Open Borders in America: A Look Back and Forward

Reason magazine, in print since 1968, has long focused on immigration policy in general, and, specifically, open borders—the idea that people’s movement across national boundaries ought to be free of government restrictions.

For much of its history, America had essentially open borders, both before the establishment of the United States and after. In 1921 the Emergency Quota Act, initially intended to be a temporary measure, imposed the first serious restrictions on entry into the United States.

The restrictions were motivated by nativist sentiment, xenophobia, and fears over economic and social stability. Critics of liberal immigration policies wrote off America’s open-border past as a product of the massive frontier the country had, which gave immigrants ample room to settle. But as Joseph P. Martino noted in “Two Hands, One Mouth,” an article in the September 1984 issue of Reason, the idea that immigration didn’t threaten America when it was a younger country because

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