The Donia Human Rights Center hosted a virtual discussion Thursday night on the human right to cross borders in search of a better life. The conversation centered around the recently published book, “Migration and Integration: The Case for Liberalism with Borders” by Tom Farer, professor at the University of Denver.

Ford professor Ann Chih Lin moderated the event and questioned Farer’s stance on open borders.

“You make the case that liberal societies, especially European democracies, should have generous programs of immigrant acceptance and importantly integration,” Lin said. “But you also come out strongly against the idea of open borders. Why don’t you believe that nations should welcome people who want to work and live in a country where they think they will have better opportunities?”

Farer said while there may be a convincing moral argument, open borders could ultimately clash with the rule of law and undermine the strength of democracy. 

“I do recognize that for liberals, there’s a strong moral argument in favor of allowing people to enter, to come and simply want to join the grand mosaic of whatever country it happens to be,” Farer said. “If you have important rules that the electorate regard as important. If you have rules, they should be enforced. And if they’re not enforced, it undermines the sense of people in the society that they are living in a rule-of-law system. This is not desirable for the survival of a healthy democracy.”

Lin went on to question Farer’s beliefs on migration and integration.

To explain his thoughts, Farer cited the Dutch policy of asking potential migrants their view about the Dutch tolerance and liberal social traditions that operate in Dutch society. 

“I felt that was justifiable, and indeed desirable in countries where the electorate was socially liberal to begin with. … I thought that was an irony here. That the very conservative members of the electorate tend to be hostile to immigration,” Farer said. “And yet, a considerable number of the immigrants were coming from countries and societies with social views very similar in many respects to the conservative elements.”

During the Q&A portion of the event, LSA senior Matthew Neubacher commented on the democratic right of the people to choose the immigration policies they desire.

“I appreciate Tom’s point that people have the democratic right to decide on what kind of immigration policy they prefer, and their democracy remains credible while such policies are enforced,” Neubacher said. “But this seems to me more so the stance that nations have the right to choose to not have open border, not a stance against open borders themselves. Could a democratic and rule-of-law society state not choose to open its borders?”

Farer said the decision ultimately rests on electoral choice, but he argued that there are “self-interested” reasons for having a generous migration policy and cited Japan as an example of why. 

“You can start off by pointing to Japan, which has had a peculiarly ungenerous migration policy,” Farer said. “And you can look at 25 years of economic stagnation in Japan, you can look at older people dying alone in various assisted living centers on Japan because they have no under look after them. There are lots of reasons why Western societies with low birth rates want migration.” 

Daily News Contributor Justine Ra can be reached at rjustine@umich.edu. 

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