Open Immigration as Humanitarian Necessity

Freddie DeBoer has what I think is a great idea. Rather than using the military for “humanitarian intervention” around the world, why not open up our immigration policies to take in those who find themselves oppressed or in danger in other countries?

It’s a cliche at this point that the past decade of American foreign policy has been dominated by the idea of humanitarian intervention. The idea of aggressively deploying the American military to save people from the world’s (very real) troubles has outlived the war it is most deeply associated with, our second Iraq excursion, now widely and correctly considered one of the worst blunders in American history…

As a dedicated non-interventionist, this doesn’t make me happy. What bothers me in particular, though, is that there is an option that is almost never discussed that could have enormous humanitarian benefits with far smaller human and material costs than the use of America’s clumsy destructive force: opening the borders to, and facilitating the transport of, the people who need our intervention. This is a big, open, empty country. There is tremendous room to accept refugees here and in so doing protect them from the forces that are harming them in their home countries. Look, my preference would be a for a world without any borders, and I think a true open border policy for the United States is far more feasible than people realize (including without sacrificing our social safety net). But I know that this is not politically possible in the short term. Surely, though, the same politicians who can agitate us into war on humanitarian pretext can push to grant broad invitations to refugees to enter the United States legally, and facilitate (unofficially if necessary) escape and transport from dangerous countries.

For gay, transgender, and bisexual people in places like Russia and Uganda; for Syrians of all stripes; for those in Crimea and eastern Ukraine who fear either Putin or reprisals against linguistically and ethnically Russian Ukrainians; for those in Venezuela who agitate against the Maduro government; for women in Saudi Arabia; for liberal dissidents in Iran; for oppressed people the world over, legal entrance into the United States would represent protection against those forces that some would have us defeat with force of arms. The beauty of it is that we can accept people without having to stake a claim on every legitimate internal controversy; we merely can do so out of a desire to prevent the violence that often attends internal strife that we have no business adjudicating. I don’t suggest this as a panacea, but then, if the last decade should teach us anything, it’s the inability of military intervention to secure humanitarian outcomes.

Let me add to that list: atheists, Christians and many others who are at constant risk for arrest and violence, often state-sanctioned, in many Muslim nations. And Muslims in predominately Buddhist Burma. The famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty begins, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” It’s about time we lived up to that.

"Blinkered and ignorant?Intentionally incorrect?Clear and present danger?"

Trump’s Fantasy of His Own Popularity
"Pretty words. And that's all.A Trans*woman (especially one of color) still can't walk down a ..."

Michigan Senate Passes Naturopathy Bill
"I lived for many years just outside the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.I count many ..."

Trump’s Fantasy of His Own Popularity

Let’s Play a Game with Tomi ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • daved

    That’s “yearning to breathe free.” I know Ed won’t change his post, he never does, I’m just feeling ornery today.

  • Michael Heath

    I’m currently reading John Judis’ Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict.

    One of this books lesson’s of history is in regards to the U.S.’s anti-immigration policies prior to, during, and just after WWII. Our refusal to liberalize immigration policies to accept more Jewish people threatened in Russia, then the USSR, Germany, and other countries was a primary lever in justifying the West enabling the rise of a state in Palestine that violates the human rights of non-Jewish Palestinians living in that region. Which of course has led to so much strife, even well beyond Israel and this region.

    Imagine how much richer and more secure this world would be if the U.S. had stepped up and welcomed all of the Jewish people to immigrate to the U.S. in the 20th century as a reaction to Germany’s atrocities. Consider how much better off the U.S., and liberalism would be if we’d done just that.

    It should also be noted that American influence during the 1st half of the 20th century that developed and enabled a very illiberal* form of Zionism came predominately from liberals. These liberals denied or avoided the existence and humanity of Arab Palestinians. That’s just like we see now coming from conservative Christians here in the states regarding non-whites gays, and gay people’s children.

    *When it came to Zionist use of state power to treat Arab Palestinians unequally. Zionists and Israelis were and are very liberal on other policy matters.

  • Chris J

    And hey, for all the hawks out there, those new immigrants will need a big wall of guns in between them and their antagonists. Our military can still be used to keep people safe on our side of the pond.

  • Chris J

    On the one hand, it’d be much easier to deliver aid to local populations than to ones abroad, I would think. On the other, the US has quite a bit of xenophobia and racism to quash, especially since we don’t want to go all District 9 on the people we’d be trying to protect.

  • Johnny Vector

    Time for some Patti Smith.

    Citizenship we got memories

    Stateless, they got shame

    Cast adrift from the citizenship

    Lifeline denied, exiled this castaway

  • dingojack

    Just to act as advocatus diaboli:

    You’re forgetting the small issue of exchange rates. Living in poverty in Syria might be $2.00 a day, living in poverty in the US could turn out to be a hell of lot more expensive for the American taxpayer.


  • colnago80

    Re Michael Heath @ #2

    I haven’t read Judis’ book and have no intention of doing so. Here’s a review of the book which identifies Judis as a JINO, and a self-hating Jew. Interesting that in seeking out reviews of the book, the favorable reviews appeared on sites run by Judis’ fellow self hating Jews like Phillip Weiss and Jason Raimondo. Based on the reviews I read, Judis’ commentary can be summed up very simply: throw Israel under the bus.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Does Freddie DeBoer really think the US picks its interventions by humanitarian criteria?!?

    He needs to read some Chomsky.

  • JustaTech

    A more open immigration policy would help some people, but probably not most of them. It’s not trivial to get to the US from pretty much anywhere. And most people don’t want to leave their homes, even when times are really bad. Or they lack the ability to leave.

    If you’re a poor farmer, leaving your land means that you have no posessions, no ability to make a living, nothing. So people tend to stay until it is too late. So an open immigraiton policy would help those with the means and willingness to leave, but everyone else would be stuck.

  • busterggi

    Dammit Ed, you’re taking the words on the Statue of Liberty seriously? What kind of Amerkin are you?

  • Synfandel

    daved wrote:

    I know Ed won’t change his post, he never does

    In fact he does on rare occasions, and he inserts a comment explaining the change, but he makes changes only for matters of substance, not for picky little details such as this one. Thank you for pointing out the minor misquote, daved, but don’t expect a change.

  • I’m glad that more people are seeing that borders need to be at least more open, if not fully open, in order for there to be justice in the world. Capital crosses borders with ease. People, not so much. This is a major driving force behind economic inequality.

  • nrdo

    @ Michael Heath

    I’m afraid the fatal flaw in that hypothesis, and the one advanced by Freddie DeBoer in the original post, is that it would require such a profound and radical change in human nature as to be logistically and culturally impossible. The violent opposition of Arabs to Jewish immigration in the late 1800s through the 1920 illustrated how excrutiatingly difficult it is to get people from different cultures to accept live peacefully together (and this was well before Israel’s founding when the Jews were not “occupiers”, but mostly destitute refugees themselves). It’s also painfully ignorant to imply that the early Zionists singularly and universally denied the humanity of non-Jewish Palestinians. Some were paternalistic in their thinking. But, there is a long, well-documented history of tit-for-tat violence and foreign intervention that fertilized the hate we see today.

    The acceptance of African-Americans in the US as equals isn’t even complete!. Can you model the effects of a vast underclass of additional immigrants on the 20th century of American history?

  • nrdo

    * Which is not to say that liberal immigration is a bad idea. Socialism can be good policy even though the the idea of a socialist utopia is bonkers. It’s an question of scope and degree.