What are the leftist proposals for borders and immigration?
June 18, 2018 7:49 PM   Subscribe

I am in agreement with the majority of leftists who think the current situation with ICE and border control in the United States is horrific and inhumane. However, I'm not familiar with realistic alternative approaches to immigration. I want to be able to answer the question "if we don't stop people at the border, or deport them if we find them later, what do we do instead that won't lead to unchecked immigration?" I'm looking for articles and essays; I'll be honest and say I'm not going to read a book.

I often see what I'll call "Twitter leftists" saying that we shouldn't have borders at all, but this doesn't seem like a realistic or logical solution to me, especially in the short term. The US could support a lot more people than we currently do if taxation were fair, but could we support unchecked immigration? What does it even mean to "support" immigrants, or have a government, if there are no borders? How could there be public services or representational government if you can't define a population?

Another opinion I see frequently is "if the US hadn't destabilized [country], there wouldn't be a flood of immigrants." Okay, but we don't have a time machine, and should we really interfere further in other countries? That hasn't historically ended well.

So what do people who know more than I do think about this issue? European perspectives are okay too although there are obvious legal, cultural and historical differences.
posted by AFABulous to Law & Government (20 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
The US could support a lot more people than we currently do if taxation were fair, but could we support unchecked immigration

Immigrants contribute net to GDP. They’re not a drain; they drive growth. Immigration is how the US became a rich country.

What does it even mean to "support" immigrants, or have a government, if there are no borders?

“No borders” is a little deceptive. In a free immigration system, borders continue to define the extent of a government’s authority. But they do not prevent the free movement of individuals. Think about the borders between states, or between countries in the EU. Each government has its territory, but there is freedom of movement between territories.

How could there be public services or representational government if you can't define a population?

The population is whoever is in the territory. You might as well say “how can we allow people to freely have children? The population will always be changing!”

Free immigration made this country great, and it could make it great again. Restrictions on immigration are racist, plain and simple.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:22 PM on June 18, 2018 [75 favorites]

Punishing employers via sanctions and requiring the use of e-verify may not be "leftist", but they are proposals that address a root of illegal immigration - the draw of jobs - while punishing those who exploit the cheap labor for profit, rather than punishing the workers.
posted by gatorae at 9:14 PM on June 18, 2018 [20 favorites]

If you want to limit employment options to immigrants (presumably to maintain high wages), the leftist approach is simple: strong unions.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:18 PM on June 18, 2018 [9 favorites]

The US propped up Right-wing, even fascist dictators in Central and South America, prevented countries from self-governing. The US is the major consumer of the drugs that fuel many of the problems in countries people are fleeing. Yeah, I think we should be providing asylum, lots of it. And helping countries self-govern, not be corrupt, maintain human rights. (try this at home, too) Let's stop prosecuting pot, make it legal, and seriously address our real drug problems.

People emigrate for financial reasons; the US could have guest worker programs allowing workers to come do the very many jobs American workers are not going to do. Many of the financial immigrants would go home after the picking season if they didn't have to pay someone to help them get back in next harvest season.

We have the world's longest undefended border with Canada. Yes, some people try to get in from the north, but Canada has a healthy economy, human rights, health care. Canadians are happy to be Canadians.
posted by theora55 at 9:21 PM on June 18, 2018 [28 favorites]

I don't know if you specifically wanted 'Left' as in Marxian solutions, or are open to practical alternatives to putting up hard borders and detention centres that emphasized open borders and kept the welfare of international migrants in mind as opposed to the destination states only. Since you said Europe was ok, here is what the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants said in 2015 in regards to the European responses to the Syrian refugee crisis:
"Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay," Mr. Crépeau stressed. "Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, detention, withholding access to basics such as shelter, food or water and using threatening language or hateful speech will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come to Europe."

"Territorial sovereignty is about controlling the border, knowing who comes in and who leaves. It has never been about sealing the border to migration," the expert said. "Democratic borders are porous by nature. Providing migrants and asylum seekers with legal and safe mobility solutions will ensure such a control."

The Special Rapporteur urged Europeans to start focusing on regaining control of their external border from the smugglers by increasing mobility solutions available to most migrants, investing in integration measures – especially through supporting the action of cities – and developing a strong public discourse on diversity and mobility as cornerstones for contemporary European societies.

