Are Open Borders the Solution to the Refugee Crisis?


Activists and experts debate who really benefits from opening borders: migrants or corporations

(Oct. 12, 2015) Around the world, borders are tightening as fast as they are dissolving. Even as thousands of desperate migrants from war-torn and impoverished parts of the Global South cross into the European Union, Donald Trump is vowing to build an invincible U.S.-Mexico border wall. Is it time to rethink borders? Or even to envision a world without them?

Within the immigration reform debate, there’s been little serious grappling with the concept of borders, why we need them, and what, in a globalized world, the porous divide between nations really means for the people who happen to live on either side and for the families that are separated.

Why can’t people flow across borders as freely as goods and services do under global capitalism? The idea of open migration as the human analogue to “free trade” disturbs unions that fear this would weaken protections for U.S. workers. Avowed socialist Bernie Sanders recently complicated his generally pro-immigrant stance by voicing opposition to “open borders” as a threat to labor. Others on the Left, however, argue that free movement is a human right.

Whether you’re a refugee-rights activist, a labor organizer for low-wage workers, or a politician trying to calm constituents’ fears of newcomers, everyone is invested in the borders that both define and divide our identities and our communities—for better or worse. To explore “open borders,” In These Times brought together Catherine Tactaquin, executive director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Merced; John Lee, a blogger on the libertarian-leaning site OpenBorders; and Prerna Lal, an attorney and clinical instructor at the UC Berkeley School of Law’s East Bay Community Law Center who was formerly undocumented.

What would be a rational response to the current panic over immigration?

CATHERINE: First, on either side of a border, as well as in transit, we absolutely need to respect and enforce the human rights of migrants, regardless of their immigration status, nationality or citizenship.

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