Editor’s note: This commentary was originally published in print on May 14 as part of a pro-con debate page. To read the counterpoint, click here.
It seems to me so obvious that the United States should not have open borders that the question answers itself. However, since a question doesn’t literally answer itself, I’ll answer it.
The purpose of a border is to delineate an area of governmental jurisdiction. When the first U.S. borders were established, the Declaration of Independence stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
There is a process for the exercise of government power. It’s in writing, in the federal and state constitutions, in federal and state law, in county and city charters and codes, and in court decisions applying those words to the facts of specific cases and controversies. This is what “the consent of the governed” looks like in practice.
Freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power, which exists by consent of the governed. In the United States, no government — federal, state or local — may deny due process of law to any person.
Anything else is arbitrary force.
Within the United States, people have the right to travel freely from place to place. There are no internal passports to prevent the resident of one U.S. city or state from traveling or relocating to another.
But the national border is different. The U.S. government has the power and the responsibility to secure the nation’s borders against invasion, however that is defined.
The U.S. government does not have the consent of the governed for open borders, which means all the consequences that follow from unlawful immigration into this country are being imposed on the people of the United States by arbitrary force.
Today’s question is really this: Should the people of the United States give their consent, through a constitutional amendment, to allow anyone in the world to enter the United States as freely as a U.S. citizen travels within the interior?
Here’s my answer: No.
The United States, and California in particular, have a generous social safety net funded by taxpayers. People in financial need are eligible for many benefits. How many of these benefits are available to people who are in the country without legal residency?
Last September, the Immigrant Legal Resources Center published a list of “Public Benefits Open to All Noncitizens Regardless of Status” in California. While there may be other qualifying criteria such as income level, the list includes: in-state tuition and financial aid at the University of California, California State Universities and California community colleges; Medi-Cal and specific other health services; food and nutrition assistance, cash assistance for elderly or disabled immigrants, stimulus checks and refundable tax credits, which are not refunds of taxes paid, but direct financial assistance payments made through the federal and state tax refund process.
Immigrants, regardless of status, are entitled to a free K-12 education throughout the United States and some higher education in California. Under certain circumstances, even subsidized housing programs are available to undocumented immigrants.
Kindness, empathy and generosity are wonderful traits in a human being, but when a government takes it upon itself to offer benefits to millions of individuals by refusing to control the number of people who may enter the country and receive those benefits, it is an act of government force against the lawful residents of the nation. Tax dollars, which are taken by force, are not unlimited. Budgets are about choices.
Sal Rodriguez: America is the land of the free. Open the borders to those seeking a better life.
The long decay of Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley
Melissa Melendez: Californians vote with their feet, head out of the state
Helping the formerly jailed get back on their feet
Tom Campbell: The House Problem Solvers Caucus can help avoid debt ceiling calamity
So one reason the United States should not have open borders is that there is no way to afford the social safety net protection that Americans wish to have if an unlimited number of people can receive those benefits just by coming over the border.
Another obvious reason is that open borders remove tools for the government to refuse entry to individuals identified as posing a threat to national security and the safety of local communities. Why should the people of the United States agree to a policy that would allow traffickers, terrorists, foreign fighters and garden-variety criminals to walk right in and perpetrate mayhem at will?
By refusing to enforce border security, the federal government is using arbitrary force against the governed. If people don’t like it, they have good reason to feel that way.
Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley