Unenforced Borders are not Open Borders

Related to the recent protests about Cuba, some of my friends have chatted anew on immigration and open borders. This article argues that the States under Biden have relatively unenforced borders in comparison to the Trump administration, and that unenforced borders have systematically worse incentives compared to open borders. The final conclusion is that open borders remain a great option, open borders are better than unenforced borders, and that unenforced borders are sometimes better than enforced borders.

I. A Simple Model of Lawbreaking Incentives from Unenforced Borders

  1. Suppose there are two classes of people: Law-abiding and law-ignoring. Illegal aliens are a subgroup of law-ignoring individuals.
  2. Under open borders, law-abiding and law-ignoring individuals face an equal incentive to immigrate. With unenforced borders, positive immigration incentive, and prohibited immigration, illegal aliens face a positive incentive to immigrate while law-abiding citizens do not.
  3. The actual immigration policy of the United States is to allow a low legal quota of certain categories of immigration.
    1. Low, here, simply means that marginally higher numbers would be expected to improve the economy according to the vast majority of economists.
    2. The low quota is regularly reached and becomes a binding constraint in the United States each year, but the border is not actually unenforced.
  4. Trump had stronger border enforcement compared to the current Biden administration.
  5. From 1-3, the immigration policy of the United States disproportionately incentivizes illegal immigration over legal immigration.
  6. From 4 and 5, the incentives for illegal immigration have increased under Biden.

II. Five Objections to Open Borders from Immigrant Costs

  1. Look at all the bad thing illegal immigrants do! We need to end illegal immigration now!
    1. Response: Illegal immigrants indeed do bad things, but estimates of their costs and benefits show that benefits outweigh costs.
    2. Research shows that “Contrary to public perception, we observe considerably lower felony arrest rates among undocumented immigrants compared to legal immigrants and native-born US citizens and find no evidence that undocumented criminality has increased in recent years.”
    3. Take this analysis and apply it on a proportional or per capita basis and you will see that illegal immigration is a net benefit, and the hidden benefits from illegal immigration are bigger than ever.
    4. The top relevant result from a Google Scholar search from 2006 to present turns up support for my thesis.
      1. Specifically, June 2009, Nadadur, Illegal Immigration: A Positive Economic Contribution to the United States
      2. Numbers before 2006 really don’t apply given recent policy changes, but they also don’t refute my thesis.
    5. Be sure that you are accounting for the broad quality and quantity of illegal immigrant costs and benefits, not just picking and choosing some.
      1. One objection is based on the crimes committed by illegals, but certain native born minorities have higher crime rates, so should we kick them out?
      2. Criminality drops precipitously with education, so one solution here is just to educate illegal immigrants. Indeed, we are already doing this to some extent but opponents of immigration will count only the costs of educating illegals and not the benefits.
  2. There are now about 40 million undocumented immigrants, the highest number ever, and costs are higher than ever. It’s time we do something!
    1. Response: As world population grows, a constant proportion of illegal immigration will always mean that we are always hitting new records. Look at the per capita net value instead of sensationalizing large numbers. In fact, the benefits are bigger than ever in addition to the costs and raw counts of illegal immigrants.
  3. Both parties want open borders, so it must be bad!
    1. Response: No, they don’t. As a former DC consultant I can tell you as a matter of fact they don’t, and also common sense would tell you that if both sides wanted it then it would have been done years ago.
  4. The Democrats want open borders, so it must be bad!
    1. Response: We know from independent economic analysis that open borders are great.
    2. It’s true that most moderate or strong liberals want open borders, but that’s only about half of the Democratic Party. About 10 percent of Democrats see any kind of immigration as a burden.
    3. Apparently, the Secretary of the DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas, told migrants fleeing Cuba: “Let me be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”
      1. If you want to play the party card, wouldn’t this make sense? Cubans often vote Republican.
      2. On the other hand, do you really want to keep people fleeing Communism out of the United States? Most readers will be surprised, but some people are indeed calling for a temporary or permanent ban on immigration whole-sale.
  5. We don’t need any reform, we just need to enforce our current laws!
    1. First, we do need reform.
      1. Our quota system is communist-like and terrible. The central governing authority faces a calculation problem to determine optimal quota counts and the categories of Visa types.
      2. Many honorable reasons for wanting to immigrate have no allowable Visa category. For example, “I love America and I just feel like moving there” is not an allowable immigration reason.
      3. America used to have open borders and it did really well. Border regulation was added in a mishandled and poorly thought through way by people that you probably disagree with, and reduced economic growth followed. The deployment has failed, roll back the version.
    2. Second, our current laws include ‘executive discretion’ which means that executive non-enforcement of certain laws is according to our current laws. That’s why we elect a President. I would agree with you that the current President isn’t optimal, and I would go further and say let’s remove the entire political system, but I don’t see my solution obtaining any time soon and you will need to explain more clearly how you plan on affecting realistic change in this state of affairs.

III. Conclusion

In conclusion, I think the benefits of illegal immigration outweigh the costs, but even if there are net costs to illegal immigration then we should recognize that unenforced borders, not open borders, create incentives for illegal immigration over legal immigration.

If we think about the immigration of law-ignoring individuals as a cost of business for open borders, the cost is well worth the benefit, and the alternative of government control of immigration is a terrible thing with negative implications that many underestimate.

Related Articles from AfterEcon:

  1. February 2017, Stop Deporting Illegal Immigrants
  2. February 2017, Autoacculturation and Threshold Earning
  3. May 2015, False Distributions and Reason Magazine
  4. March 2015, 3 Reasons “Just Leave” is Ignorant Immigration Policy
  5. August 2013, Do Illegal Immigrants Take American Jobs?
  6. September 2012, Voter Manipulation and The Cloward Piven Strategy
  7. May 2010, On Immigration

Related Third-Party Articles:

  1. November 2019, Open Borders Are a Trillion-Dollar Idea
  2. October 2019, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration
  3. November 2015, Thoughts on the Caplan/Jones Debate

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