Since the founding of our country, anti-immigrant sentiment has not been uncommon. Even Benjamin Franklin had a unfavorable view of immigrants from many countries, saying “The Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted.” Compare that to President Trump’s current stance on immigration and the border wall and you will find that the only thing that has changed is the country from which immigrants are coming to the U.S. Even though we commonly refer to ourselves as the “nation of immigrants”, many of our top officials have been very anti-immigrant. However, studies have shown time and again that immigrants are good for the economy and commit less crime than natives. What would happen if we embraced immigrants rather than putting restrictions on them? A truly free market requires the free movement of people, not just products and ideas.
There are enormous benefits that could be realized by adopting an Open Borders policy. The economic benefits are the most obvious. GDP growth would boom and poverty rates would fall drastically. But basic freedoms like the freedom of association would also be expanded. Governments everywhere would have to compete for its citizens, which would force governments around the world to adopt policies like the U.S. Freedom around the world would be expanded as countries model themselves even more after our country. Who doesn’t want to spread freedom? On top of that, one should consider what right government has to restrict peaceful immigration. Why should anyone be able to tell you where you can and can’t live if you do so peacefully?
A study done by Clemons (2011) showed that opening borders and freeing up labor mobility would increase Gross World Product (GWP) by 67% – 147%.Open borders would supply a huge increase in labor, which is becoming more scarce in the U.S. with its aging population. In 2017, GWP was $80 trillion, with the U.S. accounting for about $20 trillion of that. With a 100% increase, GWP would hit roughly $160 trillion. In order for the U.S. to double its GDP at the current rate of 2.6% per year, it would take 38 years. Imagine in the year 2000, when GDP was $10 trillion, if open borders were enacted and GDP increased 100% to our current GDP. Where would the U.S. be now after 19 years? We’d be far ahead of where we are now.
The number of people in absolute poverty could also be reduced by open borders. Poverty rates are negatively correlated with GDP growth. In 1990, GWP was about $22.5 trillion. At that time, the number of people in poverty worldwide (measured by living off $1.90 a day) was 1.89 billion. In 2015 when GWP hit $74 trillion, that number had fallen to 736 million people. Just doing a back of the envelope calculation using these statistics, if GWP were to increase by 100% due to open borders, the number of people living in absolute poverty would decrease to 544 million. Such a huge reduction in poverty in a short amount of time would be incredible.
Putting aside economic reasons, one should ask why government even has the power to tell you where you can and can’t live. We believe that people should be able to travel freely as long as they are peaceful. Obviously if someone has a record of violence, credible plans for violence, or acts violently, then we should support blocking their entry, deporting, or prosecuting and imprisoning them. But if they live their lives without infringing on anyone else’s rights and liberties, then why should any government have a right to tell them they can’t be here? Thomas Jefferson said “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Government has no right to restrict peaceful immigration.
Arguments Against Open Borders
Critics of open borders have two main arguments: Crime and Welfare. Many believe that immigrants, both legal and illegal, are more involved in crime than natives. This simply is not true. According to a study done by the Cato Institute, “immigrants are less crime prone than natives or have no effect on crime rates.” The study went on to say that roughly 1.6% of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated while 3.3% of native born individuals are. Another study found that increased immigration did not lead to any significant increase in crime rates. And yet another study looking at 159 U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000 found that crime rates are not correlated significantly with immigration. Obviously, increased immigration from open borders will not increase crime rates.
Questions that arise about how welfare benefits will be distributed to immigrants are also misplaced. These arguments aren’t good arguments against open borders and freer migration, but rather arguments for why the welfare system needs to be updated and changed. Most of the current welfare programs are not efficient, effective, or sustainable for the current population. Opening the borders would force politicians to look at the problems that exist in the current safety net and fix them, or get rid of them altogether and establish a sort of Universal Basic Income. But again, the viability of the current welfare system is not a good argument against open borders and freer migration.
The United States (and the entire world) should seriously consider open borders policies. While there are problems that will need to be addressed, the benefits that would come from these new policies far outweigh any possible costs. U.S. leaders should discontinue promoting any anti-immigrant sentiment and should embrace immigrants and all the good they can bring.
Dallin Overstreet is the Senior Policy Research Fellow at the American Freedom Institute