Imagine There Are No Borders

I wonder if we can. I’m sitting in the airport in Bogotá, heading back to the U.S., with only the hassle of a universal criminal x-ray/strip search/eyeballs photographing routine, delayed flights, bad food, etc., while my friends in Colombia cannot simply go through that standard global-travel routine (as they can to visit much of the world) to visit the United States, having instead to apply for permission and wait months or years. Presumably the United States wants visitors, and would just rather exclude 99 visitors to be sure of excluding 1 person who might decide to stay rather than visit.

But why? What is being protected? There is almost nothing cultural that cannot and does not travel across every border. The massive border industry cannot keep out the wonderful Colombian music or food or political ideas. The notion of preserving an isolated culture is not only incoherent, but is typically cover for the ridiculous notion that people are not what they think and do but what they look like on the surface. How else can a rapist thief presidential candidate in one country characterize the people of another country as rapists and thieves?

I know. I know. It’s the economy, stupid! It’s the jobs. Those people will steal these jobs, rape these paychecks. I have to admit that if that were true, I would not give a damn. Borders do far more harm than the fictional good of protecting jobs, even my job, even if this story were real. Borders don’t just inconvenience; they kill. But it isn’t true. The economic studies are clear, and the lessons from mass migrations and from regions that maintain open borders are clear: opening borders to human beings, not just smartphones, bottled water, and automobiles, benefits working people on both sides.

That point is one of many well-documented in The Case For Open Borders by John Washington, who establishes how new, how ineffective on their own terms, and yet how deeply damaging borders are, to humans and also to the ecosystems on which we depend. Washington provides an interesting history (one of many) of the parallel false beliefs in separate, sedentary human “races” and separate non-migratory non-human animals and plants threatened by “invasive species.” Studies show that human and non-human societies are enriched in cultural diversity and bio-diversity by migration, and that this has been so for millennia, outstripping the damage inflicted by invasive species.

Something else that crosses the fanciest and nastiest of borders? Diseases! In fact, ICE detention centers made a significant contribution to increasing, not decreasing, cases of COVID in the United States.

The military-border industry is mushrooming, driven first-and-foremost by the U.S. government, just as wars and climate destruction are escalating refugee crises. Much of the need to flee homes could be erased were wealthy governments like the U.S. to cease militarizing and impoverishing other parts of the world, and perhaps devote 5% of what goes into walling people off into helping them instead. But the need to flee homes is going to grow dramatically as the Earth is rendered less habitable. And right now the U.S. government spends 11 times on militarizing its borders what it spends on assisting poorer countries in handling the impacts of climate collapse.

Borders not only kill and imprison, injure and traumatize those driven to cross them. They also create a system of second-class residents lacking basic rights and powers. Undocumented immigrants to the United States pay a higher average tax rate into the U.S. government than do billionaires, and take dramatically less out, being barred from most basic services, much less corporate welfare and Pentagon contracts. The second-class status of some workers — not the people it is imposed on —  hurts all workers.

State borders within the United States, and national borders within Europe, as well as national borders in many other regions of the globe, have not been made into war zones. This difference has an impact, to be sure, on what a state or a nation is, but it doesn’t eliminate them, doesn’t even eliminate anything good about them. It merely improves and enriches them.

Two ways in which undoing walled-off borders would benefit the United States might be called untrumping and unbidening. You could have no Donald Trump as a political figure without the ability to blame everything on Mexicans. Nor could you have Joe Biden without the ability to blame everything on Donald Trump and on Russia (and to pretend that the two are the same).

Of course, Mexico would prefer not to have the remaining half of its country taken by the U.S., and Russia’s neighbors would prefer not to become Russia. But the U.S. controls countries without occupations, and fails to control countries with occupations, while Russia would be far less driven to attack any neighbors were those neighbors not walled off behind warlike borders, and were there not piles of U.S. weapons being lined up behind those borders.

Eliminating borders sounds like a radical change, and I hope it would be. But as recently as the 1960s in the United States, there was almost no immigration detention. Now hundreds of thousands of people are charged with the crime of crossing a line that could not be a crime if there were no line, a crime that was invented in the United States in 1929 by enthusiastic racists of whom if there are any statues, I say, by all means tear them down. But tear down the border walls first.

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