The Three Greatest Dangers of Open Border Policies

by Antonios J. Bokas

Abstract: Open border policies are designed to erode the ability of law enforcement and justice officials to enforce immigration law. Current legislation in the House of Representatives, such as the New Way Forward Act, seeks to diminish penalties for felons who illegally reenter the US and remove penalties for immigration-related marriage fraud. If such modifications are passed, they will open the door for smugglers to further exploit illegal immigrants, many of which are already destitute and financially impoverished. Further, the negative effects of drug trafficking will be magnified by open border policies.

At a recent presidential roundtable on border security, one Texas rancher who lives at the border explained how smugglers typically exploit illegal immigrants: “They walk them 10 miles across the border, walk them around in a brush, and disappear on them. They’re lost. They’re hopeless” (White House, 2019, Mr. Awbrey section, para. 8). The plight of smuggled illegal immigrants is only one of numerous misfortunes that is caused by having an open, unregulated US-Mexico border.

Staring in the face of the indisputable dangers posed by open border policies is an ideological presence that implies sovereignty is secondary to morality. However, despite attempts to frame them as acts of compassion, open border policies contribute to US economic hardship, abuse of illegal immigrants, and drug-related crime in US communities.

Open border policies are not a specified body of rules or laws, but, as one newspaper describes, they are immigration policies that force US authorities to “just wave the migrants on in” (Post Editorial Board, 2019, para. 10). In the context of this research, open border policies refer to current or proposed laws that render the US border open, indefensible, or vulnerable to the incursion of illegal aliens (illegal immigrants) or criminal elements.

Radical Changes to Immigration Law

To supply the proper legal context to this research, a proposed bill called the New Way Forward Act (2019), which is self-described as a bill “to reform the process for enforcing the immigration laws of the United States,” was examined in light of existing immigration law (p. 1). The first part of the bill that was examined, Section 301, Criminal Offenses and Immigration Laws, relates to the inadmissibility of aliens into the US (p. 16).

Unfortunately, a large group of Representatives in Congress want to weaken the admissibility restrictions for criminal aliens. In December of 2019, 34 cosponsors from the House of Representatives introduced a bill to Congress called the New Way Forward Act. The bill is still in the House, but if signed into law, it would radically alter US immigration policies.

For example, the New Way Forward Act would remove language from current law in order to allow criminals who have been convicted of crimes of moral turpitude to be admitted into the US “by striking subparagraph (A)” from “Section 212(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2))” (p. 16). Moral turpitude is an “act of baseness, vileness, or depravity,” according to Black’s Law Dictionary, as cited in the case of Sosa-Martinez v. US Attorney General (2005, p. 6). In the case, Sosa-Martinez, a permanent resident from Honduras, was found to have “stabbed the victim, a rival gang member, three times with a pocket knife” (p. 2). In addition, subparagraph (A) of Section 212(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952) makes aliens who have violated US or foreign controlled substance laws inadmissible; however, as described above, this protection would also be removed by the New Way Forward Act.

Creating lax, instead of strict, criteria for who may enter the US is a dubious method of reforming immigration laws, but deliberately allowing convicted criminals to enter the US is not only irresponsible, it is an indication that the cosponsors of this bill place the interests of criminal immigrants over the safety of US citizens.

Not only does the bill seek to reduce the admissibility restrictions placed on known criminals, it also seeks to remove all “criminal penalties” for improper entry and reentry into the US (New Way Forward Act, 2019, p. 25). Section 601 of the New Way Forward Act (2019), Repealing Migration Criminal Laws, entirely repeals section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (p. 25). Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952) delineates the nature of and penalties for a variety of immigration crimes: improperly entering the country, avoiding examination or inspection, misrepresenting and concealing facts, marriage fraud, and establishing a fraudulent commercial enterprise in order to evade immigration laws. Marriage fraud and immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud are punishable with a maximum of 5 years in prison, according to section 1325. Under the New Way Forward Act, these penalties would be removed, thereby encouraging more immigration fraud. Another statute that Section 601 completely repeals is section 1326 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (p. 25).

Section 1326 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952) delineates penalties for aliens that reenter the US who have previously been denied admission or deported or have been removed for committing felonies or aggravated felonies. According to the statute, some types of reentry are punishable with a maximum of 10 or 20 years in prison. But under the New Way Forward Act, these penalties would also be removed. Thus, the New Way Forward Act summarily eliminates numerous basic deterrents to illegal entry and reentry. In other words, it legitimizes such things as evading official ports of entry and sham marriages and it allows certain types of convicted criminals to reenter the US with no fear of reprisal.

