Terror is all about fear. That’s why it’s important to keep a factual perspective on the benefits of open borders and immigration, even in the midst of concerns over whether both the U.S. refugee resettlement and U.S. Visa waiver programs should be scrapped or amended. Governors in 31 states are trying to block Syrian refugees from coming in via the resettlement program, which has resettled 785,000 migrants from war torn countries since Sept. 11, 2001. Thirty-two states have already taken these refugees in, and only a tiny percent–around a dozen, less than a small fraction of one percent–have been removed from the country and/or arrested because of concerns over terrorism which existed prior to their resettlement, according to the State Department.
That’s still scary to a lot of people–one recent Fox news poll found that 77 percent of voters believe it’s likely that at least one refugee, entering America through this program, will carry out a terror attack in the United States. But it’s also important to look at the overwhelming benefit that migrants have historically provided in the U.S. and elsewhere. That’s one of the reason that the U.S. travel industry is up in arms about bill proposed by Senators Diane Feinstein and Jeff Flake to restrict certain aspect of the Visa Waiver Program that lets visitors come into the US for short trips without a visa. Those visits represent about 60 percent of the tourism flow to the country, as well as $190 billion in economic impact and nearly 1 million U.S. jobs. Countries that are part of the program, like Ireland, South Korea and Singapore, subsequently put more in direct investment into the U.S. economy.
But beyond that it’s really important to remember that the vast majority of people taking advantage of programs like the refugee resettlement program are simply trying to create a safe and secure life for their families. As Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pointed out in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations last week, it would be a “cruel irony” if the conflicts that we are a part of in the Middle East made it impossible for them to live in their own countries and we closed the borders to our own (on that note, it’s worth saying that although President Obama has said he wants to accept 10,000 refugees in the next year, only about 2000 have come in, because of the really tight screening progress in place).
Historically, migrants have huge economic benefits. Innovative and entrepreneurial, they create a higher-than-average number of patents in many countries, start businesses more frequently than natives and founded 40% of the Fortune 500 firms.
Beyond that most serious scholars believe that the bravery of immigrants has its own sort of economic value. Ian Goldin, the director of Oxford University’s Martin School and the author of Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, estimates that if rich nations around the world were to admit enough migrants to expand their labor force by a mere 3%, the world would be $356 billion richer–not only because of the productivity gains in the rich countries but because migrants send so much money back home. “Migrants are a disproportionately dynamic part of the labor force globally,” he argues, “In the 19th century, a third of the population of Sweden, Ireland and Italy emigrated to America and other countries,” he notes. “The U.S. is the very best example of how dynamic a country of immigrants can be.”
Of course, immigration from Nordic and European nations to the U.S. didn’t come with the cultural and political differences that migration from the Middle East does. Given the current climate of fear, proper vetting and extra attention should be given to make sure legitimate refugees are processed and settled in a way that allows them to integrate quickly and well into local communities (as countries like France and Germany have learned, leaving migrants on their own to cope or putting them in isolated housing on the outskirts of cities is a recipe for disaster). But migrants are already here, in 138 cities in the U.S., and the vast majority of them are contributing and making our country a better place. Let’s not forget that in the fog of fear.