The Documentation Regime
June 4, 2019 9:15 AM   Subscribe

“More broadly, our task is now to make a single, simple point. There is no humane border regime, just as there is no humane abortion ban. The border will always tear parents from children, caregivers from charges, longtime residents from the only communities they’ve ever known. It may do it faster or slower, with ostentatious brutality or bureaucratic drag, but it will always do it.“ Society as Checkpoint “And whatever downward pressure an influx of immigrants has on wages, it is dwarfed by the economic consequences of a weak and divided working class. The working class cannot reverse its economic decline without bringing immigrant workers into the fold, as a thirty-year strategy of soft-restrictionism has amply demonstrated.” The Case For Open Borders.
posted by The Whelk (23 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
“Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all. People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled to India and to America without passport and without ever having seen one. One embarked and alighted without questioning or being questioned… The frontiers which, with their customs officers, police and militia, have become wire barriers thanks to the pathological suspicion of everybody against everybody else, were nothing but symbolic lines which one crossed with as little thought as one crosses the Meridian of Greenwich… I, a case-hardened creature of an age of freedom and a citizen of the world-republic of my dreams, count every impression of a rubber stamp in my passport a stigma…” --Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday
posted by chavenet at 10:03 AM on June 4 [19 favorites]


This seems like an awfully argued case. Going to bat for open borders in the context of labor/capital power dynamics is a non-starter. Even within the article itself the counterargument is made - yes, a large influx of unskilled labor does depress the wages of unskilled laborers. This is handwaved away with "well the decline of unions has done more harm to labor", completely ignoring the fact that immigration rates are historically inversely correlated with union membership.

If the question is "is unrestricted immigration bad for unskilled laborers", the short answer is a "yes". The long answer is a "yes, but" and requires a lot more justification than this article gives.

Make the case for open borders from a humanitarian, social justice, or overall economic benefit angle or not at all.
posted by FakeFreyja at 10:28 AM on June 4 [6 favorites]


an assumption that the problem of immigration policy is a problem of the American working class — that their racial or economic anxieties are the primary obstacle to more rational and humane immigration policy.

The problem with this assumption is that there is very little evidence to support it.
She then goes on to say that despite all the Trump rallies people technically support pro-immigration policies in polls.

I feel like this commits the common but fatal nerd error of taking self-reporting literally and at face value. That people self-report support for policies in theory means nothing other than that they’ve told you how they like to think of themselves: high minded, fair, supportive of “the good ones” and thus not racist. That’s it.

What they actually do tells you a lot more. And what they do is support a man who sells anger and hatred and fear and resentment directed at, by turns, anyone who isn’t white, immigrants, women who don’t know their place, etc.

That’s who they actually are. Not what they tell some pollster.

I feel like this essay is an attempt to grapple with the fact that the future will, due to climate change, be a choice between genocide and open borders, but the author and the intended audience both know they can’t count on this country not to pick genocide, so they’re trying to make a different pitch. But this pitch doesn’t really address reality, either. Comparisons to 1914 don’t really seem particularly relevant, either, considering there were fewer people with less differences in levels of development or expectations of quality of life. And because the inhabitable Earth, as we all know, is shrinking. I don’t think there’s a way to address this that doesn’t involve making comfortable people less comfortable, and most of them won’t do that voluntarily.

So...not encouraging.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:00 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


If the question is "is unrestricted immigration bad for unskilled laborers", the short answer is a "yes". The long answer is a "yes, but" and requires a lot more justification than this article gives.

I'm not so certain this is the case. The chief danger to unskilled laborers in the US is the dominance of the Republican Party and, to a lesser extent, Democrats who are unwilling to expend any effort on real expansions of labor rights or the social safety net. Both groups' power depends on the electoral influence of "anxious" white voters who default to opposing any programs that would benefit people of color. Open borders would reduce those voters' electoral influence and in all likelihood result in policies that are much more beneficial to unskilled laborers than those the US would likely implement otherwise.

That's not why I support open borders, but it does make me skeptical that open borders would harm unskilled laborers in the US.
posted by This time is different. at 11:31 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all.

