My New Cato Institute Paper Making “The Case Against Covid-19 Pandemic Migration Restrictions”

The Cato Institute published my paper today arguing in favor of Covid-19 restrictions on migration. Part of this paper was based upon a section from my new book. You are free to move: Voting by foot, migration, and political freedom. Here’s an example:

Many countries have imposed severe restrictions on domestic and international movement due to the possibility of free migration accelerating COVID-19’s spread. These restrictions are not effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19, but they have been devastating for innocent victims and hundreds of thousands. They can even worsen the spread of diseases in some cases. In the long run, migration restrictions also curtail the scientific and medical innovation that we need to protect against future pandemics and other health threats….

Pandemic‐​related migration restrictions have inflicted immense suffering on people fleeing violence, poverty, and oppression, including refugees escaping Cuba, Venezuela, and Haiti. Many of those barred under the Trump and Biden administrations’ Title 42 “public health” expulsions and other policies may be condemned to a lifetime of privation or even death. Pandemic‐​era migration restrictions have also cut off large numbers of people from job opportunities, contact with their families, and much else.

There is little doubt that COVID-19 is a genuinely dangerous public health threat. In countries around the globe, millions have been killed by COVID-19. Its spread has not been impeded by travel bans, particularly when the country of destination already has a large “community spread”. Then-president Donald Trump’s imposition of the most severe immigration restrictions in all of U.S. history did not prevent COVID-19 from establishing itself in the United States and killing well over 800,000 people as of January 2022….

Any public health benefits of restricting migration must be weighed against the enormous costs—including slowing technological innovation that could help us combat future pandemics and other health threats. Immigration boosts innovation that makes it easier to fight pandemics, and other health threats. For example, the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines—the first two approved by U.S. regulatory authorities—were both developed by firms led by immigrants or children of immigrants from poor nations who probably could not have made their vital contributions to these medical breakthroughs had they or their parents been forced to live out their lives in their countries of origin. More generally, immigrants to the United States and Europe make disproportionate contributions to a variety of medical, scientific, and technological innovations, and present immigration restrictions block many additional advances…

Governments could impose temporary travel and migration restrictions when it is discovered that a dangerous variant of the disease has been detected. These bans would be just enough time to allow for some preparations or help calm public panic until they diminish. Once the restriction is no longer effective in preventing the spread, the ban can be removed by governments. In order to compensate for any reductions during the restricted period, the government could also allow in additional migrants. That might, perhaps, work with well‐​informed “benevolent despot” governments, which are immune to political pressure and always scrupulously weigh costs and benefits. However, wise and benevolent despots can be hard to find. In the real world, governments rarely have good information when a new disease or variant first emerges and rarely adopt the most targeted response….

Similarly, there is little reason to expect that governments will take “extra” immigrants to make up for pandemic‐​era shortfalls. This has not happened in America or any other country that imposed severe immigration restrictions during the COVID-19 crises.