"If Europeans want their governments to regain control of their borders, then they must urge them to bank on mobility and offer migrants and asylum seekers official channels to enter and stay in Europe," the human rights expert said.

"Opening up the regular labour markets through smart visas allowing people to come to look for work and incentivise them to return if they don’t find the job in question would allow for a much better regulated and controlled official labour market," Mr. Crépeau noted.

However, he cautioned, such measures must be supported with sanctions against employers who exploit irregular migrants in underground labour markets (in agriculture, construction, care or hospitality). "This would considerably reduce the pull factor they exercise on irregular migrants and further reduce the market for recruiters, smugglers and exploitative employers," the expert said.

"In addition, there is an obvious urgent need for Europe to create, jointly with other Global North countries, a massive resettlement programme for refugees like Syrians and Eritreans that could offer protection to 1.5 or 2 million of them over the next five years," he said, highlighting that such a programme would impact the market for smugglers and allow European countries to decide who comes and make appropriate preparations.
I know you asked about immigrants, but a common complaint by Europeans was that many asylum seekers/refugees were in actuality 'economic migrants'. The southern border of the US gets a steady stream of both and for many it is difficult to tell to which category they belong (Myth #2).
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 10:19 PM on June 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Radiolab did a three part series about shifting policies on the Mexico/US border recently. It's called Border Trilogy. Something I found really interesting in the pieces was learning that how the US treats that border is very mutable and has shifted dramatically in the last few decades. Different policies have had different, often unintended impacts. It's worth a listen and while it doesn't answer your questions here, it might give some new directions to your questions or understanding about this.
posted by latkes at 11:03 PM on June 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don’t have answers for you, but thank you for asking the question. Following to learn.
posted by greermahoney at 11:30 PM on June 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

Possibly start by catching up on the Mexican War which isn't taught in our high schools.
posted by johngoren at 12:40 AM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know you said no books, so this isn't a recommendation exactly, but I'm making my way through The Land of Open Graves by Jason De Leon, an anthropologist who studies border zones in the Southwest. He harshly criticizes the current policy of "prevention through deterrence," which effectively makes it so that anyone who wants to cross the border has to do so in extremely dangerous areas with high risk of death (from environmental or other factors). To De Leon, this policy is a killing machine that relies on migrant deaths to prevent and deter immigration. Compounding this are the mass deportations of the last decade, which saw millions of people ejected. That broke up existing families and social ties, and forced people through this extremely dangerous border zone to reunite with their families or return to the places they've always known as home. People often go through this process multiple times, following multiple deportations, risking death or serious injury every time.

A sensible border policy has to recognize the motivations that people have for entering and reentering the country, and it has to approach deportations as drastic actions, not a matter of course. It cannot rely on the natural harshness of the Arizona desert to deter people, as the US does now, because that just leads to death. These deaths are the result of policy. You have to either allow asylum, or accept that people will die. Migrants will attempt to come to the US regardless of the policies in place; the biggest difference policy can make is whether those migrants survive the journey.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:50 AM on June 19, 2018 [13 favorites]

I don't know the intricate details, but my org supports open borders/no borders. People free to move wherever. We're also heavily committed to international revolution though, so it's kinda like, yeah there might be logistical issues if you were the only country with no borders as such, but that's very much only a transitional stage for us. If everywhere has open borders, then a lot of those issues go away. Even more issues go away if you assume an accompanying end to imperialism, sanctions and the like.
I guess the core part of the theory is our belief that, as a recent post put it, "No one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark."
If we stop making other countries the mouths of sharks, then concerns about huge, destabilising border flows go away. That involves lots of unconditional aid to other countries, the ending of profiteering business endeavours, drastic anti-climate change actions and many other changes. Unity of the international proletariat.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:31 AM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, not to refute mr_roboto as such, because that's a reality of how trade unions often operate, but strong unions ending employment options for immigrants is very much against our ideas.
Unfortunately, the Australian trade union movement keeps pushing these ideas, "keep Australian jobs", "Jobs for every Aussie" etc. We consider this to be blatant racism on their part. We suppor the trade unions in many things, but that whole angle they keep pushing is fucked up. So we work on showing them that racism is a tool of the oppressive employer classes, that to support such ideas is ultimately to harm the union movement itself. The idea that the limitiations on jobs and pay are dependent upon a small national population are corrosive, the problem is always the bourgeoisie, and they are always our enemy. Any person deserves an income, any worker deserves a job. The limited view trade unions have of these struggles is one of their main problems as institutions.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:37 AM on June 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

The left generally wants no limit on immigration and work visas for all.