Sort of. Before Isambard Brunnel, the earth might have belonged to all, but the difficulty and expense made it rare for people to range over their birthright. Once it was feasible for large numbers of people to cross oceans, then came the reaction against it.
posted by ocschwar at 11:51 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


a sidenote on political rhetoric. for supporters of open borders, for chrissakes, dont call it open borders. open borders connotes vulnerability, capitulation, defeat, surrender. call it an "unlimited workers policy" or "visas for all" or literally anything but open borders.
posted by wibari at 12:53 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


a sidenote on political rhetoric. for supporters of open borders, for chrissakes, dont call it open borders. open borders connotes vulnerability, capitulation, defeat, surrender. call it an "unlimited workers policy" or "visas for all" or literally anything but open borders.

I mean, or it connotes openness, welcoming, graciousness, hospitality? Like I don't really think we should have borders at all but if we're going to have them let's push for the least racist option. Neoliberal framing like "unlimited workers" policy feels like ceding ground before the battle even starts.
posted by an octopus IRL at 1:17 PM on June 4 [10 favorites]


an assumption that the problem of immigration policy is a problem of the American working class — that their racial or economic anxieties are the primary obstacle to more rational and humane immigration policy.
[...]

What they actually do tells you a lot more. And what they do is support a man who sells anger and hatred and fear and resentment directed at, by turns, anyone who isn’t white, immigrants, women who don’t know their place, etc.


Who are “they”, though? Your response to Lee’s claim that working-class interests are not anti-immigration interests revolves around Trump voters. I believe that to be a category error-- let’s do some quick back-of-the-envelope numbers here.

Defining the working class is obviously nebulous and problematic, so let’s look at both the floor (30%) and ceiling (60%) of reasonable estimates I saw, during a quick google perusal, of proportion of the US population that is working-class. These two figures correspond essentially to either using education or income as a proxy. There are about 327 million people in the US, so by a cautious estimate there are about 98 million working-class Americans, and by a more expansive estimate there are about 196 million. Trump won about 63 million votes. Now let’s look at what percentage of Trump voters were working-class, by two possible metrics. If we define the working class as people who have only a high school education, 34% of Trump voters were working-class. If we define working-class as people making less than $50k per year, 43% of Trump voters were working-class.

So: if we use education as a proxy for working-class status (30% of Americans, 34% of Trump voters), about 21% of the American working class voted for Trump. If we use income as a proxy for working-class status (60% of Americans, 43% of Trump voters), about 14% of the American working class voted for Trump.
posted by dusty potato at 1:27 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Neoliberal framing like "unlimited workers" policy feels like ceding ground before the battle even starts.

well, not calling it open borders also has the benefit of being more accurate. the borders wouldn't be "open" to literally anyone. there would still be criminal warrant checks and ID checks and such. using the word "open" lets opponents use the straw man argument that there would be no protections at all.

also, i would argue that refusing to even consider how one's argument sounds to people who might be on the fence about it, and immediately resorting to vague pejoratives like "neoliberal," is also a way of ceding ground on the odds of your position being adopted before the battle even starts.
posted by wibari at 1:30 PM on June 4


I mean, or it connotes openness, welcoming, graciousness, hospitality? Like I don't really think we should have borders at all but if we're going to have them let's push for the least racist option.

The racist, nativist, and fascist anitimmigration block chose the "Open Borders" framing intentionally. Don't concede it to them.

Having "Border" in the frame puts the emphasis where they want it- on national sovereignty and security. Wibari's suggestions pull that out of the frame and place the emphasis on where it should be- they way we want to treat people.
posted by Uncle Ira at 1:51 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


The racist, nativist, and fascist anitimmigration block chose the "Open Borders" framing intentionally. Don't concede it to them.

It's the other way around. Contemporary proponents of the policy have been calling it open borders for at least 30 years, though they typically say "relatively open borders" to allow some restrictions on narrow security grounds (e.g. thwarting espionage, smuggling, etc.) Giving up on the language of open borders is the concession.