Rather than repeal current immigration law, the final part of the bill that was analyzed, Section 701, Reconsidering and Reopening Immigration Cases, mandates the importation of previously deported criminal aliens, based on a retroactive reclassification of their crimes. Section 701 of New Way Forward Act (2019) states that, under certain circumstances,

The Attorney General—(1) shall grant a motion to reconsider or reopen proceedings … with respect to any alien who—(A) on or after April 24, 1996—(i) was ordered removed, deported, or excluded … and (B) demonstrates that the alien—(i) would not have been considered inadmissible, excludable, or deportable under the immigration laws (as defined in section 101(a)(17) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(17))) if this Act, and the amendments made by this Act, had been in effect on the date on which such order was issued or the voluntary departure took place.

(pp. 25-26)

In essence, the bill allows someone who was previously deliberately removed, deported, or barred from entering the US to be absolved of his or her crime if it is no longer a crime based the new legislation. Finally, a later part of Section 701 contains the following language:

The Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide transportation for aliens eligible for reopening or reconsideration of their proceedings under this section, at Government expense, to return to the United States for further immigration proceedings and shall admit or parole the alien into the United States.

(p. 27)

At a minimum, Section 701 provisions will not only prompt the reopening of multitudes of proceedings for previously litigated cases, but they will explicitly force American taxpayers to pay for the return of convicted criminal aliens to the US. This overview of various components of the New Way Forward Act is incomplete, but it gives ample clarity to the meaning of open border policies. The true dangers of open border policies lie, not in the text of a bill, but in their effects on the nation, starting with the economy.

Economic Effects of Illegal Immigration

One of the ways that open border policies damage the US economy is by allowing the entry of financially destitute illegal immigrants who have given much of their savings away to smugglers. To put this seemingly harsh statement into perspective, consider the following facts.

First, according to the Department of Homeland Security (2018), 95% of illegal immigrants used a smuggler to enter the US in 2015 and 74% of illegal immigrants apprehended at the border, in 2012, were Mexican nationals (pp. 48, 46). Second, they also estimate that the average fee paid to smugglers in 2012 was $2,500 (p. 48). Thus, with the 2012 Mexican average annual household income being $11,736 and the annual per capita income in that same year being $3,156, the typical Mexican illegal immigrant in 2012 paid approximately 21% of his or her household’s income, or 83% of his or her individual income, to a smuggler (Pineda, 2012, p. 5). The stark reality is that many illegal immigrants, who may already be fleeing their country for economic reasons, are likely arriving in the US with little or no money at all.

The assumption that illegal immigrants are arriving in the US without the proper wherewithal is reinforced by stories from American citizens who live by the border and frequently encounter stranded border-crossers. According to one eyewitness (previously mentioned), who is a third-generation rancher from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the kind of illegal immigrants that he discovers on his ranch has changed over the past twenty years:

I go out there and it’s a family in distress. You know, we feed them. We water them. And they’re asking for help. We’re passionate people, and that’s what we do. … We feed them, clothe them—whatever we have to do.

(White House, 2019, Mr. Awbrey s­ection, para. 6)

Open border policies, such as those described in the New Way Forward Act, would likely cause an increase of immigration between ports of entry, but not necessarily a decrease in smuggling costs (remember that criminals and fraudulent enterprises would also be able to exploit the border more easily, making the border more dangerous overall). Open border policies would also likely cause an increase in the total amount of commercial smuggling. In brief, the overall economic effect of open border policies would be an increase in the number of illegal immigrants who arrive in US communities that are unable to financially support themselves without the help of generous American citizens.

The Threat of Unregulated Drug Trafficking

Another danger that is encouraged by open border policies, which specifically affects the economic and social condition of US communities, is drugs and drug-related crime. According to research conducted by Valdez et al. (2019), in an unnamed rural border community of less than 25,000, “the most salient risk factor for adolescent substance abuse in the community was the depressed economy, characterized by the closure of local businesses [and] subsequent lack of jobs and career opportunities” (p. 149). They discovered that drug trafficking was normalized in the selected border community due to “generational dependence on the drug trade for economic reasons” (p. 151).  In fact, their research revealed that “cross-border mobility increases access to alcohol and drugs among transnational youth” (p. 150). Thus, the attempt by open border advocates to decriminalize illegal entry may help well-intentioned illegal immigrants avoid criminal penalties, but it will also likely increase drug-flow into US communities by making it easier for drug traffickers to access the country when avoiding ports of entry.

If traffickers send more drugs into the US in between ports of entry, this unregulated influx of legal and illegal drugs will further harm the economy and American communities. At ports of entry alone, a total of 367,612.58 Kg of drugs were seized in 2016, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security (2018, p. 53). This total includes 15,018.32 Kg of methamphetamine, 23,949.89 Kg of cocaine, and 233,774.29 Kg of marijuana (p. 53). A preliminary estimate of the value of marijuana seized in 2016, based on a 2016 average price of $340.53 for 1 ounce of legal cannabis, is approximately $2.8 billion (Goldstein, R. S., Sumner, D. A., & Fafard, A., 2019, p. 142). That is $2.8 billion dollars of marijuana that was prevented from undercutting legal, regulated marijuana markets in the US. But if open border policies were to be effected, those controls would become substantially weakened.

