political left shed tears for the plight of the undocumented worker. Though they will not admit it openly (as made evident by this New York Times article), the Democratic party has become increasingly sympathetic to an open border policy, one similar to that of the European Union. This is reflected by the language of Democratic Senators, NBC, Washington Post, CNN, and other liberal media commentators who liken illegal immigrant detention centers to concentration camps.

Though many Americans would consider an open border policy to be extreme, there may be some merit in the argument. There are currently 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S, 3.2 million being youths under the age of 24 (as of 2012). 66% of these immigrants have lived in the U.S. for over a decade. For many of these people, this is a life in the shadows. A single incident requiring documentation can result in their families being forced back to their home countries. This means a single trip to the emergency room, police report, or traffic violation may ruin their lives. Those who choose to cross illegally through the inhospitable terrain on the southern border are taking on a considerable amount of risk. Over the past 20 years, at least 7209 people have died attempting to cross the border. Studies from migrant shelters have found that 80% of Central American women were raped while crossing the border.

Given these atrocious findings and the horrifying imagery associated with deportation, it seems as if the easiest way to solve this humanitarian crisis is to simply open the border. The logic follows that if the U.S. opened its borders, migrants would not have to make the dangerous trek to cross, nor will they have to live their lives in fear once they successfully migrate. Along with these humanitarian benefits, opening the border would solve a few economic issues surrounding illegal immigration. A study from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) found that granting legal status to all undocumented immigrants would increase their state and local tax contributions by an estimated $2.18 billion per year. The entire visa process for high skilled workers would also be more streamlined, allowing firms to access a wider pool of workers at a lower price rate. From a humanitarian political-economic view, bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows would grant them benefits and union protections that are entitled to their legal counterparts such as a minimum wage, welfare benefits, workers’ compensation, healthcare, etc. However, the resulting costs of these new entitlements could end up hurting the case for an open border. A study from the Heritage Foundation found that unlawful immigrant households received $24,721 in benefits while paying $10,334 in taxes. For the most part, the benefits included in the study comprised only of public education and emergency services since undocumented immigrants are generally barred from welfare benefits. Opening these benefits to the millions of low waged, newly amnestied workers along with the additional millions that would cross the border would certainly bankrupt the economy.

Although economic considerations are important in any public policy discussion, it seems rather inappropriate to discuss the monetary value of people’s lives. Indeed, the main objections against an open border are normative. Opening the border does not solve the humanitarian issue, rather it sweeps it under the rug. It does nothing to stop the flow of drugs and criminals. Instead, the gesture will be taken as a signal of surrender as the country creates an easy pathway for crime. Though it may seem that freedom of movement is being exchanged for border security, this is in fact a case of security for the sake of freedom. The U.S. government has a constitutional responsibility to defend its borders; without providing for the common defense, there is nothing to stop foreign invaders from encroaching on the rights of domestic citizens. Additionally, implementing this policy could be seen as a slap of the face to legal immigrants whom underwent the arduous process to enter the country. But most importantly, it undermines the rule of law.

In a successful republic, the law is sacrosanct, placed on a higher plane to be upheld at all times. If the law is changed every time it seems inconvenient to enforce it, the law will continuously be whisked away by the winds of social justice. The Founders intentionally created a system where major legislative acts would be difficult to pass. A bill must undergo a lengthy process of scrutinization by Congressional committees, the floor of Congress, and the President before being enacted into law. Even as an act of Congress, it is still open to judicial review, meaning that it may require the backing a new constitutional amendment. This entire process is to ensure that every law is passed with the full faith and support of the American people. Without the impetus to thoroughly enforce the law, the American experiment of a functioning, long lasting constitutional republic will be a house built on sand.

No matter how we choose to proceed, the status quo is unsustainable. Half-heartedly enforcing the law while allowing illegal, legal, and citizen families to suffer leaves us with all of the cons of both sides and none of the pros.

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