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Open Borders : The Case Against Immigration Controls

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants all of us the right to leave a country – but not to enter one. So where do we go? What sounds elevated in theory turns out, in practice, to be deeply cynical.

As Teresa Hayter reminds us, immigration controls hadn’t even been thought of until a couple of centuries ago. A goodly proportion of humanity is always on the move, controls or no controls – it’s one of our defining characteristics. Every single society we’ve ever had was created by it. Without immigration most countries – especially rich ones – would simply cease to function. ‘Undocumented aliens’ alone provide an estimated 18 per cent of the construction labour force in Los Angeles, 70 per cent of workers at peak fruit-harvest time in Washington State, 15 per cent of the total US farm workforce.

One by one, Teresa Hayter demolishes each malevolent myth that is routinely peddled as a justification for immigration controls. Even the notion that they protect us from chaos – and the rich from the poor – turns out to be hogwash. Indeed, for this very reason, the abolition of immigration controls is sometimes advocated by free-market libertarians.

The argument here is rather different. When you have been active – as Teresa Hayter has for many years – in support of asylum seekers who are labelled ‘bogus’, stripped of all rights and detained indefinitely without charge or trial in prisons disguised as ‘detention centres’ like Campsfield in Britain, there’s no escaping the essential racism of it all. It is quite impossible to justify such ‘controls’ without conspiring to create non-people and appealing, however surreptitiously, to a racist view of the world.

‘By far the most important reason for opposing immigration controls,’ she writes, ‘is that they impose harsh suffering and injustice on those who attempt to migrate... Immigration controls should be abandoned.’ Amen to that.

New Internationalist issue 336 magazine cover This article is from the July 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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