October 3, 2008

Commentary:

Open the Borders

by Jacob G. Hornberger

Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, by Jason L. Riley, is one fantastic book on the national immigration debate. Riley’s new book, combined with Phillipe Legrain’s 2007 book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, provides the definitive case for open borders as the solution to America’s immigration “crisis.” (I’d also recommend The Future of Freedom Foundation’s 1995 book The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration.)

Riley is a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. Legrain is a British economist, journalist, and writer. The promotional websites for the two books, which include excerpts and reviews, are:

Let Them In: The Case for Open Borderswww.booknoise.net/letthemin/index.html

Immigrants: Your Country Needs Themwww.philippelegrain.com/legrain/immigrants.html

Chapter by chapter, both authors carefully show both how a free market in labor benefits a society and also how immigrants are an economic boon. The free market provides the best allocation of resources, and immigrants bring vitality, a strong work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit, and strong family values. Freedom of movement is a fundamental, inherent right, and immigrants are like a free gift to a society.

While it’s true that some workers are displaced by immigrants, the economic prosperity that the immigrants themselves produce inevitably provides better jobs for the Americans who are displaced, leaving people better off than before.

Riley provides a good way to look at this situation. Consider, for example, illegal aliens who pick crops. The anti-immigration people say that they’re taking jobs away from Americans. Suppose U.S. officials are successful in preventing illegal aliens from taking those crop-picking jobs. Would Americans step in? Possibly, but only if the farmers offer higher wages, assuming they are able to.

Yet, farmers and coffee stores operating at the margin would go out of business, and Americans whose skills would ordinarily be better suited for service-related jobs would find themselves picking crops. Would that be a wise and efficient use of resources?

Riley and Legrain carefully take apart each of the popular anti-immigrant arguments “They’re coming to America to get on welfare.” “They’re stealing our jobs.” “They’re committing crimes.” “They’re destroying our culture.” “They’re not assimilating.” “Sovereignty and borders are disappearing.” Each canard is carefully destroyed by both books, either through analysis or through actual studies and statistics.

For example, how logical is the notion that illegal immigrants are risking their lives to come to America in order to walk into a welfare office and fraudulently sign up for welfare, especially given that even legal immigrants are barred from getting on welfare for five years? Riley asks a pointed question: If they’re coming for welfare, why are so many illegals in Arkansas and North Carolina, where welfare is relatively low compared with other states? Riley shows that they’re going to those states to work because there’s a lot of economic activity there. Moreover, the immigrants themselves are contributing to that economic activity. Riley also cites studies and statistics documenting that immigrants are actually a net plus to society, not only in terms of taxation and costs but also considering the economic prosperity they produce.

Indeed, how many immigration raids are currently taking place at welfare agencies? Answer: None. The raids are taking place at private businesses, where American employers have hired people who work hard and who contribute to the prosperity of the business.

Among the great points that Legrain makes is how immigration helps the poor in foreign countries. Compared with foreign aid, which is based on government-to-government tax-funded payments and which oftentimes ends up in the pockets of government officials, immigrants send money directly to their impoverished families back home. What better way to help the poor in Third-World countries? And unlike taxation, which destroys wealth, the money earned by immigrants is based on mutually beneficial economic relationships in which wealth is being produced.

Open borders — the free movements of people across borders — is the only policy consistent with moral, ethical, and free-market principles. These two books — Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders and Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them — provide the case-closed intellectual framework for resolving the decades-old immigration “crisis.”

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org).

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