The open-borders position just became a little more popular: Touré, co-host of MSNBC’s The Cycle, spoke out in favor of opening America’s borders on Monday’s show. Beginning his argument with an appeal to helping the lower classes, asking why corporations should be able to do business overseas but ordinary “working class” people couldn’t move to escape corrupt, poor countries, Touré made three claims supporting open borders. First, that increased immigration, far from hurting the economy, will actually give it a massive boost. Second, that increased immigration will not actually hurt wages, but would actually lead to job creation. Finally — and most controversially — Touré argued that by opening our borders, we can weaken the appeal extremist Islam holds, and in doing so protect ourselves from terrorism.
What should we make of this? Touré is in the infotainment business, and perhaps he’s saying things to get attention. But hopefully we aren’t so cynical as to believe that off the bat, and indeed, if, as I wrote about last week, people who study economics for a profession are supporting open borders, then there is likely to be something to these arguments. We owe it to ourselves, and the millions of people suffering in the midst of foreign poverty and corruption, to seriously consider the effects of opening our borders.
Touré’s first two arguments claim that an open-borders policy will improve the American economy. Specifically, he cited research that shows that immigrants are more entrepreneurial than native-born citizens, and that over the past decade immigrants in the U.S. created over 450,000 new jobs. One relatively recent study found that immigration is great for job creation, with “as many as 262 more native-born workers employed for every 100 foreign-born workers with advanced U.S. degrees” in STEM fields. As for the effect of increased immigration on wages, we know that immigrants really only have a negative impact on the wages of high-school dropouts. Touré also cited a study that found that opening the borders could create a 50-150% boost in world GDP. The evidence is pretty clear that immigration is a economic boon for immigrants and native-born residents alike (the Heritage Foundation’s recent report finding trillions of dollars in costs and little benefit from immigration has been rightly criticized for its poor methodology).
More controversial is Touré’s argument that opening the borders will protect Americans from terrorism by reducing the appeal Muslim extremism has for residents of poor Muslim countries. Granted, the reasons why extremist Islam is appealing are complex, but Touré’s reasoning certainly seems plausible: he is right that a lack of well-being and opportunity, in the form of poverty and corruption, makes people desperate and angry, and such people tend to be attracted to extremist movements (for a historical example, think of the popularity of Nazism in postwar, inflation-plagued, humiliated Germany). But if you make it easier for people to escape this poverty and corruption and give them more opportunities to improve their lives, you take away at least one reason for the appeal of extremism.
If one compares a map of world’s poorest countries with the countries where Islam is the predominant religion, one will see a good deal of overlap: the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Central and Southeast Asia are home to many of the poorest countries in the world. Thus, it stands to reason that by allowing residents of these countries to emigrate to the U.S., we can make inroads into defeating Islamic extremism.
The alleged problem with this, however, is that it won’t just be peaceful people who want to improve their lives who will enter the country. We would also have potential terrorists taking advantage of the lax entry requirements. This assumes an open-borders policy would literally let anyone in the country without any observation. But it would certainly be possible, and reasonable, to conduct background checks on those entering the country, allowing those who pass to continue on and detaining those who are flagged or are otherwise suspicious.
We stand to benefit a great deal from open borders. It might be true that as things stand, open borders are not a politically feasible option, but the evidence is on its side. One thing is for certain: The harder it is for people to enter our country, the longer we fail to improve our economy, and the longer we keep people trapped in places where extremist movements offer appeal. If we want to improve—and protect—our lives and the lives of others, the best approach to immigration policy is to open our borders.