Point No Borders, No Problems
by Gerardo Villarreal
Counterpoint No Problems With Borders
by Emily Smalligan
The root cause of violence and discrimination surrounding the immigration debate in the US is fear of difference and an unwillingness to accept others. I dream of a world that would prevent these problems propagated by privilege of birthplace. I encountered a microcosm of this world my first year at U-M. One night I was sharing a table at a dorm cafeteria with friends from India, Malaysia, China, Colombia, and the US. Our conversation flourished. I was amazed at how many values and goals we all shared and how much we cared about each other. I felt as if I was hanging out with my closest friends from my hometown in Mexico. I realized that my new friends and I shared a very close relationship despite the differing national citizenships we each held. Our friendship, rather than territorial borders arbitrarily defining our perceived difference, brought us together. This experience led me to believe in the possibility of a world without borders, and as tensions and violence over immigration reform continue to rise around the US-Mexican border, I am more impassioned to share my vision.
If we recognize each other as members of a global family the tensions over immigration reform become obsolete. The recent failure of the DREAM Act, surmising to extend citizenship to immigrants involved in national service and educational pursuits, would have no ontological basis. Each member of our global community would have equal access to benefits and protections of the state. Moreover, finances would be shared openly, and there would be a greater sense of trust and unity in this family. A perfect example of this is the European Union (EU). All citizens of the EU share in the most powerful economy in the world. If you are an EU citizen, it is almost as if there are no borders for you within most of Europe. EU citizens are free to work and/or live in any nation of the EU without a work permit. The EU suggest there are advantages to a world without borders. However, if you’re not convinced, there is one example that strikes closer to home.
Recall how the United States became, well, united. A long time ago, individual states in the U.S. were separate. Many had their own private army, printed their own money, added tariffs to imported goods from other states, and even had private affairs with foreign countries. Not surprisingly, when the United States was being assembled, there was resistance from individual states to submit to one central government. After all, even though states knew they would be creating a power greater than themselves, they feared that as individual states they would be less powerful than they were before. With time, however, progressive leaders began convincing their communities they had more to gain by forming a union. Their economy strengthened because their businesses were no longer taxed by other states, and state governments no longer needed to fund extensive armies. Ultimately, this resulted in the greater security and prosperity that is now the United States, all because each individual state started collaborating with, rather than fighting with, each other.
A world without borders would not mean the end of disagreements between nations, but it could mean the end of war. Think about it. Why are there no wars between California and Oregon over water rights? There are no wars between any states over the variety of complex problems that exist between them because each state has agreed to abide by certain laws and compromises. The states have empowered a system of federal laws and courts to interpret the law and resolve any disputes between them. A world where nations empower one central government could back it with armed forces to resolve disputes between them.
One central government would result in a union so powerful that we could eradicate extreme poverty without shifting wealth from anybody. Currently, governments around the world spend around $2 trillion dollars a year for military purposes. Suppose we decided to invest $1 trillion in a worldwide military force to enforce decisions made by a core government and also to improve local police everywhere in the world. That leaves us with $1,000,000,000,000 per year that we can use for humanitarian purposes. Don’t think this is enough? Do the research for yourself. This amount is so massive that it could ensure that every person in the world has enough food, clothes, and shelter to live in dignity. In a borderless world, the current conservative claims against inclusive immigration policy would shrink in the face of an equally prosperous citizenry. Yet our full potential as a human race will not be fulfilled until we give each other the same love and concern that we give our own families. The day we see all humankind as part of our family is the day we will unite.
When activists and migrants call for “immigration reform,” a proposal for open borders hardly addresses the emotional depth surrounding this issue. This solution would neither eliminate xenophobia nor fix any country’s economy, not to mention the unrealistic nature of this option given present-day politics. Moreover, national identities and distinguished cultures create national pride and holidays to celebrate. A world without borders with mutual acceptance and equality will never be realized. The best solution burdens the United States to recognize the fatal consequences of its harsh and unwelcoming policies – the US government is not only hurting migrants, it is hurting the country itself.