Calling the policy something different won't change the reason people oppose it: they don't want people of color coming into the country. Thinking that they'd change their position if only we called it something different is like thinking that MRAs would support feminist principles if feminists would only drop the term "feminism" in favor of "gender egalitarianism." There are no magic words for short-circuiting racism, at least none that would be effective for long enough to enact the sort of dramatic policy change we now call open borders.

We'll have to defeat the racists on the substance of the issue, not the terminology.
posted by This time is different. at 3:03 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


How about calling it "freedom of movement"?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:59 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


for chrissakes, dont call it open borders. open borders connotes vulnerability, capitulation, defeat, surrender.

You might want to consider how the term sounds to naturalized immigrants or children of immigrants, who are potentially a large and growing voting bloc (once the Dems stop ignoring them, which has mostly been the strategy so far).
posted by The Toad at 4:23 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Who are “they”, though? Your response to Lee’s claim that working-class interests are not anti-immigration interests revolves around Trump voters

Because that’s who TFA was talking about in the section I quoted
posted by schadenfrau at 5:23 PM on June 4


We'll have to agree to disagree on interpretation, I think! To me, it seems clear that Lee is not trying to vindicate Trump supporters but rather is pivoting from mentioning them towards showing that the reason working-class interests are not anti-immigration interests is that the working class itself is not what it is in the white/MSM imagination.
posted by dusty potato at 6:47 PM on June 4


I guess it is very possible that I am ascribing more awareness to the author than she actually has and that she is conflating the working class and the WWC imaginary herself throughout the article. In which case I award her a hearty Yikes!!
posted by dusty potato at 7:00 PM on June 4


I guarantee you a guy working next to me on the the manufacturing line for $16/hr in the US is putting a lot less downward pressure on wages than the guy who has to work for for $2.50/hr in Mexico.

There's a reason the rich business people lobby for free trade deals that don't freedom of movement, and it's not because they want "unskilled" laborers to have a good wage.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:13 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


We'll have to defeat the racists on the substance of the issue, not the terminology.

QFT not just in this case of open borders but countless other similar ones.

Something to remember is, I think, that the left could call it whatever they want, they could call it "Fair Movement" or "Freedom Passage", they could call it "A More Equitable Plan To Allow Movement Of Labour & Uniting Of Families While Still Maintaining What Safeguards Are Actually Necessary For Safety" and it won't matter, because Fox, Murdoch etc news will be happy to call it open borders anyway. They'll say "the left is lying, this is open borders they're proposing".

I think most of the time we don't control the narrative on a lot of this sort of stuff. We can't use tricks of terminology when the media is not inclined to co-operate, in the way that they'll happily co-operate with "collateral damage" and "industrial disputes". I see it a lot with financial things, where pundits say "whyever would you call it a tax, people hate taxes and automatically vote against". While I can see value in not putting people's backs up unnecessarily, you can't call it a levy or redistribution program instead, because the media will howl "TAX" regardless.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:43 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


"a large influx of unskilled labor does depress the wages of unskilled laborers"

... here. To the extent that this is a true statement, and that is debatable considering existing trade deals with the countries where these workers would come from, it must be finished with the word "here."
posted by Nothing at 3:05 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


a sidenote on political rhetoric. for supporters of open borders, for chrissakes, dont call it open borders. open borders connotes vulnerability, capitulation, defeat, surrender. call it an "unlimited workers policy" or "visas for all" or literally anything but open borders.

Call it Freedom.
posted by srboisvert at 5:49 AM on June 5


... here. To the extent that this is a true statement, and that is debatable considering existing trade deals with the countries where these workers would come from, it must be finished with the word "here."

That may be true. If so, I think we can all agree that a governing body has more of a policy-level obligation to the well-being of its own residents than that of another nation.
posted by FakeFreyja at 6:57 AM on June 5


That may be, but you said "Going to bat for open borders in the context of labor/capital power dynamics is a non-starter." I disagree, and I think the idea that borders somehow improve the situation of labor by supposedly protecting the wages of a few at the expense of many while capital freely moves where it pleases is wrong, both as a description of the situation as well as in a moral sense.
posted by Nothing at 9:07 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Against Border Security (NYT)
posted by The Whelk at 6:21 AM on June 12


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