Throughout history, human migration has been a fundamental aspect of the human experience. From the earliest days of humanity, individuals and communities have ventured across landscapes and continents in search of better opportunities, resources, and safety. Whether it was the migration of early humans from East Africa to the surrounding regions or the millions of immigrants who sought a better life in the United States in recent centuries, the phenomenon of immigration is driven by individual decisions to pursue a better life and seek better opportunities somewhere else.

Early human migration patterns involved nomadic tribes moving in search of fertile land and abundant game, gradually populating diverse regions of the world. As civilizations developed, trade networks and the desire for new knowledge spurred further movement of people, leading to cultural diffusion and exchanges of ideas.

Fast forward to the modern era, and human migration has grown exponentially due to technological advancements in transportation and communication. The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed significant waves of migration, with millions of people crossing oceans and borders in pursuit of better lives and opportunities. 

For instance, during the mid to late-19th century, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants made their way to the United States, driven from their homeland by the Great Famine (1845-1852) and a combination of other factors such as harsh socio-economic conditions, land dispossession, and limited opportunities. Upon arrival in the U.S., many Irish immigrants settled in cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, where they initially encountered discrimination and experienced significant hardship as longer-established communities resented their arrival.

Yet, over time, Irish Americans established a strong presence in various sectors, contributing to the labor force, building infrastructure, and participating in politics. Their perseverance, resilience, and eventual integration into American society left a lasting impact on the cultural fabric of the United States.

Economic prospects, such as the California Gold Rush or industrialization, drew migrants to regions with the promise of prosperity. Meanwhile, political turmoil and persecution led to refugee movements seeking safety and freedom in foreign lands.

An interesting parallel can be drawn between this immigration with the internal movement involved in the Great Migration of African Americans in the early to mid-20th century. Millions of African Americans relocated from the Southern United States to the North, Midwest, and West, seeking improved living conditions, economic prospects, and freedom from systemic oppression. This mass migration reshaped the demographics of Northern cities, enriched cultural diversity, and played a pivotal role in advancing the civil rights movement.

While migration has historically played a crucial role in shaping societies and fostering cultural exchange, there has been a significant, albeit much shorter, history of restrictions on immigration. As national governments formed and established defined borders, they sought to control the movement of people across those boundaries. This was fueled in large part by the rise of nationalism as an ideology during the 19th century and later exacerbated during World War I. Concerns over economic competition, cultural assimilation, and fears of social disruption led to the implementation of various immigration restrictions and policies. 

The United States, for instance, passed restrictive immigration acts, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924, which aimed to limit the entry of certain ethnic groups and nationalities. Similarly, other nations, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, introduced measures to restrict immigration, often motivated by perceived threats to their national identity and economic interests.

However, with the global appetite for further restrictions on immigration seemingly as strong as ever in recent years, the fundamental question of why immigration is good remains crucial.

Is immigration good?

Open immigration embodies the very essence of individualism, empowering people to seek out opportunities, to flourish, and to enrich their own lives. In doing so, they also happen to enrich the lives of others in the societies they voluntarily join and take productive roles in. Fundamentally, freedom of movement is about economics, freedom of association, and the ability of individuals to pursue their dreams.

The potential that open immigration holds to spur global productivity and prosperity is nothing short of astounding. As the walls crumble, a free flow of ideas, skills, and talents transcends borders, igniting a dynamic exchange of knowledge and expertise. The amalgamation of diverse perspectives fuels innovation and creativity, propelling societies to unprecedented heights of progress.

By fostering a welcoming environment for immigrants, we embrace the potential of fresh perspectives and the potential to unlock untapped reservoirs of human capital.

Skeptics may argue that an influx of immigrants will strain local resources and diminish opportunities for native citizens. However, history tells a different tale. From the Ellis Island immigrants who helped build America to the wave of entrepreneurs and skilled workers shaping Silicon Valley, countless examples demonstrate that immigration is not a zero-sum game. Instead, it represents a powerful force for economic growth, job creation, and cultural enrichment.

How immigration made America great

Immigration has been a huge driving force behind creating America as we know it today. Without immigrants, or with far fewer immigrants, it would be impossible to imagine the United States developing into the world’s dominant economic powerhouse as it did.

