April 18, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The Left Wants to #AbolishICE. It Should Want Open Borders, Too
All the old arguments--over the wall, amnesty, "illegals"--would die. Hallelujah.
Popular on leftist Twitter is #AbolishICE. You’ll find the hashtag attached to stories about the moral and political abominations of Immigration and Costumes Enforcement, the agency tasked with prosecuting federal immigration law.
The latest is about Manuel Duran Ortega, a journalist for a Spanish-language newspaper in Memphis. ICE arrested him in early April while he was covering a protest. He’s known for challenging the local police and its cooperation with ICE.
ICE says detention is due to his being an “immigration fugitive.” It says he ignored a 2007 leave order. His attorneys say he’s being punished for doing his job: informing the citizenry and holding power to account.
While I think abolishing ICE is worth debating, abolition is a political solution that’s essentially reactionary. We need a forward-thinking solution grounded in policy. That’s why leftist Twitter should focus less on ICE and more on open borders.
An easy solution
The reason we have an “immigration problem” is because we closed the borders. In the past, immigrant farm workers came and went according to the seasons. When the harvest was done, they’d go home, or move on to the next harvest. All of this ended in the years after Sept. 11, 2001. That’s when the southern border was militarized. Since then, immigration has become a problem very much of our own making.
We have the power to unmake it, and the solution is easy: open the border. With open borders, we would not have as much need to spend billions on border patrol and agents of the state who appear to have no compunction about looking like jack-booted thugs willing to tear families apart, violate civil liberties, or even commit crimes.
This is not to say there should be no border security and no enforcement of federal immigration law. I’m not talking about an anarchist fantasy. Nor am I talking about “open borders” in the way President Trump generally means.
My point is to say that laws governing the border and immigration should be relaxed in the same way borders in the European Union are. Capital and commodities are free to cross borders. Humans should be, too. And we’d all benefit from it.
Twice as rich
Opening the border would not only help solve our self-made immigration crisis. It would help solve a problem receiving the most attention on leftist Twitter: inequality.
The hottest debate right now, other than #AbolishICE, is over universal basic income, guaranteed employment, Medicare for all, and other ideas requiring successful arguments in favor of positive liberty. But open borders are the low hanging fruit, because it’s about negative liberty: getting the government out of people’s lives.
If the government did not regulate the border and immigration to such extremes as we are seeing today, we might be experiencing boom times. Some economists estimate that “global worldwide product” could be as high as 147 percent. As one Fortune writer put it in 2016: “Open borders would make the whole world twice as rich.”
Leftists are concerned rightly about economic justice, and there’s much to discuss. But even before we debate the means of wealth redistribution, there’s this to consider: Right now, immigrants are criminally exploited due to deportation fears. It’s apartheid by another name. Open borders deplete the strength of the current legal regime, thus facilitating the immigrant’s ability to fight the exploitation of her labor.
The free movement of people has been a fairly half-hearted goal among leftists, but in light of ICE having gone insane, now is a moment to embrace it wholeheartedly.
Doing so requires taking a position from the inside the larger rubric of neoliberalism (as some leftists understand the term). More unnerving to some leftists is finding common cause with business-minded Republicans who are looking for ways to save the Republican Party from champions of the white nationalist ethno-state.
I’m guessing people like Manuel Duran Ortega would be fine with such alliances. If we had open borders allowing the free flow of capital, commodities and human beings, we would not be stuck in this intractable argument about who qualifies as a legal immigrant. We might not even need to argue about immigration reform and a “pathway to citizenship,” as Republicans like to call it, because anyone who does not want to be a citizen would be free to go home or go through the process as-is.
Indeed, the greatest argument in favor of open borders is that all the old arguments would instantly die. The Democrats need not be stuck between Trump’s wasteful wall and wasteful border security. Republicans wouldn’t be stuck between basic human decency and accusations of amnesty! At the same time, the left would help achieve, or at least address, what it considers the most important political issue.
Abolishing ICE is a political solution to a political problem.
Better to have a policy solution that would endure.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.