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SHIROFF: Students should be for open borders

Column: Policy Matters

Open borders not only offer new opportunities for immigrants, but also can also help the country prosper as a whole. – Photo by

Given its benefits, college students and young adults more broadly should be much more in favor of open borders.

I am sure those two words, ”open borders,” trigger a flashback to the 2016 presidential election for some. A question about Hillary Clinton’s comments on open borders made it to the final 2016 presidential debate.

Regardless of whether this was good or not, the tightness of the 2016 election and its ultimate result confirmed that a majority in the U.S. were against any kind of open borders policy.

A majority of Republicans polled in 2019 felt that increased immigration would lead to the erosion of American identity. This is not a uniquely Republican phenomenon — also in 2019, 49 percent of Democrats felt that increasing security on the border was a very or somewhat important goal for immigration policy, and 31 percent felt that increasing deportations of illegal immigrants was important.

This is a shame. Much ink has already been spilled over how anti-immigration attitudes are fundamentally un-American. I mean, humans evolved out of Africa, quite literally every single one of us residing in the Americas would not be here if one of our ancestors had not relocated here — either by choice or by force.

Not enough ink, though, has been used to argue that increased immigration and an open borders policy is about as close to a “free lunch” as we can get.

Economists often half-jokingly, half-seriously refer to the fact that “there is no free lunch,” nothing is ever truly free. There is always a cost hidden in there somewhere. With immigration, though, not so much. Its positive effects are so strong that it deserves universal support, especially among younger people.

Why? We young adults stand to gain the most from increased immigration.

Immigration is rocket fuel for economic growth, and economic growth is the engine that makes all of our lives better. For example, Michael Clemens’ widely influential research that claims that the world could be up to $78 trillion richer if we opened all borders, according to The Economist. That is an additional $10,000 for every resident of planet Earth.

The numbers involved here are so large that they seem insane and impossible and, therefore, deserve some justification. Economies live off of efficiency and productivity. Unfortunately, so many of the best sources of efficiency and productivity, billions of humans, simply cannot exercise their full potential.

Think about it: Not a single one of us alive today chose where we were born. That said, if one of us had a natural engineering spirit and came up with a brilliant idea for, say, a more efficient farming process but was born in a desert country and was unable to leave, that potential would never be put to use.

How many brilliant minds, the next Steve Jobs, Beethoven and Einstein, are unable to move themselves to a place where they would be able to unleash their full potential?

Opening borders would ease and eventually reduce that effect. The gains from open borders do not end there, though.

Think about why tech companies, start-ups and Fortune 500 companies alike, tend to cluster around each other in areas like Silicon Valley or Seattle. This conglomeration of top companies all in one place sends a signal to those interested in working for them: “If you have the skills and the drive, come here!”

This creates a way to efficiently allocate brilliance. Right now, it is very difficult to get up and move to Silicon Valley with the next Google, your invention, unless you are an American. The example need not be tech-oriented — every field would stand to benefit in a similar way.

How many potential future Apples and Googles are sitting in the minds of those unable to come here and start their business? And how many of us are missing out on incredible potential employment opportunities because of that? Far too many!

One important thing is that immigrants do not do is steal jobs or lower wages. Not only that, but they also do not lower wages for those who were already there, sometimes they even raise wages! In another case of politics denying three decades of evidence, these two arguments have been studied to death with a conclusion that both are false, despite the prevalence of both of these claims.

Our parents and grandparents lived through an age of remarkable economic growth and were tremendous beneficiaries of it. One of the scariest things to me is the fact that it is very possible for growth at the levels our ancestors experienced to slip away.

Growth is awesome — it lifts enormous magnitudes out of poverty, boosts the productivity and therefore wages of the employed, and even makes us healthier. While we are young, we should push for everything that leads to more growth, including a more open borders policy.

Taylor Shiroff is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in mathematics and political science. His column, "Policy Matters," runs on alternate Tuesdays. 

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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