Wednesday, February 6, 2019

On Open Borders and Free Speech: It Is a Matter of Principle

So, in his State of the Union Address, Donald Trump accused the Democrats of supporting open borders and Democrat Stacy Abrams felt the need to deny this. With both parties committed to denouncing open borders, it seems necessary to explain what open borders are and to address a strawman argument that has come to be associated with it. Let us be clear what open borders are not; supporting open borders does not mean giving up control over borders and the end of national sovereignty. Open borders are a statement of principle that people have a right to come into this country. As with any principle, it is the beginning of a conversation and not a suicide pact. This means that, in practice, there will be situations in which the principle will be violated in order to defend against a clear and present danger. That being said, while certain people, such as terrorists, should not be allowed to enter the country, the burden of proof is on those who wish to restrict immigration to demonstrate that they are acting to protect against a clear and present danger and that their plan is closely tailored to meet that threat.

Consider the example of freedom of speech. I would hope that it is clear to people on both the left and right that free speech has inherent value as a principle. That being said, freedom of speech is not a suicide pact. It does not mean that you can say whatever you want where you want it. For example, free speech does not allow you to undermine national security. It does not even allow you to block traffic. It certainly does not apply when you are on someone else's private property or working for them beyond the hope that the owner or boss will seek to demonstrate their own principled commitment to free speech by going beyond the letter of their legal obligations. How we reconcile the principle of free speech with the many practical restrictions is part of our ongoing conversation and reasonable people are going to disagree about the precise boundaries. That being said, we can embrace free speech as a starting assumption with a very heavy burden of proof on anyone who wishes to restrict free speech to demonstrate the existence of a clear and present danger.

Israel is a good example where there is a clear and present danger from immigration. Those Palestinians who took part in Hamas' March of Return were not trying to enter Israel to look for jobs or to enjoy the Tel Aviv nightlife. Many of them were clearly coming to expropriate the property of Israeli citizens and commit acts of violence. Thus, the IDF was justified in not letting the marchers into Israel and even using violence to stop them. The fact that innocent Palestinians were killed as well does not change this fact. To be considered non-violent, they were under the moral obligation to disassociate themselves from groups like Hamas.

By contrast, Israel has a moral duty to allow the entrance of Sudanese refugees as they are not coming to Israel with violent intent. I would even go so far as to say that allowing refugees with no association with the Arab/Islamic program of destroying Israel is a critical plank for Israel's moral defense against the Palestinians. It would demonstrate that Israel is honestly acting to protect the lives and property of its citizens and not merely to maintain some ethno-state.

Similarly, if there were to arise a radical Hispanic supremacist movement that sought to bring their people into the United States to murder American citizens, then the United States government would have the moral authority to stop such an entrance even to the point of opening fire on a large group of people, including women and children. As with the innocent Palestinians, their failure to make sure they were not associated with those seeking violence means that their deaths lie on their own heads. That being said, it would not be enough to say that some immigrants are criminals because the burden of proof is on the government (even if it might be less than in a criminal trial) to demonstrate that the individual is a threat or at least has allowed themselves to be associated with a terrorist group.

In the cases of both free speech and immigration, while we accept restrictions, they must be implemented in the good faith that those calling for the restrictions and the politicians implementing them actually believe in free speech or immigration as a principle. The moment we recognize the existence of an organized movement that denies the right of immigration to this country in the name of maintaining some kind of white Christian state then such people lose the right to enforce any kind of immigration policy. If they truly believe there is a threat, they can go back and convince us that they have no outside agenda.

The defense of open borders is the fundamental human rights issue of our generation. In a world in which many people are oppressed based on their religion, race, gender or sexual preferences, allowing individuals to take advantage of modern travel to shop for a country that best protects their rights, is a necessity. If you are not willing to take a stand on this issue when it so obviously could help so many demonstrates that you were never serious about individual rights in the first place. Granted, this does not mean no restrictions or an end to borders. I accept that reasonable people are going to disagree with me about precisely where to draw this line. (Some of my readers might even want to accuse me of being a statist for allowing the government to step in and police borders at all.) That being said, I would hope that we could at least accept the right of individuals to immigrate across borders as the start of a conversation. There is nothing radical about such a position. This was official American policy until the late nineteenth-century.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

I think this is one area in which you and I are 100% in agreement. :)