Responding to the argument for open borders
This article was originally published in Faireway, a bipartisan publication focused on improving public discourse and eliminating intellectual echo chambers. The original piece can be accessed at https://www.faireway.com/2018/09/09/open-borders.
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 that he “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 7,209 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.
Jorge Plaza is a sophomore studying philosophy and economics. His family immigrated from Venezuela to the United States in 2006, and currently lives in Florida. On campus, Jorge plays cello in the Notre Dame Symphony Orchestra and is a member of the O’Neil interhall football team. You can contact him at email@example.com.