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open borders and coronavirus

with 4 comments

I am an advocate of open borders. During the current epidemic, a number of people have asked me if I am changing my mind. In general, open borders help reduce transmission in a number of ways:

  •  Nations and regions vary in their ability to treat illness. Let people move to the place where they need to be to get treatment.
  •  It is better to have some movement and screen people at borders, then to have people be unmonitored and travel unobserved. People with symptoms or people from hard hit areas can be quarantined. As one person said on my Facebook feed, “do you really want to have people bring the disease via underground tunnels?”
  •  People will need all kinds of help getting through this. It may be help from a health care providers, or an elderly person hiring people to bring them food to their house, or an elderly person bringing a relative to live with them, or a supermarket that needs extra workers to keep the shelves stocked.
  •  In general, we need to let people decide which businesses and organizations need to shut down and which can remain open.
  • And of course, diseases diffuse through a population within a specific time period. That means travel and migration can resume normally once that has happened and the contagion is on the wane.

In theory, I can imagine a disease so incredibly deadly that we need to shut down travel and close the borders. But coronavirus doesn’t seem to be that. It’s dangerous and we can perform reasonabe actions, like shutting down mass gatherings and social distancing, that will make the disease more manageable and save lives. So let people move to where they need to go and let’s battle this disease the smart way – not by cracking down on immigrants.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 16, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Posted in uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. I’m not very persuaded by this. It reminds me of libertarians responding to every failing of capitalism by insisting that we just need to try cutting taxes for rich people even more, or a religious community insisting that a disaster occurred because they lacked faith.

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    Adam Wass

    March 17, 2020 at 2:10 am

  2. Adam: Imagine a world where borders are permanently closed in response to illness. Eventually people will need to move. Maybe they got laid off and need to find a job. Or maybe they need to be with ageing parents. Maybe they live in a repressive country.

    Then you have a choice. You can either let me people move legally, quarantine people as needed, and track people with a history of disease. This was the system in place in the US during the Ellis Island era. Many were screened and quarantined to prevent disease at the point of entry. Or, you can have people illegally cross borders and you have no idea where they go.

    On a less dramatic note, as time passes, the economy will change and people will need to move. I’d prefer a world were we work on finding safe ways for people to continue with their lives. Lock downs and banning gatherings may be effective ways of reducing short term transmission, but it’s no way to organize society in the long term. Coronavirus is a serious threat, but there are more constructive ways to respond to it in the long term than closing borders and restricting migration.

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    fabiorojas

    March 17, 2020 at 4:30 am

  3. I am absolutely in favor of open borders nearly all the time, but not right now. Right now, living in a state rated as having one of the most effective response to the pandemic, I wish we had a way to protect ourselves from folks living in states that have not implemented physical distancing, shut down the pubs, etc. If we could trust every place to respond appropriately, that would be different, but until we do, we may need temporary restrictions. And yes, Ellis Island does provide an example of that, but a very bad example. Ellis Island resulted in sending a lot of people back to their deaths rather than providing temporary quarantine, often for conditions like glaucoma that are not even contagious. Obviously we need a different model than that, one in which people can arrive, be quarantined for an appropriate time period, and then move freely. And of course how we protect flight attendants and such in the process of them moving is another important question.

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    Mikaila

    March 18, 2020 at 3:12 am

  4. Admittedly I have the benefit of hindsight in this fast-moving context. Since someone else may soon have even more hindsight than I, the following seems fair game:

    Claim #1: Nations and regions vary in their ability to treat illness. Let people move to the place where they need to be to get treatment.
    Response: Italians with COVID should have been allowed to fly to NYC for treatment?

    Claim #2: It is better to have some movement and screen people at borders, then to have people be unmonitored and travel unobserved. People with symptoms or people from hard hit areas can be quarantined.
    Response: And when they are critically ill, what? They are provided care in the hospitals of the host nation? Regardless of whether they are insured in that country? How are they treated in triage situations?

    Claim #3: People will need all kinds of help getting through this. It may be help from a health care providers, or an elderly person hiring people to bring them food to their house, or an elderly person bringing a relative to live with them, or a supermarket that needs extra workers to keep the shelves stocked.
    Response: Yes people will need help, but unemployment in the United States will soon hit 20%. Help will be available for those who can still pay, or if the state forks out.

    Claim #4: In general, we need to let people decide which businesses and organizations need to shut down and which can remain open.
    Response: I don’t know what this means. Should businesses themselves be able to decide whether to stay open? I don’t think that is viable (infection rates will soar) but we’ll see what happens in Sweden…

    Claim #5: And of course, diseases diffuse through a population within a specific time period. That means travel and migration can resume normally once that has happened and the contagion is on the wane. Response: I don’t think anyone would disagree, but the claim seems to presume an acceptance of closed borders during the pandemic, which contradicts the premise of the whole post.

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    BALTHAZAR

    March 29, 2020 at 10:44 am


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