Each of these immigrants arrived on American shores seeking freedom, opportunity, and a chance at a better life. These newcomers brought diverse skills, ideas, and experiences that allowed them to thrive in the pursuit of their dreams, and in doing so, they inadvertently enriched American society.

For instance, German immigrants brought a tradition of craftsmanship and innovation. In the mid-19th century, German immigrants introduced lager beer production techniques, revolutionizing the American beer industry. Additionally, German immigrants contributed to advancements in various fields, including science, music, and architecture.

Similarly, Italian immigrants introduced their rich culinary traditions to America. They opened restaurants, cafes, and food markets, contributing to the establishment of Italian-American cuisine as a beloved aspect of American culture. Dishes like pizza and pasta became popular staples, transforming American tastes and creating a thriving industry.

Moreover, Chinese immigrants, particularly those who worked on the transcontinental railroad, contributed their labor and skills to one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects of the time. They also brought their cultural practices, including cuisine and traditions, which continue to be cherished aspects of American diversity. Chinese immigrants established vibrant Chinatowns in major cities, enriching the cultural fabric of these areas.

By attracting individuals with diverse skills and backgrounds, the United States has embraced a unique demographic landscape that fosters innovation, resilience, and economic prosperity. As a nation built on the dreams and aspirations of immigrants, the story of America is deeply intertwined with the enduring power of immigration’s economic and demographic contributions.

Unfortunately, over the past century or so, successive administrations have pursued misguided, nativist policies, turning their backs on the very asset that made America what it is in the first place. 

This is especially true in recent years, with the travel bans enacted by former president Donald Trump, reductions in the annual cap on refugee admissions, and numerous attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Opposition to immigration has been allowed to gradually place the American dream out of reach for so many ambitious individuals and deprive the country of further potential in the process.

Successful immigrants and their contributions

America has a rich tapestry of successful immigrant stories, each exemplifying the potential of individuals able to pursue their dreams in the place of their choosing. Here are just a few specific examples:

Albert Einstein: The iconic physicist, known for his theory of relativity and contributions to quantum mechanics, was born in Germany and fled to the United States during the rise of the Nazi regime. His work revolutionized modern physics and had a profound impact on science and technology.

Sergey Brin: A co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, was born in the Soviet Union (now Russia) and immigrated to the United States as a child. He helped create one of the most influential companies in the world, transforming the way we access information and communicate.

Anousheh Ansari: An Iranian-American engineer and entrepreneur, Anousheh Ansari made history as the first self-funded female space tourist. She immigrated to the United States from Iran as a teenager and later co-founded the Ansari XPRIZE, a competition to promote private spaceflight.

Andrew Carnegie: Born in Scotland, Carnegie immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-19th century and worked his way up from a factory worker to become one of the wealthiest men in history. He was a philanthropist and industrialist who played a major role in the expansion of the American steel industry.

Nikola Tesla: One of history’s most brilliant inventors and electrical engineers, Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). He arrived in America in 1884 and made significant contributions to the development of alternating current (AC) electrical systems, radio technology, and wireless communication.

Ayn Rand: The renowned philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and immigrated to the United States in 1926 as a young adult. She became a prominent advocate of individualism, liberty, and reason, presenting her philosophy of Objectivism through various works of both fiction and nonfiction. Her influential novels, such as Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, continue to inspire readers to this day.

Elon Musk: Born in South Africa, Elon Musk is now one of the most influential entrepreneurs in the world. He co-founded companies like Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company, revolutionizing the automotive and space industries and spearheading efforts in renewable energy and space exploration.

Hedy Lamarr: Austrian-born actress Hedy Lamarr, known for her Hollywood career, also made significant contributions to technology. She co-patented a frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology during World War II that laid the groundwork for modern wireless communication.

Andy Grove: András István Gróf, better known as Andy Grove, was born in Hungary and survived the Holocaust before coming to the United States. He became a key figure in the tech world as the co-founder and CEO of Intel Corporation, significantly contributing to the growth of the semiconductor industry.

However, the benefits of immigration extend far beyond high-profile success stories, as immigrants of all backgrounds make invaluable contributions to a country’s economy. From small business owners to hardworking laborers, they play a pivotal role in sustaining industries, filling crucial job positions, and fueling economic growth.

