Matt Purple

Amidst outrage over illegal immigration, some self-identified conservatives who see a bright side to open borders have been speaking up.

“These are economic migrants,” said Jason Riley, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, speaking at the Cato Institute. “We have the jobs. They need the work. Let them come legally.”

Riley is one of several conservatives who dissent from the movement as a whole on the issue of illegal immigration. He argued that there are substantial economic motives for legalizing aliens and referred to border control as “Soviet-style central planning.”

“The case for open borders is pretty straightforward. It’s the case for letting the free market decide who comes into this country,” Riley said.

Conservative author Michael Barone also called for “labor laws to work more in tandem with markets” and claimed that there is historical precedent for the recent influx of Latino immigrants, pointing to the enormous Irish immigrations during the 1850s and the German immigrations of the eighteenth century.

“In fact, we are not dealing with something unprecedented, but something we have faced before,” he said.

Open border conservatives like Riley and Barone tend to identify closely with the libertarian wing of the movement and approach the issue from a small-government perspective. Many of them work at libertarian think-tanks like Cato and the Reason Foundation.

The most pronounced opposition to illegal immigration has come from conservative talk radio and cable news, where hosts like Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham frequently rail against illegal immigrants and open border policies.

Such conservatives don’t think very highly of their open borders brethren. In a 2007 online video, popular anti-illegal immigration blogger Michelle Malkin called Riley’s Wall Street Journal editorial board “effete conservative elites”. Many conservatives have also blasted President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) for supporting a bill that would offer illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

Riley said that many of the arguments used for cracking down on illegals are either false or misleading, such as the contention that immigrants take American jobs.

“The typical immigrant is either higher-skilled or lower-skilled than the average American, so they tend to complement the workforce rather than take jobs,” he said.

He also pointed to declining welfare caseloads, poverty, child poverty, and hunger over the past fifteen years as evidence that recent illegal immigration has not harmed the country.


Matt Purple

Matt Purple is an editorial intern with Townhall.com and is studying politics at Catholic University.