Recently, The New York Times unintentionally lent its support to a key argument immigration enforcement advocates have used for years in their fight against open borders. In her piece “Stay Home, Pleads a Son of Eritrea,” Celestine Bohlen profiled a Eritrean activist who appealed to the waves of people leaving his country, which has long suffered under a despotic regime, telling them that “[t]he government is the problem and leaving doesn’t solve it ... escaping is not the solution.” 

The article goes on to report that around 5,000 Eritreans leave their native land every month. Traditionally, they migrated to nearby Israel, but since that country’s government erected a giant fence to keep out “intruders,” the Eritreans now cross the Mediterranean into Italy. The activist’s plea flies in the face of the liberal elite who argue that letting in all the developing world’s oppressed is simply the moral and compassionate thing to do. But as the Times article indirectly argues, is it?

The Eritrean activist’s sentiment is a perfect example of what immigration-watchers call the “safety valve” argument. It’s one of the most effective ways to show open-borders liberals that what they’re advocating for cannot solve the world’s problems — and actually compounds them.

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Professor and columnist Victor Davis Hansen may have been the first to use the term “safety valve,” which refers to the pressure that’s let off kleptocratic rulers of failed nations when their oppressed subjects are enabled to simply migrate elsewhere. The ability to simply leave keeps the status quo in place when it should be directly challenged with necessary reforms forced upon leadership.

Using the example of Mexico in his 2003 book, Mexifornia, Hansen says America’s porous borders work to “postpone an evolution in Mexican society that could finally force a rapacious aristocracy to the table for needed concessions.” Enforcing border controls, like what Israeli’s done, would keep millions of Mexico’s poor at home where they can act as a “vocal force for further change, rather than push millions and their problems northwards.”

An example of Hansen’s ‘rapacious aristocracy’ perhaps is the Times’s own Carlos Slim. Slim, a Mexican telecom magnate and top shareholder in the paper, commands a net worth of $72 billion, a full 6 percent of his nation’s GDP — America’s top billionaire by contrast, Bill Gates, is worth 0.04 percent of U.S. GDP. Besides his paper’s lockstep dedication to open-borders, there’s certainly a connection between Slim and America’s immigration policy.

Over half of America’s illegal aliens are from Mexico. Through his largest holding, America Movil, Slim for years has controlled around 75 percent of the Mexican landline, mobile and broadband markets. One OECD study found that his company overcharges its customers by over $13 billion every year. It’s been estimated that economic growth would be a full percentage point higher but for monopolies like Slim’s. This kind of economic oppression in Mexico is from just one of its tycoons. 

As for Mexico’s political elite, their support for America’s safety valve-immigration policies is out in the open. Both current President Enrique Pena Nieto and former President Vincente Fox recently praised President Obama for his latest unilateral legalization directives. Meanwhile, the Mexican government provides manuals to its poor on how to break in to the U.S., has provided free legal counsel to illegal aliens caught in the U.S., issues “matricular” ID cards to illegal aliens through their 50 consulates to help them get state and federal benefits and, most troublingly, teach Mexican students that our entire South West region actually belongs to Mexico. In his memoirs as U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow notes seeing polls that show nearly 60 percent of Mexicans believed the region should really be theirs. The truth is of course, as Hansen notes in Mexifornia, when the U.S. “stole” the Southwest there were “fewer than 10,000 Mexicans living in a vast uninhabited area, one that itself had been stolen from Spain, which in turn had stolen it from the Indians.”

More thoughtful liberals have discussed the safety valve argument as well as other problems caused by our immigration policies. Oxford developmental economist Paul Collier, in his 2014 book Exodus, notes that the country of Haiti has lost 85 percent of its educated people due to mass emigration, mostly to the U.S. That such a mass draining of brain power hasn’t contributed to that country’s chronic malaise would take an argument of Houdini-esque contortions. Perhaps Collier’s Haiti example could be put to Jeb Bush during the GOP primary debates, as he’s someone who purports to understand the social benefits of education and yet is absolutely whetted to the “acts of love” committed by illegal immigrants when they violate our national boundaries.  

Environmentalist and progressive Philip Cafaro in his newly published book How Many Is Too Many? adds ecological and overpopulation concerns to the list of problems created in migrant-source countries by our expansive immigration policies. Guatemala, he notes, a country that has 10 percent of its adult citizens living in the U.S., has an annual population growth rate of 2.5 percent (all due to its high birth rate). Cafaro rightly claims that the negative effects of overpopulation wrought on that country (i.e., rampant deforestation, social inequality) are “lessened through immigration” and are “counterbalanced” to a large extent “by the positive incentives of having more remittances from family members in the United States.”

Instead of working as maids for the corporate elite in the U.S. or picking lettuce for Big Agribusinesses that refuse to pay domestic market wages, these “strivers,” Cafaro writes, “might have fought for opportunities and rewards within their own country.”

In what could be a rallying cry for both a “Citizens First” movement in this country and for economic equality reforms abroad, Cafaro writes: “People who want to create good lives for themselves and their families need to do so where they are.”

 

Smith is an investigative associate with the Immigration Reform Law Institute.