When Mexican president Vicente Fox visited Washington last August, he raised an idea that caught presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush totally off guard. Fox suggested that it was time to consider opening the borders between Mexico, the United States, and Canada to the free movements of people, similar to what now takes places among the European nations. “We may be able to open the borders not just to capital or goods, but also to people,” Fox said.
Gore’s and Bush’s reactions were immediate and negative. Gore found the proposal “very problematic” and said that implementation would take 25 to 30 years. Bush’s position was similar: “I believe we ought to enforce our borders,” he responded.
Unfortunately, the issue never reached the level of national debate in the presidential campaign. It should have. Fox’s proposal raises important moral and economic questions. Why shouldn’t a person be free to cross a border in search of work? Would open borders contribute to the economic well-being of the American people?
Let’s first consider the moral case for open borders. Let’s assume that I wish to hire a Mexican worker and that he wishes to work for me. What gives anyone the moral authority to interfere with the relationship that we wish to establish between ourselves? It’s my money, and it’s his time and energy. It’s our business, not anyone else’s. Why doesn’t he have the right, regardless of what citizenship he happens to hold, to accept my job offer, and why don’t I have the right to hire him?
Think about all the arrests, prosecutions, incarcerations, repatriations, deportations, and especially the deaths of people who have simply wanted to cross a border in search of a better life. All of this would be avoided under a system of open borders because people would be free to cross our Southern border as easily as Americans cross borders between states.
Can all this abuse and mistreatment be reconciled with the moral principles in the Sermon on the Mount? Can they be reconciled with what Jesus referred to as God’s second-greatest commandment: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?
What about the economic consequences of open borders? Would the unrestricted movements of people be an economic detriment to the American people? On the contrary, open immigration would be a tremendous economic boon. After all, think about how open borders between our respective states have contributed to people’s economic well-being.
Whenever people are entering into mutually beneficial exchanges, their standards of living are rising, at least from their own individual perceptions. How do we know this? Because if a person does not perceive a benefit from an exchange, he simply doesn’t enter into it. Thus the fact that immigrants are entering into business relationships with U.S. citizens is itself strong evidence that standards of living are rising.
Moreover, as everyone recognizes, those who flee the relative comfort and safety of their homeland, including friends, family, and a native language, are usually the industrious ones — those who are willing to take big risks for the sake of economic betterment. They provide an infusion of energy and vitality that every society should relish.
What about the historical case for open borders? I’ll bet most Americans don’t realize that there were once open borders between Mexico and the United States, from the time that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 until approximately the 1930s. During that period of time, Mexicans could cross freely into the United States to visit, work, open a business, or live here. Hardly anyone gave it a second thought because Americans were accustomed to the idea that human beings had the fundamental human right to travel, work, and visit wherever they wanted without governmental restriction.
What about America’s welfare state? Isn’t that an insurmountable barrier to open borders? Of course not. All that needs to be done is to prohibit foreigners from going on the welfare dole. In that way, we end up attracting those immigrants who are trying to improve their lives through labor rather than through political plunder.
Should we continue an immigration policy that has damaged and destroyed the lives of thousands of human beings and lowered our standard of living? Or is Vicente Fox correct in suggesting that the time has come to restore the moral, humane, and economically prosperous open-border policy of our ancestors?
Mr. Hornberger is co-editor of The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration.