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

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

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

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


Seeking to re-imagine the meaning and significance of the international border, Opening the Floodgates makes a case for eliminating the border as a legal construct that impedes the movement of people into this country.

Open migration policies deserve fuller analysis, as evidenced by President Barack Obama's pledge to make immigration reform a priority. Kevin R. Johnson offers an alternative vision of how U. S. borders might be reconfigured, grounded in moral, economic, and policy arguments for open borders. Importantly, liberalizing migration through an open borders policy would recognize that the enforcement of closed borders cannot stifle the strong, perhaps irresistible, economic, social, and political pressures that fuel international migration.

Controversially, Johnson suggests that open borders are entirely consistent with efforts to prevent terrorism that have dominated immigration enforcement since the events of September 11, 2001. More liberal migration, he suggests, would allow for full attention to be paid to the true dangers to public safety and national security.


My book The “Huddled Masses” Myth: Immigration and Civil Rights (2004) analyzed the civil rights impacts of the U.S. immigration laws throughout U.S. history and how that history often compares unfavorably with the myth that the United States welcomes to its shores the “huddled masses” from the world over. That book critically examines how immigration touches on sensitive issues of race and civil rights, which helps explain the vociferousness of the public debates that the topic consistently generates.

In the past decade, it has become readily apparent to almost all informed observers that the problems with U.S. immigration law and its enforcement have worsened. Thousands of migrants have died on the U.S./Mexico border, as enforcement measures in the major border hubs, such as San Diego, California, and El Paso, Texas, funneled migrants into isolated deserts and mountains where the risks of the journey were much greater—in fact, deadly—than had been the case for all of U.S. history. Moreover, the U.S. government's “war on terror” after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, focused almost exclusively on immigrants. Many blatantly discriminatory and arbitrary immigration measures were adopted in the name of making the country safer.

Despite aggressive steps to enforce the border, immigration law has failed to achieve its goals. Undocumented immigration continues unabated as migrants pursue the American Dream. The nation, by most accounts, appears no more secure than it ever has been. In 2005–2006, immigration reform again dominated the national consciousness. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a harsh enforcementoriented proposal that provoked marches of tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters in cities across the United States.

This book steps back to scrutinize the foundational premises of U.S. immigration law. It offers an intellectual starting point for the comprehensive reform necessary to remedy the chronic enforcement, civil . . .

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