Open Borders: Economically and Morally Right

George Mason University economics professor, Bryan Caplan, has long been a proponent of open borders. In his recent econlog entry (, he repeats several points he’s made before to attempt persuading those who currently support border regulation. Not surprisingly, his arguments have a strong economic focus: from increasing global GDP and worker productivity, to regulating which jobs migrants can take, to protecting native workers from job loss, to ensuring migrant labor supplies native demand.

He does, however, start with a critical point: closed borders are in direct opposition to a free and open society.

Caplan writes that the extent to which we get to live in a free and open society is largely determined by who our parents are and where they live. Indeed, many in the global South have no hope of getting a visa to legally travel to the global North because of requirements to prove a certain level of economic stability.

At the migrant centers here, I’ve met a number of Salvadorans who have resident or citizen family members in the United States who could sponsor their visa applications. Yet, I meet all of them because they elected to travel without documents. Some attempted to obtain a visa and were rejected, with no explanation and at the loss of one or two month’s salary. Instead of traveling safely and buying a plane ticket, they risk their lives and wellbeing and often pay thousands of dollars more to a coyote (human smuggler) who is likely tied into an organized criminal network. So besides being economically bad for business and conversely good for crime, close borders cheapen human life.

This is morally unacceptable. The decision to deny a visa and to deny a safe option for travel is a death warrant for hundreds of migrants each year. For others, it will mean rape, loss of limb or assault. And for nearly all, it will mean robbery and bearing witness to someone else’s trauma. At the same time, it ensures the division of families, which disproportionately affects children. They will spend years feeling something or someone missing and will likely embark on the dangerous journey themselves when no legal options exist for a family visit.

One of the youth I’ve highlighted in the Migrant Return Center Report said that he wanted to migrate to the U.S. to attempt becoming an actor. After he said those words to me, he asked: why is it that you can come here [to El Salvador], but I cannot go there [the United States]? The only answer I could give him: the world is unjust.

I knew my privilege before I got here, and yet, that conversation still sticks with me. Many migrants I meet here will attempt that dangerous journey again, and some will be harmed greatly or die doing so. Yet, Western politicians fail to see this human security element at the same level of importance as the border security element.

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