In conclusion, cross-border drug trafficking has caused an economic dwindling spiral in some border communities. If current law is further weakened to allow criminal aliens with substance abuse convictions to enter the country, and furthermore, to allow them to do so from an unauthorized point of entry with immunity, trafficking of legal and illegal drugs will almost certainly increase and have a negative socioeconomic impact on the country.

Despite the negative economic and drug-related effects of open border policies, the most insidious effect comes in the form of abuse of illegal immigrants as human trafficking victims. In a broad report on human trafficking in Texas, Busch-Armendariz et al. (2016) explain that “one of the biggest vulnerabilities faced by immigrant labor is being undocumented without legal permission to work” (p. 22). They further explain that illegal immigrants are then at risk of being exploited by people who believe illegal immigrants cannot report abuse without risking deportation (p. 22). The report estimates that 28% of migrant farm workers (36,970 out of 132,034) are annually trafficked for labor purposes in Texas (p. 56). In her 2011 report on trafficking in persons, Clare Seelke explains the relationship between human trafficking and border security:

As U.S. immigration and border restrictions have tightened, illegal immigrants have increasingly turned to smugglers to lead them … across the U.S.-Mexico border. … smuggling routes have become more dangerous and therefore more costly. Smugglers have sold migrants into situations of forced labor or prostitution in order to recover costs.

(p. 354)

Thus, the solution for preventing the exploitation of illegal immigrants and the inflow of drugs and drug-related crime appears to be a conundrum: choose poor, drug-infused communities or exploited immigrants. However, that is not the answer to the US-Mexico border problem.


­­Current immigration law has flaws that, based on anecdotal, statistical, and analytical evidence, contribute to unwarranted distress in US communities. However, radical open border policies, like those proposed in the New Way Forward Act, will cause even further economic hardship, exploitation of illegal immigrants, and infestation of drugs in US communities. The entire US border with Mexico must be properly surveilled and secured; criminal penalties against illegal entrants as well as criminal elements should be maintained and even strengthened. There is no rational trade to be made between those whose lives have been ruined by drugs and those whose lives have been ensnared by human traffickers. A secured border will discourage the majority of smuggling activities and thereby force illegal immigrants to stay in their countries or apply for admission and wait to enter the country legally.

Based on figures obtained during this research, in 2012, illegal immigrants paid approximately $1.9 billion to smugglers. The following equation combining 2012 border metrics demonstrates this approximation: [(600,000 detected unlawful entries + 290,000 undetected unlawful entries)  87.5% mean smuggler usage rate]  $2,500 border crossing cost estimate = $1,946,875,000 (Department of Homeland Security, 2019, pp. 12, 13, 48). That is billions of dollars that went into the hands of criminals instead of being invested by illegal immigrants in the American economy. Drug cartels sometimes use youth to transport drugs across the border and between states and then to sell the drugs once they arrive at larger cities (Valdez et al., 2019, p. 151).

The amount of additional influence that cartels would have if the border was even less secured, and if convicted criminals were voluntarily flown back into the country, is likely significant. An appeal to hard facts must be made when discerning the best course of action to protect American communities, while also safeguarding the lives of the helpless. The President claimed that if the US-Mexico border had a complete physical barrier, 90-95% of human trafficking would stop in the region (White House, 2019, para. 20). US lawmakers must continue to consider the facts regarding border security and, conversely, open borders, in order to prevent additional hardship on Americans and illegal immigrants alike.


Busch-Armendariz, N. B., Nale, N. L., Kammer-Kerwick, M., Kellison, B., Torres, M. I. M., … Nehme, J. (2016). Human trafficking by the numbers: The initial benchmark of prevalence and economic impact for Texas. University of Texas at Austin.

Department of Homeland Security. (2018). Department of homeland security border security metrics report. Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security.

Goldstein, R. S., Sumner, D. A., & Fafard, A. (2019). Retail cannabis prices in California through legalization, regulation and taxation. California Agriculture, University of California, 73(3), 136-145.

Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. §§ 1182, 1325, 1326 (1952).

New Way Forward Act, H.R. 5383, 116th Cong. (2019).

Pineda, M. (2013). 2012 national survey of Mexican household income and expenditures. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

Post Editorial Board. (2019, June 18). AOC’s latest: Only Nazis oppose open borders. New York Post.

Seelke., C. R. (2011). Trafficking in persons in Latin America and the Caribbean. Journal of Current Issues in Crime, Law and Law Enforcement, 4(3), 351-370.

Sosa-Martinez v. U.S. Attorney General, 420 F.3d 1338 (11th Cir. 2005).

Valdez, E. S., Korchmaros, J., Sabo, S., Garcia, D. O., Carvajal, S., & Stevens, S. (2019). How the U.S.-Mexico border influences adolescent substance use: Youth participatory action research using photovoice. International Journal of Drug Policy, 73, 146-155.

White House. (2019, January 11). Remarks by president Trump in roundtable on border security | McAllen, TX.

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