Open Borders Day: For Humanity and Beauty

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EspañolAs I hit the gym this morning, my training partner mentioned that today is Open Borders Day, as promoted by and now in its second year. Given that freedom of movement is my greatest area of policy interest, and I’d not even heard of such a day, one gets a sense for how niche the ideal is as far as advocacy goes.

We proceeded to perplex over how to broaden the appeal — to the head and to the heart — for what is, as Bryan Caplan writes, “the single most important policy issue of the modern world.”

How could it not be, we wondered? Who would not want the freedom to travel and work wherever he sees fit? It also beckons as a way to double world economic output — “a growth miracle,” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research — and at a cost of less than nothing.

Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security secretary from 2009 to 2013. Source:

And yet, the momentum appears to be going against freedom of movement, which almost everyone enjoyed up until about a century ago. In the United States, for example, the Department of Homeland Security spent in excess of US$73 billion in fiscal year 2013 and wasted the time of 240,000 employees (pp. 3 and 7). That cost is set to increase under the supposed “reform” that many nativist pundits decry.

I should add that of all my writing and media appearances, no other topic comes even close to garnering such fierce criticism — so strong is the xenophobia that exists in the United States, as it does elsewhere in the world.

So how does one turn the ship around? Let me offer two starting points or themes that I believe carry broad appeal and moral weight: humanity and beauty.


The fact is that citizenship is a monopolistic union, and the most pernicious kind. Many of us are fortunate to be born into a powerful union with relatively good opportunities within a specific jurisdiction. We also enjoy the freedom to at least travel to almost anywhere on the globe, while work and longer stays remain severely stymied for all but the very wealthy.

Many people are far less fortunate, and on account of no wrongdoing on their part. They are simply the losers in an arbitrary lottery, non-members of the preferred unions, and therefore rejected and cast aside.

The biggest losers, with no home to go to, are the stateless. They have slipped through the cracks of heartless immigration and citizenship bureaucracies. With no home nation or nationality, they are illegal wherever they find themselves.

Consider the case of Mikhail Sebastian, born in the former Soviet Union but not a citizen of any of the subsequent nations. His long journey for a home found him stranded on the island of American Samoa for more than a year — confined to such a degree that he neared suicide.

Maria Full of Grace tells the story of a drug mule and expecting mother from Colombia.

Of course, he fares better than the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who die along the US-Mexico border each year. Be it from murder or dehydration, their crime is merely wanting a better life, to escape the corruption under which they suffer.

Such blatant injustices compel us to continue calling attention to them. One glimmer of hope in this regard is the rising awareness that film and social media offer. Just now, for example, I was chatting via Viber with someone in Russia who used to work in the United States, but who no longer has a visa to do so and has had to return. The victims of arbitrary rules are now more visible, and films such as 7 Soles (2009) and Maria Full of Grace (2004) are brilliant works in this genre.


As David Shellenberger wrote of Venezuela’s descent under the weight of totalitarian controls, “Government creates chaos. Order comes from liberty.”

Human movement, which flows to where there is relative freedom, is a demonstration of harmonious action and individual choice. It allows humans to pursue and realize their dreams, and I’m reminded of two young men from the United States who sought to cycle across Russia, despite having no legal right to stay in the country beyond 90 days. Such peaceful endeavors and civil disobedience merit celebration, not condemnation or mitigation.

Last night I also had the privilege to attend a concert with Sting and Paul Simon, two performing artists of the highest caliber. One could not help but be struck by the high degree of specialization and talent on offer, with seemingly new instrumentalists on stage for each song.

Perhaps the high point of the night occurred as Sting, originally from England, recalled his first arrival in the United States in the 1970s. He noted his respect for Simon and the deep satisfaction that came with the opportunity to perform on stage together.

Sting then proceeded to sing one of Simon’s classics:

Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America
~ Paul Simon

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