USA Today columnist: Three cheers for open borders!

No one wants open borders, right? Well, not exactly — and this USA Today column provides evidence that it’s not entirely easy to pigeonhole its support. Jeffrey Miron, director of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, argues that the ills of illegal immigration can all be solved by simply eliminating border enforcement altogether:

The solution to America’s immigration problems is open borders, under which the United States imposes no immigration restrictions at all. If the U.S. adopts this policy, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

Illegal immigration will disappear, by definition. Much commentary on immigration — Trump and fellow travelers aside — suggests that legal immigration is good and that illegal immigration is bad. So, legalize all immigration.

Government will then have no need to define or interpret rules about asylum, economic hardship, family reunification, family separation, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and so on. When all immigration is legal, these issues are irrelevant.

This position doesn’t exactly come out of left field, pardon the pun, for libertarians at Cato or in other places. They tend to see most issues in terms of markets and economic outcomes. Most of Miron’s argument follows that pattern, albeit in ambiguous broad strokes that never get much support.

For instance, Miron argues that open borders would “plausibly” generate more higher-skilled immigration, on the tenuous idea that backups in H-B visas indicate a throttled demand. It might boost skilled immigration somewhat, but an open border on the south would likely incentivize many more to flood the border to escape the poverty and violence in Mexico and Central America, too. The drug cartels operating in those regions would be the first to take advantage of open borders too, an obvious point that Miron never bothers to address. Instead, he argues that the elimination of border enforcement would incentivize everyone to obey the law, “because they have shown respect for the law by not immigrating illegally.” If there’s no law to respect for immigration, how exactly does crossing the border show respect for it?

Speaking of the law, Miron says it’s not worth even screening for terrorists:

Terrorists could well enter via open borders, but they do so now illicitly. Little evidence suggests that our immigration restrictions prevent terrorist attacks.

Actually, we do know that a lack of enforcement on tourist and business visas allowed some of the 9/11 terrorists to remain in the US while they plotted the murder of thousands. A lack of enforcement on student visas allowed at least one of the people charged as an accessory to the Boston Marathon bombing to stay in place. But this argument is nonsensical in two ways. First, how do we know that some turned away for security reasons weren’t intending on terrorism? How do you prove that negative? Mostly, though, the argument that terrorists can enter illicitly is no more an argument for an end to enforcement than would be an argument to stop enforcing speed limits because people tend to break them, or to stop responding to domestic violence complaints because it doesn’t stop people from reoffending.

Miron’s argument takes a sneering turn when he dismisses the impact on American culture. In essence, he wonders why we bother saving it at all, emphasis mine:

U.S. culture will not change dramatically. America’s immigrants have a long history of assimilation, and most have at least some affinity for American values. Indeed, the world is already more “Americanized” than ever. Even if values and culture change, so what? That happens in free societies. Who says America’s current values — some of them deeply evil — are the right ones?

Yikes. Maybe this is a winning argument in think-tank circles, but most Americans like their culture and the shared values we have, among them the rule of law. One doesn’t have to believe a culture is perfect to value it, after all, and at least our system of governance allows for those values to get debated and changed through the difficult but liberating process of self-governance. In that one sentence, Miron affirms what most people believe about the intent of the open-borders project — to fundamentally transform America into something very, very different.

Besides, which values does Miron want replaced, and by what? If Miron’s selling open borders on the basis of replacing current American values, that’s a legit question — and one has to wonder why a Cato Institute scholar seems so sanguine about importing the cultural values of those most likely to freely flow into the country, even apart from the obvious issues like drug cartels and multinational gangs. There aren’t many libertarian bastions to our south, or for that matter to our east, west, or north either. His theory in practice would result in a field day for Democratic Socialists, for instance, but libertarians might regret the outcome of this policy, especially those concerned about “deeply evil” American values from a libertarian point of view.

Can we recalculate our immigration policy to make it more consistent, effective, and supportive of the rule of law? Of course we can, but the US already has one of the more generous immigration policies in the world, to our credit. However, most people want that generosity to be accessed properly within the law, as our previous election demonstrated — and most Americans are getting pretty tired of hearing about how their values are “deeply evil” in the context of people demanding to participate in them.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022