Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders by Jason L. Riley, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker

The growing misinformation, jargon, polemics, and hate language around the crucial issue of immigration warranted a qualified, conservative commentator to write about the subject. The author of this book is a member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board and has appeared on Fox News and Hannity & Colmes.

The author puts immigration in the U.S. into a historical perspective. He points to conservative hero President Ronald Reagan in responding to the arguments that immigrants depress wages, displace workers, and boost crime and disease while posing a threat to national security, which runs counter to the precepts of free trade. He opens his book with this quote from the former President:

America is many Americas. We call ourselves a nation of immigrants, and that’s truly what we are. We have drawn people from every corner of the Earth. We’re composed of virtually every race and religion, not in small numbers, but significant. We have a statue in New York Harbor that speaks to this—a statue of a woman holding a torch of welcome to those who enter our country to become Americans. She has greeted millions upon millions of immigrants to our country. She welcomes them still. She represents our open door.

 Since the government began keeping records in 1820, “…the United States has absorbed a world-leading 60 million immigrants from 170 nations. The latest census data puts our foreign-born population at 33.5 million, roughly Canada’s population.”

He also provides a perspective on the sordid history of opposition to immigrants from Germany, Ireland, China, and Latin America. In a treatise against the political influence of Catholicism, a leading nativist of his day argued that” poor, uneducated Irish Catholics were subverting the values and ideals of Anglo-America and should therefore be kept out of the country.”

Later in the century, the “Yellow Peril” would become all the rage. One notable illustration in 1881 depicts Lady Liberty as a Chinese coolie gripping an opium pipe. “The rays of light emanating from the statue’s head are labeled “Immorality,” “Filth,” “Disease,” and “Ruin to White Labor.”

Here in Arizona, former Congressman J. D. Hayworth suggested we give America’s estimated 12 million undocumented residents—“half of whom have been here more than five years and many of whom have married American citizens and borne American children—120 days to leave the country voluntarily and then deport the remainders by force.”

Part of the justification for this ill-advised policy was that Latin Americans wouldn’t assimilate. Yet, the 2000 census found that 91% of the children and 97% of the grandchildren of Mexican immigrants spoke English well. Nor, according to the author, immigrant parents don’t necessarily want their children to speak Spanish. The Pew Hispanic Center survey found that 89% of Latinos “believe immigrants need to learn to speak English to succeed in the United States.”

The author effectively deals with each of the familiar tropes used to create fear and mistrust for the immigrants entering from Latin America today and concludes, “Domestic policies that encourage immigration help keep our population not only youthful but vibrant. Immigrants are giving the United States a distinct comparative advantage in human capital, which is no small matter in an increasingly globalized economy.”

He takes on the job displacement myth head-on, as it fuels much of the immigration debate. He points out that in 2006, there were 146 million workers in the U.S., and 15% were foreign-born. And they were doing jobs that wouldn’t have existed had the immigrants not been there.

Riley tracks the considerable amount of taxes paid by immigrants and how most of them work hard, as reflected in the record number of remittances sent back to family members in their respective countries. And according to the author they produce many new jobs as entrepreneurs in their own right.

Riley concludes that because immigrants strengthen the economy through their labor and entrepreneurism, our policy on immigration should recognize economic realities and focus on providing legal ways for immigrants to enter the country through guest-worker programs.

According to the author, “Illegal immigration to the United States is a function, first and foremost, of too many foreigners chasing too few visas. Some 400,000 people enter the country illegally each year—a direct consequence of the fact that our current policy is to make available just five thousand visas annually for low-skilled workers…”

The author offers several examples of the consequences of not putting our immigration house in order. With 12 million undocumented immigrants, “…it makes little sense, public policy-wise, to let them stay, but not drive legally.” More unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road by denying licenses is counter-productive from a law enforcement and homeland security standpoint.”

The author does not contend that immigration has no economic costs, especially in border towns. However, “when those costs are properly weighed against the gains, open immigration and liberal trade policies still make more sense than protectionism, from both security and economic standpoints.”  As the 2024 presidential election approaches with immigration reform on the front burner, Let Them In is essential reading for liberals and conservatives alike who want to bring an informed perspective to the discussion.

“This fact-laden polemic should make even the most die-hard xenophobe think twice.”—MAX BOOT, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations.

About the Author

Jason Riley is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, where he has written about politics, economics, education, immigration, and social inequality for more than 20 years.

Mr. Riley authorizes four books: Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders (2008); Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed (2014); False Black Power? (2017); and the forthcoming Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell (May 2021).


Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Gotham (May 15, 2008)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1592403492
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1592403493
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 18 years and up
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 78 x 1.01 x 8.54 inches
  • Best Sellers Rank: #607,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • Customer Reviews: 

4.4 4.4 out of 5 stars    62 ratings

 About the Reviewer

Mark Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association. His second book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road and Beyond, was the 2023 Peace Corps Writers’ Award for Best Travel Book winner.


Two of his 28 published essays were recognized by the Solas Literary Award, including a Bronze award, in this year’s “Best Travel Writing” Travel Adventure category. Two of his pieces were winners at the Arizona Authors Association Literary Competition.


He’s a contributing writer for “Revue Magazine” and the “Literary Traveler.” His column, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why,” is part of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter. He’s working on his forthcoming books, Moritz Thomsen, The Best American Writer No One’s Heard Of, and The Guatemala Reader, What You Might Not Know and Why You Should Care. His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at www.MillionMileWalker.com.


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