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“The Case for Open Borders”: Journalist John Washington on New Book & Biden Asylum Ban

Web ExclusiveJune 05, 2024
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Arizona-based journalist John Washington talks about his new book, The Case for Open Borders, as President Biden signs a new executive order temporarily closing the U.S.-Mexico border.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

On Tuesday, President Biden signed an executive order that went into effect at midnight and will continue to codify the far right’s anti-immigration agenda by temporarily shutting down the U.S.-Mexico border and severely restricting protections for migrants seeking asylum.

Republicans mostly condemned Biden’s executive order. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign issued a statement, calling it, quote, “for amnesty, not border security,” unquote.

A number of Democratic lawmakers have also blasted the border order. This is Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: We are making the same mistake again that Democrats continually make when we try to out-Republican the Republicans. It does not work. It does not work. It does not solve the situation at the border. It dramatically curtails the ability for people to seek asylum at the border, which is what our domestic laws and our international treaty obligations require.

AMY GOODMAN: The podium that Congressmember Jayapal was speaking at said “#AsylumIsARight.”

We now continue our conversation with John Washington. He’s in Tucson, Arizona, right near the border. He’s a reporter for the independent news outlet Arizona Luminaria and an author of the new book The Case for Open Borders.

John, I wanted to continue the conversation. In Part 1, you responded to President Biden’s executive order, that has shocked many. I mean, the ACLU says it’s now suing, because they say it’s illegal when Trump does it, it’s also illegal when Biden does it. But it’s not only Republicans, although it seems to be a Republican agenda, that have criticized President Biden. His Democratic allies have, as well, like Pramila Jayapal. Yet you go further than the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Your book makes a case for open borders. Can you talk about what Biden is doing, what progressive Democrats in Congress are asking for, and what you are laying out?

JOHN WASHINGTON: Sure, yeah. So, it is hard to understand exactly what the political calculus is here for Biden. I don’t see this as a very winning strategy. And, you know, he’s being condemned by both sides right now. And Jayapal is exactly right. Both Biden and Obama before him and other Democrats have tried this. They’ve tried to lean right, concede their principles, and expect that they’re going to gain some political capital. But it doesn’t work.

And I think one of the main points that I want to make is that the administration, and various administrations, actually, actually are not standing on principles. What they’re doing is playing political football. But those have actual real effects on people’s lives, on migrants who are crossing the border. So, when you understand it, that it is just a political game, and you see that he’s being criticized from all sides, and, of course, Trump and his politics and policies around the border were criticized, but there’s one part of this that’s missing, especially on the left, is, when you are seeing this constant lamentation of the current status quo, you also have to ask, “Well, then what’s a better solution?” I think that the right, historically, has been very clear on this. They want less immigration, or, in fact, some of them want zero immigration. But the left hasn’t really been able to articulate what their vision for a just and humane border and immigration policy would look like.

And when I started to look at this, there’s been this idea that’s floated by some people of open borders. And actually, this makes a lot of sense, both historically and ethically. So, you know, there is a line from the proclamation of the executive order yesterday that says that these types of immigration — this type of immigration is detrimental to the interests of the United States. And actually, there’s not evidence for that. And when you look for evidence of that, you find that there is actually counterevidence, that immigration is overwhelmingly good, both in the economic sense, in the cultural sense. And, you know, it doesn’t deplete wages. It doesn’t take jobs. And then, like, once you start actually looking at all this, you start to wonder, then, “Well, actually, what’s this all about, if we know that immigration is actually incredibly necessary, especially right now, for our economy?”

Then, people just keep on reacting to people who are uprooted, people who are on the move, by trying to crack down. And another huge point here is that these crackdowns don’t work. This is something that we talked about earlier. But we have evidence going back centuries, is that trying to seal off borders actually doesn’t do a very good job of that. And there is inevitability of human movement. People have moved since people have been. And to try to stop it, it doesn’t work. But it makes people more miserable, it makes them suffer more, and it kills them. So, trying to understand, like, both the historical context around how borders were drawn in the first place, how they are continually drawn — and it is through incredibly violent means — you start to wonder, actually, “Maybe we can do things a little bit differently. Maybe we can celebrate the freedom of movement. Maybe we can guarantee basic rights for people who are forced out of unlivable places, and open the borders.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, I just want to underscore what you’re saying with your own book. You write, “The most convincing case” for open borders is that “borders kill.” Last year, there were 179 deaths along the Arizona-Mexico border desert, according to the aid group Humane Borders, and 2023 was the deadliest year on record across the globe for migrants, according to the IOM, including people crossing the Rio Grande. So, if you can talk more about that? And then this point that you’re making — it is not just altruistic, because this incredibly important moral case against border deaths is so important, but that it is good for the country — that’s something that is lost in the corporate media. And I’m not just talking about Fox.

JOHN WASHINGTON: Right, yeah, I mean, absolutely. You know, it is both in a nation’s self-interest, and it is obviously in the interest of the migrants, to let them migrate in a lawful, safe and orderly way. And border restrictions do the exact opposite of that. They don’t stop people from migrating. They just make it more disorderly. We don’t know who is crossing, because they’re forced to cross outsides of ports of entry. And, you know, these crackdowns just don’t work.

So, you know, I can talk at length about what borders do not do, but I think it’s really important to understand what they do do. And they do the opposite of a lot of the proclaimed things that, you know, border restrictionists are trying to protect. They exacerbate wage differentials. They actually hurt economies, both the economies of receiving countries, like the United States in this case, and, obviously, they economically hurt the migrants themselves. So, this really isn’t a —

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. When you say — 


AMY GOODMAN: — “They exacerbate wage differentials,” put that in lay terms.

