By Walker Bosch
That is the message of Phillipe Legraine in his interview with the New York Time's Freakonomics blog. Moral viewpoints drive policy debates across a wide spectrum of issue areas, and immigration is no different.
Legraine makes convincing economic and moral cases for open migration (Melissa Lafsky, "The Case for Open Immigration: A Q&A with Phillipe Legraine," October 17, 2007). Why, he asks, is it acceptable for migration across national boundaries to be limited to the rich and skilled workers of the world? Migration both between and within nations is one of the most effective means to better the lives of the poor. We all agree that it is good for Americans to migrate throughout the nation in search of better opportunities. Why does this same principle not apply to Mexicans? Why should their human concerns be worth any less consideration?
Economically, Legraine says that removing immigration controls could more than double the size of the world's economy. Further, the diversity engendered by immigration helps to fuel the innovation that keeps economies strong. Look no further, he says, than the founders of high-tech giants Google, Intel, eBay, or Yahoo!, all of whom immigrated to the United States as children. Of course, this viewpoint implies fully open borders, which will not happen anytime in the foreseeable future. Fair enough.
Legraine's moral case for immigration is what hits this reader hardest however. Short of fully open borders, a new viewpoint that stops viewing immigrants as apart from ourselves, as foreigners, but instead recognizes their common humanity would have very real policy implications. Immigrants would be treated as members of families, not simply as workers, and family reunification would be made more accessible. Immigrants would be seen as members of communities, not as invaders of American space, and more active integration polices would be proposed. Immigrants would be seen as the contributors to the economy rather than as drains on social services or job thieves, and work visas could be made more easily available.
The moral viewpoint of law and order has to this point prevailed in discussions of immigration. Perhaps it is time to push forward more prominently an alternative morality that acknowledges the accident of birth that determined that I would be prosperous and others would be left needing, and that the interests of the rich are not worth more than the interests of the poor. Pie in the sky? Probably. But nothing ever changed by doing nothing.
By Walker Bosch, Graduate Teaching Assistant and Master of Public Policy Candidate, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.
From mid-April to mid-May 2010, selected students from Professor Katherine Fennelly's course "PA5452: Immigration and Public Policy" are sharing thoughts on their readings with IHRC readers.