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the path to open borders

I was speaking about open borders to a European television show* and they asked bluntly, “Open Borders is a far off goal. Is it even reasonable to think about such a policy?” I responded that yes, we can think about broad policy change. I then mentioned how people never thought the Berlin Wall would be gone, but it happened. Still, one can ask: what path can be taken to implement such a radical change in policy?

In the US context, I think there is a reasonable, if extremely challenging, path to open borders. The intuition is that there are smaller steps that are possible and lead in the right direction. Closed borders are not one policy, they are a bundle of policies that each need to be attacked separately:

  1. No Deportations:Simple to explain and would have an immediate impact. Let people live without fear. The only people who are to be removed are those subject to criminal investigations and we should use the system of extradition to deal with crime.
  2. Visa simplification: I have learned that haggling over the visa system is a waste of time. You can spend enormous effort battling a complex administrative system and get nothing for your effort. Instead, propose a massive simplification. Simplification is simple to understand and would create a mass of people who can obey the law overnight. For example, we might have three categories: a student visa that would be automatically renewed as long as the student was enrolled in an institution of higher education; a visa for short term workers that could be renewed as long as the person shows employment; and a long term visa for people who wish to permanently reside in the US.
  3. The bridge to citizenship: The US is not based hereditary status or an aristocracy. Anyone in the world can be an American. The law should reflect that. Once we stop deporting people, and we stop making laws that are nearly impossible to obey, we should make it easy to become a citizen after a few years.
  4. Open borders: Abolish all quotas, let anyone come. If they live crime free and pay their taxes for a few years, let them stay as long as they want.

A dream? Sure, but we dreamed the end of slavery, the end of serfdom, the end of apartheid, the end of fascism, and the end of the Berlin Wall … and they happened.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

* If they use the material, I’ll post it.

Written by fabiorojas

September 16, 2015 at 12:01 am

One Response

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  1. Next question: can we have open borders as well as the necessary level of social solidarity such that the general public is willing to pay the taxes to ensure good quality social services for all? I seem to recall that there being a strongly negative relationship between the generosity of welfare states and the openness of their borders.

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    Talk Cheap

    September 16, 2015 at 12:57 am


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