Noble: In support of open borders |

Noble: In support of open borders

The El Paso City Lines operated the world’s only transnational streetcar service between the cities of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, from 1908 until 1973.

That the line continued to operate well into the latter part of the 20th century is curious because the Immigration Act of March 4, 1929, made it a crime to cross the border without authorization. And yet, the border between El Paso and Juarez was essentially open; workers, shoppers, and tourists traversed the bridge by streetcar daily. All that was required to cross the border was payment of a modest fare.

The so-called crisis at the southern border is a crisis of our own making. Consider that at the end of fiscal year 2018 border apprehensions numbered 396,579.  Even if we hit the 750,000 projected for this year, it is still far below the level of the early 2000s when the annual number typically topped 1 million. In 2000, there were more than 1.6 million border apprehensions. Despite this decline in border crossings, the number of border patrol agents doubled from 2005 until 2017.

The president claims that Democrats want open borders. However, beyond insisting they support border security and protections for Dreamers, no prominent Democrat has advocated for open borders. Furthermore, among the public, there is little support for open borders. Mine is a lone voice advocating for open borders.

A history of discrimination

Variations of “I’m not against immigrants, as long as they come in the right way,” are heard primarily from white people with no appreciation for the historical context of American immigration law or the fact that the “right way” for their ancestors involved getting on a boat and showing up.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, accurately captured the motivation of American immigration law. “Historically, opposition to immigration in the United States has been racially and religiously motivated in the ugliest, nastiest way possible,” he said. A look at the historical record supports Norquist’s claim.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was motivated primarily by Californians quick to blame Chinese immigrants for all manner of economic misfortune, despite the fact that Chinese made up .002 percent of the U.S. population. The ban on Chinese immigration would be made permanent in 1902, and would not be lifted until 1943.

After 11 Italian immigrants were lynched in 1891, the lynch mob ringleader, John Parker, later governor of Louisiana, described Italian immigrants as, “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in [their] habits, lawless, and treacherous.”

The 1911 Dillingham Report for the Immigration Commission included this observation about Italians: “Certain kinds of criminality are inherent in the Italian race … crimes of personal violence, robbery, blackmail and extortion …”

Antipathy toward Italian immigration raged, culminating in the Immigration Act of 1924 that all but shut down immigration from Italy.

The Immigration Act of 1929 intentionally targeted Mexicans. Previously, Mexicans came to America to work, returning to their homes in Mexico with no legal or bureaucratic impediment at the border. However, this pattern shifted during the 1920s when 1.5 million Mexicans settled in the western U.S.  Despite the need for Mexican workers, especially in agriculture, this immigration was seen as “courting Anglo-America’s racial doom.”

The El Paso & Juarez mule-drawn streetcar, circa the 1880s.
Public domain archival photo

Debunking racist rhetoric

Currently, the majority of border arrests are immigrants turning themselves in to border agents to claim asylum. Most asylum seekers come from the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. El Salvador is second. Guatemala is not far behind. When the alternative is violence and death, even an unwelcoming America is attractive. 

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson claimed that immigration makes America “poorer and dirtier.” The former is factually incorrect and the latter is racist.

Immigrants demonstrably enrich our country. They pay taxes — $11.64 billion in state and local taxes a year, $13 billion into Social Security in 2010, they commit far fewer crimes than native-born Americans, and they are job creators. More than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

I may be alone in advocating for open borders, but I have the historical record, economic facts, and human decency on my side. Far from detracting from our country, immigrants are its lifeblood.

Claire Noble can be found online at and “Claire Noble Writer” on Facebook.

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