WSJ’s Riley: Make the U.S. borderless

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Jason Riley said his views should make even die-hard xenophobes think twice.

Riley, a member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and author of “Let Them In: The Argument for Open Borders,” visited Yale on Thursday to discuss his views on immigration reform, hosting both a lunch with students and giving a talk that evening. The speech, sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center and the Yale Journalism Initiative, focused on Riley’s views regarding the importance of immigrants’ assimilation into American culture, a perspective largely accepted by the students and local residents in attendance.

Jason Riley speaks to students, arguing that the United States should open its borders to immigrants according to the economics of supply and demand.
Grant Smith
Jason Riley speaks to students, arguing that the United States should open its borders to immigrants according to the economics of supply and demand.

In an interview with the News before his speech, Riley, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., argued that America should let supply and demand economics control immigration flow, as opposed to letting politicians set arbitrary limits.

“Free markets include free and open labor markets,” he said.

He disagreed with efforts like the border fence to reduce illegal immigration, calling them “a bit medieval.” He cited the non sequitur of building a fence to protect the country from terrorists who may use planes in their attacks and mentioned that 40 percent of “illegal” immigrants in the country came through legal means.

Moreover, such measures to block the border counteract efforts to reduce illegal immigrant numbers, Riley said. When former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 beefed up security on the southern border, he said, seasonal workers began to stay over the winter, not wanting to return south to brave the journey the following year and getting permanent jobs in the process. The following summer, new immigrants came to fill the then-available seasonal positions, exacerbating the immigration problem.

Riley addressed many concerns often cited with open immigration; he explained that immigrants do not come unless there are jobs. In fact, he said, some analysts see counts of border crossings as a leading economic indicator.

Riley also opined on the Elm City Resident Card, saying the idea carries with it a number of benefits. He compared its controversy to the debate over drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants.

“Why prevent them, if you fear a threat, from joining a database?” he asked. “The idea that you can make life unbearable for these people, who come from places like Halisco,” he said, “is ridiculous.”

During his speech, Riley spoke about the assimilation of immigrants and the disparities between their desires and those of immigrant advocates. He cited bilingual education in schools as one such issue, asserting that many immigrant parents actually want their children to be taught in English.

As Riley put it, “Keep the immigrants; deport the Harvard faculty [who suggest such measures].”

Though turnout was low at Riley’s speech, the seven-person audience took part in a lively debate. In the words of Yale Journalism Initiative Coordinator Mark Oppenheimer ’96, “small groups are often the most spirited.”

Riley’s espousal of free-market conservatism at some times raised eyebrows.

“It’s just a weird mixture of very liberal … and very conservative positions,” said Steve Heller, a resident of Rocky Hill.

Another attendee, Miriam Chirico of Glastonbury, also characterized Riley’s views on the topic as a thought-provoking conglomeration of seemingly polar political views.

Riley said he lamented that neither candidate in the presidential election can be expected to effect sweeping immigration reforms.

Before joining the Journal in 1994, Riley worked for both USA Today and the Buffalo News.


  • robert99

    7 people, huh? I hope that reflects his entire constituency.

  • Yale '06

    Actually, I think that our current treatment of undocumented immigrants will eventually be seen as a scar on our past, much like slavery. Just as we have treated African-Americans as second-class citizens, we now treat people who were born in the wrong town as second-class (non)citizens - denying them the right to work and calling them "illegal." They are also denied the ability to drive a car, the ability to get a bank account resulting in thousands of muggings each year, or the ability to visit children left behind in one's home country for years at a time. For those who point out that they have broken the law, don't forget that Rosa Parks broke the law too. So did any slave who escaped a plantation, any Japanese citizen who refused to go to an internment camp, any European who harbored a Jew, any Afghan who served as an American informant under the Taliban, and any mother who stole formula to feed a starving child. Sometimes people cannot be blamed for breaking the law when the situation demands it - sometimes these "illegal" lawbreakers should be celebrated. These immigrants are motivated by the hopeless plights of their families in countries where it is often impossible to make enough to put food on the table - #1, you'd probably jump the border too if it was the only way to provide for your family. Mark my words, we will one day be ashamed of this "illegal immigrant" legacy.

  • alum

    Yale'06: You are completely wrong. If this country ever stoops to apologize for its treatment of illegal immigrants, it will be a country I do not recognize or want to be a part of. It is one thing to take the bleeding-heart position of "oh let's just let everyone in". It is another thing to really back that opinion up with action. As an experiment, let's see how many people would voluntarily check a box on their next tax return that asks them to contribute even $1 toward paying for the money we spend each year on illegal immigrants' visits to ERs and hospital stays, the money we spend on building more jails to house them for real crimes they commit, or the English-as-a-second language teachers we need to hire in our schools. Let's just see how much money would be raised - my hunch: less than would be enough to send a few kids to Yale each year. My point is that no matter what people might say, very few people actually want these illegal immigrants in this country. We tolerate them, but would not miss them if they were gone. Trust me, I wouldn't mind paying extra for strawberries or anythign else for that matter if it meant fewer illegals in this country.

  • Matt

    #3, How elitist can you be?! You want to deny a person the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness based solely on where that person were born. How much money are you sending to GM to keep them alive? You are sending them money, right?

  • Staff4

    Yale students proposing open borders should also advocate open admission to Yale. Let every person that wants to come to Yale for an education come here. Why limit admissions? Why torture high school students through the applications process? The reality is that the resources in US are limited and we must place limitations on who can immigrate here. USA should legalize immigration from Mexico and Latin America with temporary labor visas and document these workers. Make them pay taxes and close the borders. This would be beneficial for all parties.

  • Yale 08

    As a social and fiscal conservative:

    I support open borders for the reasons Mr. Riley mentions:

    -Impracticality/Cost of preventing immigration

    -The dignity that must be afforded all human beings

    -The free market's ability to regulate immigration without government interference (supply and demand for labor will set the immigration amount)

    I am continually appalled by conservative opponents of open immigration who suddenly support government regulation into the labor market.

    Equally shameful for a conservative is the argument that "the immigrants are stealing our jobs" by working for less than the minimum wage- no conservative can support wage or price controls.

    These immigrants are hardworking with extensive family bonds. We should be welcoming them.

  • alum

    #4: I am sending no money to GM, in fact I believe in the free-market: if a company produces an inferior product, it should go out of business, not be bailed out by taxpayers.

    It woul dbe one thing to let mexicans and others roam free through our borders to take jobs no one else wants…but this isn't all they do. They utilize our resources to a far greater extent than they give back in sales tax, etc. If they want to come here just to work and not use our emergency rooms and hospitals and schools, fine, but that's not realistic so I will err on the side of not letting them inand suffering the minor consequences of not having their cheap labor. Like I said before, I'm willing to pay a few cents more for strawberries…..