Reason: The only reason why immigration is illegal is because employers want to ensure they have an underclass they can enslave and exploit. It's perfectly logical. If anyone REALLY wanted to stop "them" from taking "our" jobs, the solution is so simple. Set up an online system for authenticating employee SSNs on employers' payrolls, and then fine EMPLOYERS who employ people without a valid work SSN. Anytime you want to end an undesirable practice, whichever entity is profiting the most from this practice must be forced to use their resources to stop it.

Example: Want to curb credit card fraud? Force credit card companies swallow the cost of fraud. And BAM! Like magic, credit card companies will come up with amazing, efficient, superb anti-fraud systems. If instead you chase individual fraudsters using taxpayer money, or make consumers shoulder the burden, fraud escalates due to how little resources are being put towards stopping the problem.

It has never made sense to send police, border patrol, and ICE - funded with taxpayer money - to catch individual illegal immigrants. Immigrants are so desperate for a decent life that they will risk getting caught, try to slip through the system's loopholes, even accept slavery and exploitation of the price of giving their kids a chance in this country. Our police forces won't deter them. You know what will? Employers saying, Sorry, no can do, we will get fined millions of dollars if we are caught hiring you illegally. If there's no work, they will not come here. "Problem" solved.

Spoiler: Arizona tried this already in 2011. As a result of employers being forced to authenticate SSNs, nobody could employ illegal labor. Immigrants emptied out of the state. And AZ crops rotted in the fields.

Now connect the dots. Farm owners lost tens of millions of dollars because anti-immigrant laws worked TOO WELL and they no longer had access to slave labor. And yet they refused to offer to pay workers enough to attract a legal workforce. Why? Why would they voluntarily choose to lose tens of millions of dollars?

Answer: because they fucking knew they'd get the anti-immigrant laws repealed. They knew they'd get their slave labor back next year. They had the money to buy the politicians to make that happen. They'd rather do that than commit themselves to a legal farm operation. Slaves = profits.

This is why the left wants everyone to be legal automatically. Legal workers don't work for slavery wages. Legal workers have at least some semblance of power against their employers. Legal workers can unionize or go to the courts. Don't we all want this? Even the most right-wingiest of folks just want to compete with migrants on an equal footing. "We" don't have jobs because we are competing against slaves. At the end of the day, isn't slavery the real problem here? What the hell kind of propaganda has allowed us to think that the problem is illegal immigration instead?
posted by MiraK at 7:17 AM on June 19, 2018 [99 favorites]

Not leftist, but the most recent serious effort to overhaul immigration policy in the US was the Gang of Eight effort in 2013. The proposed bill had full Democrat support and more than enough Republican support in the Senate to pass 68-32. Then it got killed in the House by the Republicans, was never allowed to come up for debate and vote. I can't give you a pithy summary of the bill. It's complicated, because immigration is complicated.

One key historically of American immigration policy historically is we want to allow immigrants in but keep the "less desireable" people second class / "illegal" so that they have fewer rights. We want their labor, but not to pay them fairly or give them benefits of citizenship. (Apologies for the offensive language in quotes there, but I think it fairly characterizes how policy makers see things.)
posted by Nelson at 8:16 AM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm going to recommend a couple of podcasts.

The most recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast is called "General Chapman's Last Stand", and it's about the change in migration patterns (specifically between Mexico and the US) over the last 40 years and how that is a result of the increasing militarization of the border. It's fascinating, and like much of Gladwell's stuff, turns the accepted understanding on its head.

Until the late 1980s, Mexican migration was circular: it was easy to cross the border, so young men came to the US to work as laborers for 3/4 of the year, and then returned home to their villages and families. This went on for generations, until the changes in the 1980s and 1990s hardened the border and made it too costly and dangerous to go back and forth so much. At which point the migrants stopped going home and became permanent (often undocumented) US residents.

