Specifically, Kelly argues that the large influx of French Canadians into America 100 years ago strengthened the U.S. economy; thus, it stands to reason that having a more open Mexico-U.S. border could boost America’s 21st century economy.
And what about security concerns? Kelly pushes for a North American border security approach: “Instead of vainly trying to fortify our land borders, we should be working with Canada and Mexico to keep the things we should really worry about — terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, cocaine — out of North America all together.”
From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, nearly a million French Canadians poured across our northern border to take jobs in New England textile and shoe mills. This movement, part of an even larger mass of Anglo Canadians also moving south, surged after the Civil War and ended with the Great Depression, with peaks in the 1880s and 1920s.
The majority of these job seekers — French speaking, slow to assimilate, mainly Catholic — entered without visas, work permits or passports, because during most of this period our land border with Canada was effectively wide open.
The United States not only survived this unregulated onslaught, it prospered. Indeed, our history suggests that having an open border with our continental neighbors isn’t such a bad thing.
Far from causing the collapse of the republic, these largely unregulated border crossers helped build the United States we know today.
What the French Canadian experience shows is that our current obsession with border security is inconsistent with our history, undermines our economic vitality and is likely to fail.
Instead of vainly trying to fortify our land borders, we should be working with Canada and Mexico to keep the things we should really worry about — terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, cocaine — out of North America all together.