March 16th marks Open Borders Day, which George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin describes as “an international event created to celebrate the ideal of freedom of movement across international boundaries.” Naturally, this radical support for freedom of movement follows from applying libertarian principles.
If an employer wants to hire a willing worker, governments shouldn’t stop that voluntary transaction simply because of where the worker was born. If a landlord wants to rent an apartment to a tenant, governments should not stop that voluntary transaction simply because of where the tenant was born. Today’s immigration restrictions prevent these and many other voluntary interactions. Under the status quo, the presumption is that, if you’re from Haiti, you are not permitted to move to the United States, and this presumption can only be overcome by working through a labyrinthine bureaucracy. Open borders advocates call for replacing the status quo with a presumption of liberty. Some open borders proponents believe that governments have the right to restrict migration in specific circumstances, such as barring a known terrorist or someone with a highly contagious disease from entering a country. However, the presumption is that individuals should be free to travel, and governments must provide a very good reason if they are going to restrict that liberty. Being born in the wrong country is nowhere near a sufficient reason to have your migration restricted.
Immigration restrictions currently trap vast numbers of people in dire poverty. Many workers are stuck in countries where their best available option is to work in a sweatshop. If they were allowed to travel to the
United States, they would be able to earn dramatically higher wages, thus improving their lives and those of their families. Yet, immigrants and their families would not be the only ones to benefit. Migrants would be earning higher wages because they would be working at jobs where they are more productive, leading to economic growth. For instance, economist Michael Clemens estimates that open borders would double world GDP. Bryan Caplan explains why this would benefit all of us, not just immigrants:
How is vastly higher production in your self-interest? The obvious reason is that more stuff produced means more stuff consumed. This is not trickle-down economics; it is Niagara Falls economics. Production is what distinguishes the rich world of today from the wretched world of the past.
Immigration restrictions forcibly keep the world’s poor impoverished, and they prevent the rest of us from gaining the benefits of substantial increases in production. Open borders would thus mean more prosperity for people around the world.
There are more than just economic reasons to support open borders. Today, immigration restrictions trap people in countries where they face severe human rights violations. Having open borders would allow women to leave countries where they are subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage, stoning, and other human rights abuses. Where immigration restrictions trap other people in war zones and under authoritarian governments, open borders would allow people to travel to countries where they are more likely to see their rights respected.
Those who defend immigration restrictions might argue that people who want to flee human rights abuses can simply become refugees, and will thus be protected by international law. But as John Lee explains, it’s not that simple:
The international refugee system was meant to protect the rights of refugees to seek refuge from violence. Yet the outcome has been something quite plainly different. People seeking asylum from countries like Syria or Afghanistan who are caught by Australia and “processed” offshore live in detention camps where the conditions are so terrible that they often wish they’d never come — which is likely the desired effect from the Australian government’s point of view. Children fleeing threats of rape or murder from places like Honduras are now at risk of being deported back to face their assailants, simply because they might not technically be refugees. Governments pursue harsh measures to deter channels for migration, in the name of “legitimately” excluding economic migrants, even if these harsh measures force legitimate refugees to undertake arduous and dangerous journeys which leave them at the mercy of illicit smugglers and violent criminals.
Open borders would mean ending the state violence that forcibly prevents people from fleeing human rights abuses.
Today, let’s envision a world where freedom of movement is respected. A world of open borders would be a massive step forward in terms of alleviating poverty and protecting human rights worldwide. To achieve these incredible humanitarian gains, we don’t need to implement any costly welfare program or “humanitarian intervention.” All we need to do is get government out of the way and let people be free.
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