I define “open borders” as the position that rejects both the concept of a border and the concept of sovereignty, in principle. All others necessarily and rightly accept the concept of sovereignty and the necessity of a border, in principle, but they argue over the extent and scope of those restrictions. The author of the Reason article introduces the term "restrictionist," which I infer from context means: one who opposes all immigration, regardless of context.
Although Dalmia seems to be considering only this "small band" of restrictionists, who supposedly ignore the difference between "serious criminals" and "petty violators," her article is actually an exercise in conflating restrictionists with any advocate of immigration restrictions. But let's back up.
In my experience, most of the confusion in this debate surrounds those who feign support for sovereignty while rejecting the means to enforce it. In other words, when pushed, most liberals will claim they believe in some kind of border control, but only as a catch-all to obfuscate and rationalize their "fuzzy open borders" position. In other words, they overtly claim to favor some kind of control, but, in practice they reject almost every actual border restriction, and, often reject any actual means to police the border.
This last category is exemplified by those who argue that we should only arrest or deport illegal aliens if “they violate someone’s rights.” Of course, such an argument ignores the essence of immigration policy, which is to identify bad guys before they are allowed entry, which, in turn, necessitates border control and objective laws for dealing with foreign nationals.
Because liberals, like Dalmia, claim to support sovereignty but implicitly do not, they open themselves to opponents who rightly characterize their position as open borders. Often, these fuzzy open borders types respond by conflating opposition to open borders with so-called restrictionism, i.e., opposition to all immigration regardless of context. Of course, opposing open borders, or to put it positively, supporting an objective policy of border control under the principle of sovereign national defense, does not entail opposing all immigration at all times, regardless of context. It is simply the means and process by which a sovereign people collectively agree whom and under what conditions to allow foreign nationals into their country. To see how Dalmia conflates these positions, consider this passage from the article:
But today we live in a world where a small band of immigration restrictionists have acquired an air of legitimacy by loudly repeating their views. They have created a false moral equivalence between serious criminals and petty visa violators. They wield words such as “illegal” and “law breaker” like assault weapons. They deploy an arsenal of tropes (such as “What part of illegal don’t you understand?”) to quash rational immigration reform. And they have turned “amnesty,” which Ronald Reagan proudly embraced, into a four-letter word that conservative presidential contenders shunThe point of any policy is determining who is a "serious criminal" and who is merely a "petty violator." How would we know without a strict policy and comprehensive enforcement? Therefore, while it may be true that restrictionists don't consider any differences, ironically, fuzzy open border advocates also grant moral equivalence by implying that all immigrants are to be trusted. Sovereignty advocates are actually the ones who want to make the distinction. In fact, that is the point of all immigration policy!
It in this context that she cites Rand's immigration status which is a red herring ultimately serving only as an instance of false generalization. Given the title of the piece, she clearly intends to elicit sympathy from Rand admirers. She cites some facts related to Rand's attempts to stay in the U.S. with the implication that "your crazy policies could have restricted Ayn Rand!" Of course, her argument is an instance of context dropping. Immigration policy at that time was or should have been based on factors evident at that time. Whether it was or not, we don't know, nor does the author attempt such a case study.
I can only assume that a rational policy, based on factors known at the time, should have concluded that she posed no threat and allowed entry. However, while Ayn Rand's escape and her subsequent work bestowed a massive benefit on the world, the possibility that we might exclude a future Ayn Rand or some other genius, is not a justification for open borders nor is it a justification for abdicating our national defense. In a foreign policy matter, there is always the potential for collateral damage. How many potential Ayn Rands did the Allies kill when they firebombed Germany or nuked Japan in World War II? What if we had gone to war with the Soviets and had to consider bombing Leningrad? Would they argue, “but, we could kill a potential Ayn Rand!" The same argument applies to any other country deemed a threat. There are millions of potential Ayn Rand's out there in hell hole dictatorships, but it is not our duty to save or protect them if we are acting to defend ourselves. It is our government's job to protect American citizens from foreign threats first.
Assailing those who regard "amnesty"as a "four-letter word" is an even larger context drop (plus she throws in an argument from authority). Amnesty for whom? Under what conditions? What are the unintended consequences of such an action today? All of these factors are contextual, and yet she cites Ronald Reagan's policy, as if all amnesties are equal for all times and necessarily all good.
As I stated earlier, these fuzzy open border types always claim they believe in borders while actually implying they don't. She writes,
Yes, every nation has the right to control its borders. But both liberal and illiberal immigration policies are consistent with that right. Precisely because there is something inherently arbitrary about where the line is set, lawmakers can’t maintain a posture of absolutist intransigence regardless of the ground-level response.Notice that while acknowledging the validity of border control, she immediately undermines that claim by asserting that any policy is "inherently arbitrary." This is false. As stated earlier, the purpose of immigration policy is a contextual policy of national defense that should be objectively defined based on numerous factors. Any foreign policy does involve some amount of discretion, such as with whom to seek military alliances or whom to regard as an existential threat, and immigration policy is no different. But that discretion does not render any policy to be "inherently arbitrary." It is up to the citizens of a sovereign nation to enact that policy through their representatives and hold them accountable if they act unjustly or non-objectively.
To truly grasp the author's actual ideology, consider this passage in which she writes:
Just as unduly high levels of taxation encourage tax evasion, unduly tight immigration restrictions encourage illegal border crossings—not to mention illegal hiring. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh points out that conservatives would never make tax cutting conditional on first ending tax cheating. Yet they see no contradiction in demanding the erection of a Berlin Wall on the Rio Grande as a condition for immigration reform.Taxation is an unjust seizure of private property by the state. While we accept it today in the context of a mixed economy, it is unjust in principle. Immigration policy and border control is not unjust in principle, but that is exactly the implication of this passage. We would never say that passing laws against burglary only encourages secret middle-of-the-night burglaries so we should relax the law on burglary. Similarly, because people will break the law in the context of immigration, it does not imply we should relax immigration restrictions. In fact, if we were trying to prevent Jihadi terrorists from pouring across the border, it would be a reason to strengthen enforcement.
She concludes with the following:
Something is grossly wrong when lawmakers, who are powerless to prevent individuals like 9/11 mastermind Mohammad Atta from entering the country, act like macho men against the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It shouldn’t take a John Galt to knock some sense into their heads.Yes, something is wrong if lawmakers are powerless to prevent terrorists from entering the country. So, is that reason to have less strict immigration policies or more strict policies? Surely she means to imply that we should restrict the bad guys and let in the good guys, but didn't Atta appear to be one of the "huddled masses yearning to breath free," or did he wear a sign on his forehead that said "terrorist?" That is the problem with fuzzy open border types. Their mushy altruistic desire for open borders, which fails to consider the consequences of open borders and ignores the self-interested foreign policy of sovereign people, is a rationalistic and suicidal fantasy.