(Note that the podcast speaks only to Mexican immigration, not the Central American immigration often linked to political turmoil.)

The other podcast I would recommend is Radiolab, which recently did a 3-parter about immigration called "The Border Trilogy", which dives much deeper than Gladwell into how risky crossing the border is now and the political drivers behind the changes. Fascinating but upsetting stuff (TW for animal harm and some grisly descriptions).

Neither of these necessarily answer the question of what should we do, but they provide a lot of useful context for thinking about the issue.
posted by suelac at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I don't know if you mean "leftists" or, you know, center left, but this series of articles from the end of last year might be useful reading:

Can we have a humane immigration policy?

What would humane immigration policy actually look like?

This list of 5 improvements may be helpful as well.

This author has a bunch more to say on immigration that is broken down into practical steps that focus on laws and policy that Democrats should support.

(She also says we should concede about the "useless wall" in favor of other policy reforms, which I have trouble swallowing personally.)
posted by vunder at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2018

There's a fair amount of ambivalence. Paul Krugman, 2010:
Just a quick note: my take on the politics of immigration is that it divides both parties, but in different ways.

Democrats are torn individually (a state I share). On one side, they favor helping those in need, which inclines them to look sympathetically on immigrants; plus they’re relatively open to a multicultural, multiracial society. I know that when I look at today’s Mexicans and Central Americans, they seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America.

On the other side, however, open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.

So Democrats have mixed feelings about immigration; in fact, it’s an agonizing issue.

Republicans, on the other hand, either love immigration or hate it. The business-friendly wing of the party likes inexpensive workers (and would really enjoy a huge guest-worker program that would both provide such workers and ensure that they can neither vote nor, in practice, unionize). But the cultural/nativist/tribal conservatives hate having these alien-looking, alien-sounding people on American soil.

So immigration is an issue that divides Republicans one from another, not within each individual’s heart.
Christopher Jencks, The Immigration Charade, New York Review of Books, 2007. Behind a subscriber wall, but here's a copy.
There are two basic strategies for limiting the number of illegal immigrants in the United States: policing the border and policing employers. Policing the border antagonizes people who have little political influence. Policing employers antagonizes people who have quite a lot of influence. Thus while immigration reform usually promises more policing of both the border and employers, it usually delivers bigger changes along the border than at worksites. ...

The Border Patrol now estimates that it catches about a third of the people who try to cross the Mexican Border illegally. It sends almost everyone it catches back to Mexico, where they are free to try again. Those who keep trying are thus almost certain to get across eventually. Building more fences and hiring more Border Patrol agents will probably increase the fraction of illegal immigrants who are caught, but modest increases are unlikely to have a big effect on the number of people who eventually make it across. In order to do that, the penalty for getting caught would have to be increased. Threat of imprisonment for six months, for example, might significantly reduce the number of people attempting to enter. But such a policy would also poison relations with Mexico, infuriate immigrant groups in the United States, offend many American voters, and cost a lot of money. ...

[An additional reason that tightening border security is ineffective: Visa Overstays Outnumber Illegal Border Crossings, Trend Expected to Continue.]

Policing the places where immigrants work can also reduce the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States, because it can reduce the number of jobs open to them and thus eliminate a principal reason for coming here. Nonetheless, the United States has never made much effort to reduce employers’ willingness to hire illegal immigrants. ...

If the administration successfully implements its “no-match” program, demand for illegal workers will diminish, but it will not disappear. The SSA takes a long time to identify employers who submit a lot of unmatched Social Security numbers. That means workers with fake credentials can find a job, hold it until the SSA catches up with their employer, and then move on to a new job. A better long-term solution would be for the SSA to replace today’s Social Security card with a tamper-proof card that included both a photo and information on whether the person was a citizen, a permanent resident authorized to work here, or a temporary resident with permission to work here until some specified date. The employer could then determine the legal status of all job applicants before making an offer. Moreover, courts could assume that employers who hired undocumented workers knew what they were doing. Civil libertarians have traditionally opposed such an identification system, but 86 percent of Americans now support the idea. ...