JOHN WASHINGTON: Sure. So, you know, if you look at the U.S.-Mexico border — so, I’m about 60 miles from the border right now — what you see is that there’s been — over the past 30, 40 years, there’s been an increase of maquiladoras. They’re basically like modern-day sweatshops. And the reason that these factories exist, to make things from car parts to televisions to toasters, is because, well, especially after the implementation of NAFTA in the early 1990s, a lot of the companies who were working in the United States started offshoring or nearshoring to different parts of Mexico and elsewhere.

And so, what we see is that the people who were working in the factories in the United States were making certain wages, and now the people who are forced or who have access to these jobs in northern Mexico are paid a lot less. They have less worker protections. They are unionized at lesser rates. So, we see — when you don’t look just internally into the country, you see that, actually, the differences in both basic worker rights are enormously exacerbated by the border. So, the difference between a worker in El Paso and Juárez, or Nogales and Nogales, where I am, isn’t this like inherent difference in how wages are given or how — what sort of rights people should have, but they’re actually enforced and created by this border. This is why people can be paid so little, because they can’t access the jobs in the United States. They have to — they’re stuck in northern Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this isn’t necessarily in the United States a right-left issue. Talk about what businesses want and need, and those that are fighting for people to be able to come into the country so that they can have a labor force.

JOHN WASHINGTON: Right. There are enormous shortages in various sectors of the economy right now: construction, nursing, teachers. You know, we need more workers in the United States. And there’s a lot of Western countries, so-called Western countries, that have major worker shortages. And, you know, it seems like, if you’re just following the logic of the market, that you would let people in, and you would let them, you know, try to hire themselves out to these companies that need workers.

But, of course, the reason that these these border enforcement measures are in place is that — so, either they are able to exploit the workers who are stuck on the other side of the border, or, once they make it through, they have provisional status, they’re a guest worker, or they’re undocumented, and they’re able to be further exploited in those ways.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what you write about in your book, The Case for Open Borders? You say the issue is not immigrants, but the rich. And you go on to say that nations across the globe are trading the welfare state for a police and border state, John Washington.

JOHN WASHINGTON: Right. So, there are real issues in the world. And I think that a lot of people are right to be nervous and to be scared of the trajectory of the country, the trajectory of the economy. But the border is not the solution there, in fact. Cracking down further on the border is not going to help people who don’t have jobs or who are underpaid in the United States.

So, you know, I think that a lot of people — and even, like, if you look at another issue, fentanyl, the opioid epidemic, I mean, it is absolutely a crisis. But the border actually is not a solution to that crisis. You’re not going to effectively stop fentanyl pills from entering into the United States. It’s incredibly difficult to do. But there is a major issue. And we could think about why people are — don’t have proper access to medical or mental healthcare, why people are out of jobs or are dealing with addiction disorders, rather than just trying to police our way out of it. Because we know that that just doesn’t work. We have over a century of evidence showing that prohibitions to drugs or trying to prohibit people from crossing the border doesn’t work.

And so, if you think about it just in more humane terms, we can address the root causes. We can understand that climate change, growing levels of inequality across the world are forcing people to move, and walling them off isn’t going to stop it. We have to address those underlying issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you also address the issue of crime? So often it is repeated, and, of course, it’s one of Donald Trump’s talking points, to talk about immigrants and crime. And if you can talk about the real facts around crime, that the immigrant population has a far lower, I guess you could say, crime wave than nonimmigrants in this country?

JOHN WASHINGTON: Right. Right. This holds for the United States, this holds for many countries throughout the world, that immigrant communities in countries have far lower rates, as you’ve said, than native-born people. You know, you can isolate different states. Look at Texas. There’s a recent comprehensive study that was done in Texas showing that immigrants and immigrant communities had just, like, incredibly lower rates of crime and violent crime than the native Texans. And this holds for Germany. This holds for different other jurisdictions in the United States, as well.

It also holds for terrorism. So, there is actually not a single case of a person who has crossed the U.S.-Mexico border committing a terrorist act that killed anyone in the United States. And yet, we use this false flag to try to seal the border, when we’re not addressing the real issues that are causing crime or that are, you know, potentially a terrorist threat. We’re scapegoating migrants, who are the people who aren’t committing these problems and these acts. And so, it is really just like the wrong approach to trying to keep people safe.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you respond to the picture of President Biden signing this executive border order surrounded by border city mayors?

JOHN WASHINGTON: You know, I think this goes back to one of the things I said at the beginning, is that, you know, President Biden came into office and was campaigning four years ago, promising to restore asylum. He has completely backtracked on that. He has, you know, turned his back on so many of the campaign promises. I mean, he must be getting dizzy at this point.

And to think that this is going to work is to just blind ourselves to recent evidence. This is going to do only one thing, and that is going to make people’s lives more precarious, more miserable, and potentially kill people.

So, you know, I think it’s a shame that we’ve gotten to this point. But again, this is the pattern that we’ve been in for decades, both Republicans and Democrats trying to prove their bona fides and cracking down and gaining from it nothing, really, because immigration has just gone up and up and up.

AMY GOODMAN: John Washington, I want to thank you so much for being with us, staff reporter for the independent outlet Arizona Luminaria, author of the new book, The Case for Open Borders.

And I’m going to end with this tweet of President Biden himself from July 26, 2019: “Trump is fighting tooth & nail to deny those fleeing dangerous situations their right to seek asylum in our nation. We should uphold our moral responsibility & enforce our immigration laws with dignity — not turn away those fleeing violence, war, & poverty,” President Biden tweeted four years ago.

To see our first part of our interview that Juan González and I did with John Washington, go to democracynow.org. And to see our interview in Spanish, you can go to our Spanish website. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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