Many immigrants are also entrepreneurs, establishing businesses that provide valuable services and create jobs for locals. Their entrepreneurial ventures infuse innovation and fresh perspectives into the market, driving competition and economic dynamism. By fostering an environment that welcomes immigrants, nations can unlock the entrepreneurial potential of a diverse pool of talents, leading to a more robust and prosperous economy.

Let’s look at some examples of how this works in practice.

How immigrants create jobs

Restaurants and food businesses: Immigrant entrepreneurs often open restaurants and food businesses that not only provide employment opportunities but also contribute to the culinary diversity of the local dining scene. For instance, a family from India might establish an authentic Indian restaurant, hiring local staff for positions such as chefs, servers, and managers.

Tech startups: Immigrant entrepreneurs in the technology sector can create startups that lead to job creation. Silicon Valley, for example, is filled with companies founded or co-founded by immigrants, many of which employ local engineers, designers, and support staff.

Small retail shops: Immigrant-owned small retail stores, whether they sell specialty products, clothing, or home goods, can generate jobs for locals in sales, customer service, and management positions.

Construction and trades: Immigrant workers often find employment in the construction and skilled trades industries. Their labor contributes to local infrastructure development, which in turn boosts demand for construction-related jobs among locals.

Healthcare services: Immigrant doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals address workforce shortages in the healthcare sector, providing medical services and creating jobs for administrative staff, technicians, and support personnel.

Farming and agriculture: Immigrant farm laborers often work in the agriculture sector, contributing to local food production. This, in turn, supports jobs for local farm managers, equipment operators, and distribution workers.

Arts and culture: Immigrant artists, musicians, and performers can enrich the local arts and culture scene, creating opportunities for local talent, such as event organizers, marketing professionals, and venue staff.

Tourism: Immigrant-owned tourism-related businesses, such as hotels, tour companies, and travel agencies, help draw visitors to an area. This boosts demand for jobs in hospitality, transportation, and tourism services among locals.

Education and language services: Immigrant educators and language instructors often offer language classes, tutoring services, and cultural workshops, creating opportunities for local educators and support staff.

Consulting and services: Immigrant professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, and consultants, can establish firms that cater to local businesses, leading to job opportunities for paralegals, administrative staff, and consultants.

These examples illustrate how immigrants contribute to local economies by creating businesses and job opportunities, ultimately benefiting both newcomers and the local workforce. Immigrant entrepreneurship and the diverse skill sets they bring can stimulate economic growth and innovation, fostering a more prosperous and dynamic community.

Addressing opposition to immigration

Anti-immigration sentiment is a complex phenomenon, and its popularity can be attributed to several factors. One of the key drivers is the fear of economic competition, with some individuals worried that immigrants will take away jobs from native-born workers or drive down wages. 

Additionally, concerns about strains on public resources, such as healthcare, education, and welfare systems, contribute to anti-immigrant sentiments. People may also fear cultural changes or view immigrants as a threat to national identity, leading to a desire to preserve familiar social norms and traditions.

In the annals of American immigration, it’s crucial to remember the experiences of the Irish who arrived in the 19th century, who were infamously discriminated against in job postings and housing advertisements. Irish immigrants faced profound prejudice upon their arrival, with many locals harboring unfounded fears about the impact of their presence. Concerns abounded that they would take jobs from native-born workers, strain public resources, and fundamentally change the cultural fabric of the nation.

However, history has shown that these fears were misplaced. The anticipated threats to the existing local population never materialized as expected. Irish immigrants, like so many others who followed, contributed to the growth and dynamism of the United States. Their experiences underscore the recurring theme in immigration history: the unfounded nature of many fears and the positive contributions made by newcomers.

It is essential to challenge the foundations of anti-immigration sentiment and recognize the misconceptions behind it. Economic studies consistently show that immigrants typically complement rather than compete with native workers and contribute to job creation through entrepreneurship and business ventures.

With a population density of 87 people per square mile, significantly less than the European Union’s 274 per square mile, America is clearly not full, as many opponents of immigration often claim. Particularly in the case of such a large area, more people do not correlate to fewer resources to go around. 

