would open borders help solve the problem of global poverty?

Today I was reading an article in the Mennonite Review that quoted a post of mine about the orphan crisis in Haiti.  The author suggested that more people should consider moving to impoverished countries to serve.  It was a great piece, but I was really fascinated with a comment to the post, and thought I would share it here for discussion.

What you are pointing out, though not intentionally, is a fascinating economic truth. I've advocated open borders for (at least) oppressed and distressed peoples. There are many in Haiti whose lives would instantly be 10 times better simply by stepping foot on American soil. And America can easily absorb them (despite what many might say). This is because there is a disparity in human capital, or education, across borders. This is no fault of the Haitians, nor merit of Americans, simply a fact generated by history, whatever injustices contributed to that fact. But Americans flowing into Haiti can provide resources which are more scarce in Haiti than in America. In fact, Americans might flourish in Haiti, and Haitians around Americans might flourish with them!

All of this points to the fact that freedom of mobility provides opportunities to everyone, and should be the leveling instrument across and within cultures.

- Nathanael Snow

I think the question of international transition is a good one, and one that is rarely discussed (at least in my opinion) in circles that are aiming to aid the world’s poor.  I think we’ve been engrained to think of our country as an impenetrable fortress, and I think most conversations revolve around keeping people out rather than offering them shelter.  We may feel sad for the folks living in poverty in other parts of the world, but I don’t know if we’d be willing to invite them here if it meant giving up a part of our own share of privilege.  It’s interesting to think of what is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, and how far our national ideology has veered from that now:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I’m not saying that I would advocate for a free-for-all across the borders.  But at the same time, I have seen instances where our government has offered asylum to select groups where it has been extremely beneficial (the Sudanese refugees come to mind).  My overwhelming thought upon leaving Haiti after the earthquake was that I wished that ALL of the survivors could have been airlifted out of the wreckage.  (Or at least those who wanted to leave).  In my time at the American embassy post-earthquake, there were so many Haitians there who would have given anything for the chance to take a flight to the US to start over.  Being evacuated on a military jet just by way of my nationality was a hard pill to swallow, as I thought of what was in store for those left behind. I talked about some of that survivor guilt in this post, and it still troubles me.

Let me point out, I do realize that people can come into our country – but I think our government makes it unduly difficult, if not impossible, for impoverished people from other countries to come here seeking work.  I mean, Kembe is our legally adopted son, who entered the country legally and who has every technical right to citizenship, and we are STILL waiting for the government to grant it to him.  So I’m operating under the premise that there is not a realistic path for people with few resources to enter our country legally.

What do you think about Nathanae'l’s comment?  Could freedom of mobility give better opportunities for everyone?  


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