Opening the Floodgates: Why America Needs to Rethink Its Borders and Immigration Law

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Opening the Floodgates: Why America Needs to Rethink its Borders and Immigration Law by Kevin R.Johnson New York University Press * 2007 * 304 pages * $35.00

Reviewed by George C. Leef

In recent years there have been numerous highly publicized federal raids against companies that had violated the law by employing illegal aliens. The hapless people were deported and the companies slapped with stiff penalties. Generally, the reaction has been, "Well, it's about time the government got tough!"

For the most part, the strident voices of the antiimmigration crowd have drowned out and intimidated those who do not believe that illegal immigration is a threat to the nation. There are, however, some people willing to stand up for the right of people to move across international borders freely. One of them is Philippe Legrain, whose book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them was reviewed in the May 2007 issue of The Freeman. Another is Kevin Johnson, a law professor at the University of California - Davis. His book Opening the Floodgates makes an impassioned case for an openborders policy. Although the book has some serious flaws, it makes a worthwhile contribution to the debate over this key issue.

Johnson writes, "To the extent that the idea of open borders is even mentioned in public discussions, it is immediately brushed off as hopelessly impractical and not worthy of in-depth analysis and consideration as a possible policy option." He wants to change that by showing the numerous, frequently tragic consequences of our current, highly restrictive immigration policy and emphasizing the benefits of scrapping it in favor of openness.

The most visible harm resulting from the status quo is that many people the every year in the effort to move to the United States. It's strange that Americans who used to be appalled when East German border guards killed people trying to leave are mostly indifferent when Haitians drown or Mexicans the of heat and dehydration trying to leave those countries. Johnson shows that the death toll from our immigration laws is very high, but largely ignored.

Another harm is that illegal immigrants are outside the protection of the legal system. Unscrupulous employers can and do cheat them. Sometimes the immigrants are hardly more than slaves. Anti-immigrationists retort that those unfortunate people have only themselves to blame for having had the temerity to disobey our laws. Johnson finds this morally chilling. It is.

Johnson aptly compares our efforts to stop immigration to Prohibition. …