Moreover, many countries with growing populations have experienced substantial economic growth and technological advancement without exhausting their resources. This is due to the ability of human beings to adapt, innovate, and find creative solutions to challenges, leading to a continual expansion of available resources and an improved quality of life for the population at large.

Additionally, the notion that immigrants are a burden on public resources is simply unfounded, as numerous studies demonstrate the positive net fiscal impact of immigration. For instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, immigrants in the United States have a higher labor force participation rate than native-born citizens. 

Furthermore, the Cato Institute provided an analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2021 Survey of Income and Program Participation in which they found that the average immigrant consumed 27.3 percent less welfare than their native‐​born counterparts in 2020. This figure stands in stark contrast with the misinformed trope about immigrants moving primarily to claim benefits and live off of other people’s taxes.

Ultimately, the only pro-liberty solution in reducing this further is, as Alex Nowrasteh puts it, “building a higher wall around the welfare state instead of around the country.”

In terms of the security risk, a factor often quoted by opponents of immigration, the research simply does not back up the fears. Studies have consistently confirmed that immigrants, both legal and undocumented, have a lower propensity to commit crimes compared to native-born citizens, countering the notion that more immigration means a greater threat to public safety.

Those who wish to see a more rational approach to immigration, focused on the principles of individual freedom, must continue to push back against ill-informed arguments and tropes. All who value liberty and reason must be bold and unapologetic in advocating for freedom of movement on the same level as freedom of speech or free trade. The evidence is readily available.

Opposition to immigration is inherently xenophobic and irrational

So why is it that, despite immigration carrying such obvious benefits, so many voters and politicians are determined to undermine freedom of movement? Beyond just falling for the common misconceptions around economic factors, it seems much of the opposition to immigration boils down to deeply irrational factors such as racism and xenophobia.

Ayn Rand, the aforementioned author and philosopher who developed Objectivism, a philosophy founded upon reason, wrote on this subject in the 1960s in one of her works of nonfiction. She asserted that:

“Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.” — Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 126.

Indeed, it stands firmly against reason to believe that certain individuals somehow have less inherent worth than others and should have barriers placed upon them based on their lineage.

The economic and moral case for open borders

Open borders can lead to significant economic gains for both sending and receiving countries. By allowing people to move freely in search of better opportunities, the global labor market becomes more efficient. Immigrants tend to move from places with lower productivity to places with higher productivity, thus increasing overall economic output. This movement of labor can lead to greater innovation, specialization, and the filling of labor gaps in industries that face shortages.

Moreover, it is immoral to stand in the way of peaceful people pursuing their dreams purely on the grounds of where they happen to be born. Allowing people to seek better lives and escape oppressive or dangerous conditions is a matter of basic individual rights. No person’s potential should be restrained by arbitrary barriers.

How open borders could more than double global GDP

In his book, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, economist Bryan Caplan argues that open borders have the potential to significantly increase global GDP. He suggests that eliminating immigration restrictions could lead to a world where people are free to move and seek better opportunities across borders. 

According to Caplan’s analysis, removing barriers to international labor mobility could increase global GDP by an astonishing amount, approximately 2.5 times the current value.

The reasoning behind this argument lies in the concept of labor market efficiency. With open borders, individuals could move from regions with lower productivity and income to areas with higher productivity and income, where their skills and expertise are more in demand. This reallocation of labor to its most productive uses would lead to a substantial boost in economic output and growth on a global scale.

Economic models show that when individuals are free to move and seek better opportunities, they can reallocate their labor to its most productive uses. By matching individuals with the most suitable economic environment, open borders lead to greater specialization and efficiency in the global labor market. As a result, the global economy operates closer to its full potential, leading to a substantial boost in economic output.

Moreover, historical examples provide valuable insights into the potential benefits of open borders. Nations that have historically embraced immigration, such as the United States, have experienced periods of rapid economic growth and prosperity.

An increase in global GDP by approximately 2.5 times represents an extraordinary opportunity for unlocking human potential and fostering prosperity worldwide. Embracing open borders can unleash the full productive capacities of individuals, lead to cross-cultural exchange, and propel the global economy into an era of unparalleled growth and development.

Further reading

For more content on related topics, be sure to check out the following articles:

The two ideas that made America

Mises on immigration: setting the record straight

The role of government: schools of thought in classical liberalism

Why a free society requires open borders

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