Alberto Mingardi  

Closed borders and the liberty of the rest of us

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Open borders have been a matter of discussion within the libertarian movement for a few years. Bryan Caplan, on this same blog, has consistently advanced a very strong case for open borders. See, for example, his "Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere". If you can read only one thing on this issue, it really should be that post by Bryan.

At FEE, one of the most prominent contemporary classical liberal scholars, Chandran Kukathas, has a must-read piece. Kukathas' piece has a very important message, that should be better pondered. In Europe, these days we tend to believe that the problem of immigration can be somehow "solved" by not letting everybody in, or by scrutinising immigrants and dividing them among those we like and welcome, and those we don't. Besides the fact there is not really agreement about whom we like and welcome and whom we don't, this goal cannot really be accomplished that easily. It might actually require a huge increase in the surveillance power of government. But once that increased surveillance power is there, are we sure it will be used only against foreigners we don't like, and not against everybody else too?

Writes Kukathas:

(...) a little reflection should tell us that the key is to control not so much movement across borders as what people do within borders. It's really not simply about numbers, and certainly not about foreigners crossing borders.

Regulating immigration is not just about how people arrive, but about what they do once they have entered a country. It is about controlling how long people stay, where they travel, and what they do. Most of all, it means controlling whether or not and for whom they work (paid or unpaid), what they accept in financial remuneration, and what they must do to remain in employment, for as long as that is permitted.

Yet this is not possible without controlling citizens and existing residents, who must be regulated, monitored and policed to make sure that they comply with immigration laws.
(...)
If immigrants must show their passports at borders, everyone will have to, including returning citizens. If immigrants must present their credentials at internal checkpoints, then everyone, including citizens, will have to do so -- if only to prove that they are not immigrants.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Richard writes:
Yet this is not possible without controlling citizens and existing residents, who must be regulated, monitored and policed to make sure that they comply with immigration laws.

This sounds like motivated reasoning to me. Someone doesn't like immigration restrictions, so says it's either impossible or will lead to a police state. For example, how about a simple national ID card, which you would only need to show whenever you take up employment? If you don't like that idea, there are a million others. You only have to regulate one important thing: employment, renting a house, or whatever, as if you make one of those things (getting a job, finding a residence, accessing medical care, whatever) difficult for the undocumented, you make the country very unattractive to them.

For the average citizen, it's a little more of a burden to say show an ID card the first time you get a job. But a pretty small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.

Plus, if this argument is correct, how do South Korea and Japan avoid illegal immigration? Last I checked they weren't police states, any more than the countries with more open borders are.

When you're trying to win a political argument, it probably makes sense to convince the other side that what they want is impossible or leads to unacceptable conclusions. But I don't find this very convincing, and is disproved by what we see everyday.

Nick Rowe writes:

Alberto: "It might actually require a huge increase in the surveillance power of government. But once that increased surveillance power is there, are we sure it will be used only against foreigners we don't like, and not against everybody else too?"

I would argue the opposite. Letting *anyone* in would require a huge increase in the surveillance power of government inside the community. Think about why gated communities exist: because it is cheaper to patrol the borders than to patrol everywhere inside the borders.

Hugh writes:
If immigrants must show their passports at borders, everyone will have to, including returning citizens.

Huh?

This already happens to returning citizens; it doesn't seem a huge deal.

billy writes:

"Richard writes:

Yet this is not possible without controlling citizens and existing residents, who must be regulated, monitored and policed to make sure that they comply with immigration laws.

This sounds like motivated reasoning to me. Someone doesn't like immigration restrictions, so says it's either impossible or will lead to a police state. For example, how about a simple national ID card, which you would only need to show whenever you take up employment? If you don't like that idea, there are a million others. You only have to regulate one important thing: employment, renting a house, or whatever, as if you make one of those things (getting a job, finding a residence, accessing medical care, whatever) difficult for the undocumented, you make the country very unattractive to them.

For the average citizen, it's a little more of a burden to say show an ID card the first time you get a job. But a pretty small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.

Plus, if this argument is correct, how do South Korea and Japan avoid illegal immigration? Last I checked they weren't police states, any more than the countries with more open borders are.

When you're trying to win a political argument, it probably makes sense to convince the other side that what they want is impossible or leads to unacceptable conclusions. But I don't find this very convincing, and is disproved by what we see everyday."

---yes, what he said.

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