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Open Borders Doesn’t Mean No Borders

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immigration-reformby Jacob G. Hornberger

Whenever libertarians bring up the idea of open borders, some people in the controlled-borders crowd immediately go ballistic, exclaiming. “But borders are essential to preserve our national sovereignty. If we abolish borders, our nation will cease to exist.”

But open borders does not mean that borders are eliminated, erased, or abolished. An open border simply means that people are free to cross the border. The border doesn’t disappear. It remains in place, only people are now free to cross it.

Additionally, even though people are free to cross the border, the jurisdictions on both sides of the border retain their respective sovereignties. When a person crosses the border and enters into a new jurisdiction, he becomes subject to the laws of that jurisdiction. Sovereignty remains intact even though there are people crossing the border into that particular jurisdiction.

Consider, for example, Virginia and Maryland. The border between the two states is the Potomac River. It is completely open. Every day, countless citizens of Maryland cross the border and freely enter Virginia. By the same token, countless citizens of Virginia cross the border and freely enter Maryland.

There is no government checkpoint on either side of the border. No one keeps count of how many people are crossing back and forth between the two states.

In other words, the border between Maryland and Virginia is completely open. Yet, the border between the two states does not disappear. It remains fully intact and continues to serve as the dividing line between the two states.

Moreover, notwithstanding the fact that the border has been completely open for centuries, neither Maryland nor Virginia has ever lost its respective sovereignty. Maryland continues to have jurisdiction over its territory and the same goes for Virginia. When a Marylander crosses into Virginia, he becomes subject to the laws of Virginia. The same holds true for a Virginian who crosses into Maryland.

These principles are no different with respect to a border between two countries. Simply because people are free to cross an international border, back and forth, doesn’t mean that the border disappears or that the two nations lose their respective sovereignties. The border remains intact and the two nations retain jurisdiction over their respective territories, notwithstanding the fact that people in both nations are free to cross back and forth.

Let me give you a real-life example of open borders. I grew up in a border town — Laredo, Texas. The border between Texas and Mexico is much like the border that separates Maryland and Virginia — it’s a river, called the Rio Grande. From downtown Laredo, a person can see Mexico across the river. On the Mexican side is Nuevo Laredo, a city that is larger in population than Laredo. Keep in mind that Laredo, along with the rest of Texas, was once part of the entire northern half of Mexico.

For decades, Laredo has had the biggest celebration in the country in honor of George Washington’s birthday. When I was kid, U.S. officials would completely open the border between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo in order to allow Nuevo Laredoans to freely enter Laredo to enjoy the festivities, including watching a grand parade led by Pocahontas and featuring Laredo’s debutants.

Countless Mexicans would flood across the border. The border was completely open. Yet, the border did not disappear. The Rio Grande remained intact, just as the Potomac River does. Laredo did not lose its sovereignty and, for that matter, neither did Texas or the United States. Mexicans who crossed into Laredo were subject to the laws of Laredo, the state of Texas, and the United States.

The situation is the same in Europe, where for many years citizens in the EU countries have been free to cross the borders of other EU countries. Every day, citizens of Italy, for example, cross the border into France, and vice versa. The borders haven’t disappeared, and Italy and France are still standing, each retaining sovereignty within its respective borders.

Indeed, how many Americans realize that after the United States acquired the entire northern half of Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the new border between Mexico and the United States remained completely open for well over half-a-century, enabling Mexicans to continue traveling freely to what had previously been the northern half of their country? (The Border Patrol wasn’t founded until 1924.) Mexicans would freely cross the border into the United States to visit, work, invest, and even open businesses in competition with American businesses. When they did so, they were, of course, subject to the laws of the United States and the particular states and localities where they went. In the process, the new border between Mexico and the United States did not disappear and neither country lost sovereignty over its respective post-treaty jurisdiction.

Americans have become so accustomed to open borders within the United States that hardly anyone is afraid of them. We hardly ever hear anyone expressing concern that the borders between the respective states are disappearing … or that the states are losing their sovereignty ... or that Marylanders or people from other states who come to Virginia are stealing jobs away from Virginians … or that there is a trade deficit between Maryland and Virginia or any other states ... or that Virginians are moving to Maryland to get on welfare … or that it is too easy for terrorists to cross borders within the United States.

If only Americans could apply their favorable mindset toward open borders within the United States to international borders. What would disappear is not borders and national sovereignty but rather the fear and isolationism that come with controlled borders.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.


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