Open borders and immigration are good for everyone

The far-right uses the media to spread fear and lies

Syrian children inside a classroom at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Source: UN.

Borders have become a major topic of conversation in the West after several decades where the importance of borders and the restrictions on crossing them seemed to have been lessening.

The refugee crises created in part by the drug trade in Central America and the war in Syria have forced many people to flee for the United States and Europe, but faced with an influx of poor refugees, political leaders have turned their attention to border security as the media feeds domestic populations false narratives about how refugees can’t culturally assimilate, how they’ll take the jobs of domestic workers, and how countries facing budget crises simply can’t afford to help these people fleeing horrible violence.

These narratives tend to be based more on emotional reactions than verifiable fact, but that hasn’t stopped them from dividing the West into those vehemently opposed to admitting refugees, and those who want to welcome them with open arms. North America provides an example of just how different countries are reacting.

Open or closed?

Canada has committed to taking in 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016, and its citizens voted in October 2015 for the party that focused most on helping refugees and the importance of multiculturalism. However, in the United States, a country with almost ten times the population of Canada, a commitment to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees was met with outrage by the media, and laws were passed to make it illegal for refugees to be settled in certain states.

This focus on borders has also revived pieces of history that many may never have learned. What I’ve found most striking is the number of times I’ve been hearing about how passports were largely unneccessary before the First World War, and how borders were lines on paper that didn’t infringe much on real world movement. Stefan Zweig, an Austrian-Jewish writer, wrote

Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all. People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled from Europe to India and America without a passport and without ever having seen one.

Today’s world is clearly quite different. It’s nearly impossible to travel internationally without a passport, and depending on which passport you have and which country you wish to visit, you may have to go through a long and expensive visa process, presenting all manner of documentation.

Europe has arguably been most successful at erasing borders, but their refugee crisis is leading to a resurgence in border security and identity checks. It seemed that when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 that the world was committed to breaking down the barriers that borders created between us, but since then 65 border walls have been either been built or are in various stages of planning.

With all the money being poured into border security, we shouldn’t just rely on emotion to inform such decisions. Many people in the West continue to suffer from the effects of the recession of 2008–2009, leaving them open to the arguments made by the resurgent far-right. But the reality is that border walls often don’t work to keep people out if they want to enter, and immigration actually produces an economic benefit.

Border walls don’t work

The United States seems to always be focused on its southern border with Mexico during times of economic hardship or when there’s serious concern about national security. The latest example is Donald Trump’s commitment to build a wall and make Mexico pay, despite the fact there was a net loss of 140,000 Mexican immigrants between 2009 and 2014. However, when walls are built, people find another way around them if they really want to get to a particular country. It’s been found that since 2008, “there have been more people simply overstaying their visas in the U.S. than illegal border crossers,” so even if border walls are effective at getting people to stop crossing by land, they’ll find another way in.

The same is true in Europe, where border fences aren’t stopping migrants from reaching the continent, but are simply forcing them to take more dangerous routes. The fences along Turkey’s borders with Bulgaria and Greece force those fleeing the war in Syria to take the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, which has resulted in the death of more than 400 people in the first six weeks of 2016.

Immigration has economic benefits

This renewed focus on borders has also allowed those advocating open borders a new platform for their argument, and it’s hard to ignore their economic message. Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists, observed that the argument that refugees will take our jobs is false. Instead, “they create more employment opportunities. A bigger workforce means more consumption, more demand, more jobs.” This lines up with the studies that have shown that immigrants are more likely to be self-employed, meaning they’re more likely to create their own employment, as well as jobs for others.

The rhetoric surrounding the impact of immigrants on the job market aren’t the only false narrative being thrown around. The conversation around immigrants in Britain has become quite divisive, where it’s claimed by those opposed to admitting foreigners that many of them come to take advantage of the country’s benefit system, but nothing could be further from the truth. A study has shown that “between 1995 and 2011 the migrants made a positive contribution of more than £4 billion ($6.4 billion) to Britain, compared with an overall negative contribution of £591 billion for native Britons.” They also found that immigrants are less likely to take advantage of public services.

The arguments presented by the media, created by the parties of the far-right to turn an increasingly desperate Western populace against immigrants, are false. Immigrants make a positive contribution, and it’s no wonder they find the West attractive. Our system of borders entrenches global inequality, trapping their homelands in relative poverty.

Borders create more than a physical divide

We live in a world where capital flows freely across the globe, but people are stopped at nearly every line we’ve drawn across its land masses. This ensures rich countries stay rich, and poor countries stay poor.

Bregman explains this issue by writing that

Billions of people are forced to sell their labor at a fraction of the price that they would get for it in the [West], all because of borders. Borders are the single biggest cause of discrimination in all of world history. Inequality gaps between people living in the same country are nothing in comparison to those between separated global citizenries.

Borders keep the world divided. They allow a small elite to gather the world’s wealth for themselves, while setting everyone else against each other. Workers in the West are told to dislike immigrants because they’ll take their jobs and accept lower wages, yet they’re also told the same about workers who are in the developing world. Somehow we never turn our attention to those at the top and ask why such vast wealth inequities exist, and if we’d all be better off if they were corrected.

If workers could go anywhere, would companies still be able to pay those in some parts of the world so much less than those living elsewhere? Would the opening of borders lead to an equalization of global living standards? It’s quite clear that our current border system isn’t working.

Border walls don’t stop people from getting to other countries if they really want to. Immigrants serve as targets for self-serving political leaders who want to divide the masses, allowing those with the power to get away with benefiting from the structural inequality that borders create.

It’s time to adopt a more humane policy. It’s time to get rid of borders, and allow people to move where they want. This won’t happen overnight, but it’s the only way to address global inequality, attack the power of the elite, and create a global solidarity movement for a better world.

Workers of the world must unite, for open borders and the end of global inequality.

Paris Marx writes about the growing divide within the capitalist system, the movements for alternative forms of economic organization, and ways of living that challenge traditional narratives. He occasionally makes videos on YouTube, and is very active in sharing news and opinions on Twitter.

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