The Case for Open Borders

Like most nations, the United States imposes substantial restrictions on immigration. If you want to move to the United States, you have to obtain visas and other travel documents, pay various fees, and wait possibly years before you are allowed to immigrate. Although such immigration restrictions are nearly universal, there is another option. In this brief, I argue that nations should adopt a policy of “open borders,” where movement between countries is easy and regulations are light. An open borders policy has a number of benefits. First, the lives of migrants are improved by immigration. An open borders regime would allow people to immigrate in search of better jobs, higher wages, and safety from violence. Second, migration improves the destination country. Migrants tend to have low crime rates, they often perform low status jobs that native workers do not want, and they increase the productivity of the destination country. Finally, contrary to popular myth, studies show that migrants do not displace native workers. Given the benefits of migration and relatively low cost, migration should be made “safe, legal, and common.”

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Criminal and Immigration Laws Shape Health Outcomes of Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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Over the last several decades, criminal and immigration laws in the United States have disproportionately burdened marginalized racial and ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Latinos. This policy brief reviews the sociological and public health research on the health effects of various criminal and immigration laws, policies, and practices. We argue that scholars and policy makers should understand the law as a fundamental cause of health disparities operating through two broad mechanisms: (1) primary effects on those who hold a stigmatized legal status; and (2) spillover effects on racial and ethnic in-group members, regardless of their own legal status.  We conclude that the massive expansion of punitive legal control should be treated as a public health crisis. To address this, policy should reduce the material and stigmatic burdens of criminal and immigration statuses on those directly impacted, as well as their legally-unmarked families and communities.

Regional Economic Disparities Result from Rising National Income Inequality

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The economic fortunes of different regions of the United States have diverged markedly over the last 40 years. While these growing disparities are typically discussed as a regional problem, this research shows that more than half of the total divergence is attributable to rising income inequality at the national level. Growing regional disparities should be understood primarily as the spatially uneven consequences of national and global economic trends. Consequently, local attempts to promote economic development or to help economically struggling regions catch up are unlikely to substantially reduce the problem on their own. In addition to local efforts, economic policy at the national level should be designed with the explicit goal of promoting economic convergence among regions.

For Policy Sociology: An Introduction to the Series

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Sociologists are uniquely qualified to provide evidence-based solutions to complex social problems. Yet as a discipline we have undersold our ability to address issues of national importance. I argue that this is the result of a public sociology that excludes policy makers as its “public” and diminishes the value of applied scholarship. Sociologists should not only lead a public discussion about the direction of society. We also have a responsibility to share our expertise with policy makers and to promote the best means of solving social problems. In other words, the discipline needs to renew its commitment to policy sociology. Sociology Policy Briefs is a monthly series of policy briefs written by sociologists based on their original, peer-reviewed research. Our briefs deliver rigorous sociological research for evidence-based policy making. SPB is committed to promoting policy sociology by spreading sociological research to policy makers.