As a US citizen, I have my own relationship with the U.S.-Mexican border: I can cross freely without a worry and as often as I please. For six weeks this past summer, I immersed myself in the heat and debates dominating Arizona, and I found an atmosphere thick with tension between activists and xenophobes with an invisible population of undocumented persons.
To fully understand what immigration reform I envision, we must return to January 1, 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. The view that the “free trade” NAFTA propagated is entirely advantageous is riddled with fallacy. The flaws of NAFTA are rooted in its adverse effects on small farmers in both the United States and Mexico. The major agriculture companies left the US for Mexico’s cheap labor, making it nearly impossible for small American farmers to compete with Mexican prices. The small Mexican farmers were forced to compete with big farms heavily subsidized by the US despite the NAFTA provision restricting these subsidies. What’s more, Mexico upheld its own end. The result was a large population of skilled but impoverished local farmers in Mexico with no choice but to leave home and become field laborers away from their own farms.
The misconception that Mexico has flourished at the cost of US farmers after NAFTA ignites much of the resentment US citizens have towards Mexican immigrants. The events of September 11th only further reinforced our emphasis on homeland security and stronger borders. The militarization of the US–Mexican border began with more guards, higher walls, and stricter immigration requirements. The result is not that Mexicans stay in Mexico; rather, if they decide to pursue opportunities in the US, migrants must risk their lives even if it means walking 60 miles across the deadly Sonoran desert.
Many also believe Mexican migrants (and other ethnicities) sincerely want to come into America. From my service on the border, I can assure you this is a delusion. The US has wonderful opportunities for higher education, first world luxuries, and a relatively high minimum wage-but let’s pause for a moment. Will undocumented workers reap these benefits? No. They come to a place where they are hated, exploited, and criminalized. I would argue that most migrants would prefer to stay among their friends and family, where the culture and language is familiar and beautiful.
Then why do they come to the US? Before NAFTA and the militarization of our borders, migrants searching for more opportunity were able to flow freely in and out of the United States in order to meet the demands of the US harvesting season. Big American farms and factories have a high need for workers at low wages to sustain high food consumption and production. They are not, in fact, the cause for our staggering 10% national unemployment rate. Instead of admitting dependence on migrants, the US has only further “secured” borders – making the natural flow of people back and forth simply impossible and perhaps harboring a failing economy.
Today, the trek to cross from Mexico into the US has become horrifically deadly, killing an astounding 2,104 migrants since 2000 in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. As the risks increase, migrants are not coming and going at will but rather coming to stay for several years while they save enough money to send back to help their families. The situation has become lose-lose for both sides: migrants are forced to stay away from their loved ones for an extended time, and Americans must tolerate a more permanent presence of these “unwanted illegals” (oh my).
Immigration reform should allow for more flexible borders where obtaining a temporary work visa can be a reality. The United States would not experience a massive influx of migrants from Mexico. Remember – we must not be so arrogant. Those migrants who still have no choice but to come north are likely here already. Why not give them documentation? Pay them the proper wages? Collect taxes on their income? Why must the US continue to exploit and kill them in the name of homeland security? I believe in the true potential for reform – it just requires an open mind.
Want to save the lives of these migrants and support immigration reform? Volunteer for No More Deaths (www.nomoredeaths.org). It’s worth it, trust me
About the Issue
Point author: Gerardo Villarreal is an international student at the University of Michigan. He is a Mexican national and has been involved in immigrant rights student groups, such as Migrant and Immigrant Rights and Awareness (MIRA) and OneMichigan.
Counterpoint author: Emily Smalligan is currently in her third year at UM studying Arabic. Last summer, she spent time on the US-Mexican border in both Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Mexico providing humanitarian aid and learning about immigration reform.
Edited by: Lexie Tourek and Debbie Sherman
Cover by: Laura Gillmore