Compassion Within The Lines

Immigration is a difficult issue for me to talk about.  Not that I have any difficulty expressing my opinions!  Rather, because I don’t have a lot of patience for cruelty to my fellow man, and I find that even people that are self-stated supporters of immigration are generally pretty cruel.

Why do I say this?  Because when I bring it up, here’s an extremely common position I’ve heard people espouse to me:  “We should definitely make it easier for skilled immigrants to enter this country legally, but we shouldn’t allow illegal immigrants, criminals, low-skill workers, etc. in.”  I find that to be a heartless position.

I often counter – imagine you live in a nice part of town.  Mr. Jones lives in a bad part of town, with his family – lived there his whole life.  Generations, even.  But he’s worked hard at his job and has managed to save up enough money to buy a house in the nicer part you live in.  He’ll probably still have his terrible job for the rest of his life (or a similar one), but he wants to break the cycle and give his kids a chance at something better.  When the moving truck rolls into the Uptown Heights, would you post armed guards and tell him he can’t come?

After that, I usually get a “that’s different.”  But of course it’s not different – and no one’s been able to even come up with an argument (let alone a convincing one) as to why I should think it is.

“They’ll have kids that will burden our system.”  So will natives.  I don’t want to support those kids, either, but I’m supposed to, because they’re red, white and blue?

“They get in and vote Democrat.”  That just means Republicans should be trying twice as hard to get them in, not futilely attempting to keep them out.  The ones they succeed in keeping out don’t mail in red-ticket votes, do they?

“We should be spending our money on helping real Americans, not letting immigrants come in.” Where do I even start?

In case it’s not obvious, these are all actual things I’ve heard.

People that cry for social justice claim that we shouldn’t limit our compassion to those of our gender or color, and I agree.  But their geography is fair game?  At the end of the day, this isn’t even about helping people – open borders don’t “help” people, any more than oxygen “helps” people.  But like oxygen, taking away open borders sure hurts them.  So I’m not even asking you to help; I’m asking you to just stop hurting people.  To do literally nothing; just stand aside, and let hardworking people help themselves.  It doesn’t matter which side of an imaginary line they’re on, because they’re humans.

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5 thoughts on “Compassion Within The Lines

  1. John, nice blog post. Let me add a little bit here. I think that the moral case for open borders is strong. However, in so far as people make predictions about what will happen under open borders, it makes sense to make these predictions as accurately as possible, rather than making over-optimistic predictions and incorrectly hinging the case for open borders on these predictions. If there are some dangers or possible harms from open borders, these need to be discussed openly rather than pretending that they don’t exist. Further, if there are keyhole solutions that mitigate these harms without closing borders, then I think it is morally acceptable to adopt them.

    I think that keeping out criminals and known terrorists is possibly within the permissible moral bounds of the government’s role, in so far as these people might anyway land up in jail if allowed to migrate. I lay out my thoughts on this matter here.

    • Thanks for the reply! Here’s my (possibly longer than the original post) response:

      When I advocate for open borders, I do so from a moral standpoint. I’ve read some great work on the economic case for open borders, but I’m not an economist. I can only say “I like it!” and hope it’s correct. But on the moral case, I feel more than confident enough in my stance to advocate for it. That being said, I know that I may create an overly-optimistic impression when I talk about open borders – but even knowing that, I have my reasons for doing so.

      For one, I’m trying to add my voice to the small but growing number of people attempting to raise awareness of this issue in the national context. Right now, the overwhelming majority of public opinion about immigration is negative in some way. In the sense that all the voiced opinions may create some sort of “public opinion consensus” that averages out all those voices, I’m more than willing to over-emphasize my case if it helps push the needle closer to where it needs to be. If policy ends up being decided on the facts, then it won’t matter what I say – but if public opinion sways the policy in any way, I’ll happily be “the right kind of wrong” to help sway that opinion.

      Second, I don’t morally agree with all the keyhole solutions. In particular, I’m not a fan of restricting immigration based on what would be criminally prosecutable here, for a number of reasons. There are simply too many factors of culture to consider. For instance, what is a “criminal?” Is it someone that has committed a crime? That seems unduly harsh, then – lots of people commit crimes, are rehabilitated, and then live productive lives. A career criminal? What defines that? How many crimes, how often, of what severity, and over how long a time? Any limit here would seem arbitrary. Also, are we basing the “criminal identity” on what their home country says, or what they would have been arrested for here? Seems like you’d have to do the latter, or you’d potentially have two different people with an identical history of actions, one who’d be allowed to immigrate and one not simply because of country of origin. But even if it’s based on what they’d be arrested for here, that leads to its own problems. We’re all aware that a huge amount of crime is created by economic conditions. Who knows if the “criminal” would have committed those crimes if he or she had the life they might have had in America? And why should we believe that someone who stole to survive in Venezuela would still steal here? Pure “criminality” isn’t something easily measured. There are too many external reasons why a crime gets committed, reasons that change if you radically change your environment.

      Even in the case of known terrorists – firstly, I don’t believe this group is demographically significant, but if it was – why would “known terrorists” even be walking around free? If they’ve committed a terrorist attack or action and haven’t been caught or punished, and then they show up at our doorstep, aren’t we likely to resolve that issue before the one of immigration?

      So overall, I may be creating an over-positive idea of immigration and open borders – or I may not. But even if I felt that the truth of the result of open borders was a bit less rosy than I make it out to be, I’d still advocate for it just as loudly.

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