Gota’s Citizenship And Open Borders

How his mess makes the case for freedom of movement

Indi Samarajiva
Oct 2 · 4 min read
Open GIF adapted from this photo by Alex Holyoake.

Right now Gotabaya Rajapaksa is having citizenship troubles, and it couldn’t happen to a worse guy. While an American citizen, he became Defence Secretary here and made it impossible for Sri Lankans to get dual citizenship, while merrily forging his own documents. Dude is a crook and would possibly kill me. Now he’s running for President, unless a court case stops him.

By all rights he should lose that case, but his plight can also teach us something. His case is absurd, and so is citizenship is in general. It needs to change, not just for him, but for everybody. In his own way, he is the tragic anti-hero of a piece that calls for open borders.

Open Borders

Nationalism is as bad as racism. It’s just another way of judging people based on their birth. While people acknowledge this as unfair, nobody talks about the solution. The only ethical system is free movement of all humans across the globe (ie, freedom).

Open borders.

In our current historical moment, however, this is as hard for us to see as it was for our ancestors to perceive that slavery or serfdom were maybe bad. But borders are really bad. They are serfdom writ large, where we are bound to countries rather than fiefs, but bound nonetheless. They are a cruel and stupid limit on human freedom and all humans deserve to be free.

Under a system of open borders, our friend Gota could go to America to work, come back to Sri Lanka and then run for President if enough people wanted to vote for him. This is essentially what he’s calling for, though only for him. In his own criminal way he has stumbled onto a broader truth.

The broad issue is that anyone should be able to travel to work, live, or visit wherever they want. Whether you’re a war refugee, climate refugee, economic refugee, or if you just feel like it. These are the rights that rich people (and corporations) have. Immigration restrictions are really only used against the powerless and poor.

People fear that the poor will somehow swamp the world with their dirty poorness, but these people are assholes. The fact is that the rich are destroying the Earth and are much more successfully criminal. It’s not poor people bringing drugs, it’s billionaires like the Sacklers. It’s not poor people stealing the most, that’s bankers. Poor people aren’t destroying the environment, that’s the hyper-consumptive rich.

Poor people generally work and pay taxes and drive economies. Any growing economy needs poor people, they work the hardest and that’s where real growth comes from. This is literally how America and colonial countries developed — through huge influxes of immigration in the 1900s. By very sober economic estimates, free movement would double world GDP (though of course this needs to be managed without lighting the Earth on fire).

Personal Freedom

But I digress, let’s get back to our friend Gota who is of course not my friend, as he used to murder journalists. Gota has a desire deep within him, as we all do, to do whatever the fuck he wants. He wants to be free.

Hence he wanted to campaign in a Sri Lankan election while on a tourist visa. He wanted to vote at his family home even though he was no longer eligible. He wanted to serve as Defence Secretary while being a foreign citizen. Now he wants to be President of that country, despite dragging around 15 years of clumsily forged and generally missing documents.

Despite all of this, people still want to vote for him as the nationalist candidate, despite his entire existence being a performance art piece decrying the absurdity of nationalism. And this, I think is the teachable moment. You want this guy to be free to do whatever the fuck he wants, I understand that. Shouldn’t we all be free?

Gota getting trapped in this bureaucratic trap should show us the absurdity of borders for us all. However, his behavior also shows us why we remain stuck.

As Defence Secretary, Gota controlled immigration. He could have created an system to encourage talented people from all over the world to come here. He could have been really bold and called for essentially open borders here, just fill out some paperwork and help us grow, and also exponentially expand our restaurant scene.

But no. Of course not.

He just forged his own identity documents and shut down even dual citizenship for everyone else. In truth Gota is the tragic anti-hero of our piece. The immigrant who had the power to fix an immigration system, but who — in his stupidity and greed — made himself illegal.

The fact is that we have to let go of selfishness, greed and jealousy if we truly want freedom. We need solidarity.

Open borders assures freedom for everyone, but you may have to deal with people you don’t like. In order to avoid the latter, people become willing participants to their own oppression. Britons don’t want Sri Lankans, Sri Lankans don’t want Pakistanis, and Pakistanis don’t want Ahmadis. Through each of our biases we form an interlocking system of oppression for all, with of course a backdoor for rich elites.

If we could just help free our neighbors we would be free. If we could help the stateless and the refugee, we would help ourselves. This is the paradox which makes open borders seem so impossible, but I have hope because societies have slowly overthrown stupid oppressions before. I don’t know how it happens but it does and we should try.

It is the right thing to do. Not just for poor Gota, but for all of us who deserve freedom. We should all be free to move. That means open borders for all.

Indi Samarajiva

Written by

Colombo liberal. Writer, father. Founder of YAMU and Kottu.