There’s No “Leftist” Case Against Immigration

Capital freely crosses borders — people should too.

Justin Ward

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A child collects water in a camp for displaced in Cité de Dieu, Port-au-Prince. (United Nations / Creative Commons)

News about the thousands of Haitian refugees at the Texas border has dominated the national conversation in the past week. On the margins of the standard mainstream discourse about immigration reform, there has been a parallel discussion on the left about abolishing borders altogether. When radical publishing house Haymarket Books posted a tweet calling for border abolition, it sparked some controversy.

While this statement got a fairly positive response from most leftists, there was some pushback from conservatives, liberals — and even some self-identified socialists.

One person wrote that open borders “provide the bosses with an endless supply of strike-breaking labor. Not a smart move.”

This is a minority position on the left, but it still crops up often enough to merit a response.

It’s an appeal to leftist ideas like workers' rights and class struggle. And the people who take up this position consider themselves leftists, but this is hardly a leftist argument.

As much as these folks want to dress it up in socialist principles, it’s still the same tired position reactionary nativists and rightwing trade unionists have been making since the mid-19th century.

The most coherent version of this argument comes from Angela Nagle’s 2018 essay “The Left Case Against Open Borders.” Nagle cites Bernie Sanders and mangles Marx in an attempt to ground her claims in the leftist tradition.

A classic tactic of sophistry is to take a premise that everyone agrees with and then make an unjustified leap to a more controversial conclusion.

That’s exactly what Nagle does.

She starts with the idea that bosses have an interest in pitting different groups of workers against one another. This isn’t disputed on the left. Historically, it’s also true that marginalized groups like immigrants and…

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Justin Ward

Journalist and activist. Founder and co-chair of DivestSPD. Bylines at SPLC, The Baffler, GEN, USA Today. Follow on Twitter: @justwardoctrine, @DivestSPD