Many employers would accept more stringent penalties for hiring illegal immigrants in the future if that were the only way to legalize their current workers, and many immigrant groups would do the same. On the other side, many conservative activists might accept legalization of today’s illegal immigrants if that were the only way to ensure a crackdown on hiring illegal immigrants in the future. In principle, therefore, a deal should be possible.

But this deal turns out to have a fatal flaw. Legalization can be implemented within a few years, while penalties for hiring illegal immigrants have to be enforced indefinitely. That means employers get what they want right away, while opponents of illegal immigration have to wait. In view of the federal government’s miserable record on enforcement, no sensible conservative—indeed no sensible person of any political persuasion—would now accept mere promises. The conservative mantra is therefore “enforcement first.” For many employers that sounds like the road to bankruptcy. They want “legalization first.” As long as each side insists on getting what it wants before the other side does, no deal is possible and illegal immigration, with all its unhappy consequences, will persist.
posted by russilwvong at 12:54 PM on June 19, 2018 [10 favorites]

This Vox article covers a lot of points that you might be interested in on the question of open borders.

This website, referenced in the beginning of the article, is full of information arguing in favor of open borders, and may also answer some of your questions about how exactly that would work/why many people advocate for it. There's a ton of info so it can be overwhelming - their FAQ Page is a good place to start.
posted by jouir at 4:57 PM on June 19, 2018

The left is pretty split on this. There are absolutely people on the left who worry about impact on labor supply (and hence wages) and impact on moves towards more generous benefits systems. (For all these reasons, the wealthy wing of the right supports immigration way more than you here about these days: The Wall Street Journal editorial pages famously argued "There will be open borders" should be in the Constitution. The main interview in jouir's Vox link immediately above is with Bryan Caplan, a fairly doctrinaire free marketeer.)

Themes I see among leftist commenters on the issue who are not pro-open border: Non-racist policies and rhetoric; favoring refugees and victims of instability (esp US influenced disruption); more support once people arrive; changes in policy (esp trade agreements) that cause disruptions abroad; more aggressive US support to crises; more transparency in immigration laws and bureaucracy; better funding of 'deciders' to process applications cases fairly and *way* more quickly than people do now.
posted by mark k at 10:45 PM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned what is happening in Vancouver.

While open borders would enable the poor to move freely for opportunities, they also allow the rich to move to wherever has the best lifestyle, lowest taxes, best services, etc. The rich will displace middle class residents of those areas, who in turn displace the poor somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the finite nature of the planet is starting to become much more apparent. The most likely scenario is that open borders would accelerate the growth in income inequality.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an immigrant myself. On the individual level, I love the freedom. But... I have also seen the social impact of mass migration on people who cannot or don’t want to move. I don’t think there are any easy answers.
posted by clark at 6:39 AM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Our system two years ago? Illegal immigration was on the decline. So even if we just went back to where we were, that's not a terrible plan. That said? We're *all* immigrants here, or descendants of immigrants, and pretty much every study shows that strong immigration makes us a stronger country, so here goes.

It also would be nice to see if folks have job offers in the US - and those jobs are paying exactly the same as if they hired citizens - we just let all of those folks in, pending a quick background check. If we're not training enough people domestically to fill the jobs, and if people want to move here, help our economy, and help build this country? Yeah, that's a no brainer. Otherwise those jobs go overseas, as do the tax revenues, and we have less to work with.

For illegal immigrants, if they've committed a serious crime (here or at home), we should continue to spend effort to find them and send them out; that's the group we really don't want. If they're not criminal, and >99% aren't, don't spend a whole lot of effort tracking them down; that costs money, and no one wins.

Alternatively, if illegal immigration is an issue we want to stop? Instead of going after the folks with the least power in this scenario, go after the employers who employ illegal immigrants, and/or the people providing them paperwork to hide. Both of those groups have vastly more power, and are the ones triggering the illegal immigration... so do that, instead of punching individuals, families and children.

The problem with stopping illegal immigration is that some industries absolute depend on it for labor; US farming would potentially be decimated, and that's a bad thing.

Otherwise? We should setup clearer guidelines of who qualifies for asylum/refugee status, so we don't have this argument every other year. There's a difference between an economic immigrant (came seeking jobs, may or may not be skilled labor) and a refugee (came fleeing death, more likely to die if we refuse them entry).
posted by talldean at 11:13 AM on June 22, 2018

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