The US needs more immigrants to maintain current levels of economic growth and welfare provision – but that doesn’t mean unlimited migration
The idea of open borders underpins many of the American left’s current stances on immigration. Although this isn’t always stated explicitly, it explains both the vehement opposition to Trump’s proposed wall on the border with Mexico (whose construction actually began under Bill Clinton) and the insistence on rolling back regulation on immigration flows.
Yet this is a weak position, for at least two reasons. First, states presuppose borders. Failing to control borders is not an immigration policy, but the lack of one. It’s also a position likely to reinforce the already widespread perception that immigration flows are “out of control”.
Second, the case for open borders relies on premises that are more usually associated with the libertarian right than the liberal or social-democratic left. The idea is that allowing the “invisible hand” of the market to determine where people live will benefit everyone because workers will naturally move to where there is more demand for them. But the left has historically been skeptical of that premise – holding instead that markets need to be regulated in order to lead to socially optimal outcomes.
A stronger case in favor of immigration – that’s also more coherent with the left’s traditional values – can be built on demographic data. This is not something the American left has paid much attention to so far. Yet, the evidence is clear: net of immigration, the US population is both shrinking and ageing at an alarming rate.
If the trend continues, it threatens both the economic vitality of the country as a whole and widely cherished welfare programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which require a young and economically active tax base.
The right’s response is to call for Americans to have more children. But this only makes sense on the chauvinistic assumption that immigration is a threat for the country’s civic culture. Immigration is a faster and more efficient way to replenish the country’s work-force.