Who is immigration for?

When a town hall questioner stated that Bernie Sanders supports open borders, Sanders responded:

“If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it. So that is not my position.

There is a tension between this and Sanders’ rhetoric of “human rights.”

With this answer, Sanders seems to prioritize Americans or at least American residents. For example, if healthcare is a “human right” as Sanders believes, do we not have a responsibility to provide it to everyone? Should we send our dollars and doctors abroad to provide care – or at the very least allow people to come and receive free care?

When crafting immigration policy, we have to consider our motivations. Do we design our rules for the benefit of America and its citizens, or is it primarily designed to benefit immigrants? Does Sanders oppose open borders because it would hurt Americans or because it would be so disruptive that we would help fewer people in the long run?

If immigration should focus on charity, how do we choose the beneficiaries? Many argue we must care for those who come to our borders seeking asylum. This is admirable, but why do we prioritize those who happen to be able to get here because they are able, economically-advantaged (relative to their peers who could not pay their way, or positioned favorably geographically (land access versus being separated by an ocean)?

The truth is that immigration policy is an imperfect balance of noble competing interests – and this is before we even get to the messy question of how we enforce our laws once we decide our goals! There are plenty of policies to debate in future posts, but we should encourage humility in the discussion – you can’t just boil it down to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” or “our country is full.”