If you believe that there’s a “better” future out there for the occupants of our planet, and further believe that it’s worth the trouble to try to improve Earth as a whole, then we’re going to have to figure out how best to make that happen. And there does seem to be a priority that stands above all others in the eyes of humanity: saving people’s lives. And if we do allegedly care about saving people’s lives as a general principle, what difference does it make if that life originated on one side of a national border or the other? Just for fun, let’s see how this principle plays out along the fence-line stretching between the United States and Mexico.

Here’s a short synopsis of the living conditions for the people of Mexico: not good. Kidnappers and drug dealers are running rampant through cities and towns, and the government wasn’t exactly providing a gleaming array of education and hospital services before it decided to commit everything it had to fighting the drug cartels tooth-and-nail. In short, citizens of Mexico aren’t swimming across enormous water canals and digging intricate tunnel networks hundreds of feet underground because they want to be first in line at Disneyland — they’re doing it because their country is in shambles.

Keep in mind, it’s not as if these desperate migrants chose to be born in Mexico and are now having second thoughts about that decision. They had no say in the matter. Can we expect single mothers in Mexico to voluntarily live in a place that offers a much lower quality of life and a much greater likelihood of death? If you were in their position (and you just as easily could have been), wouldn’t you try to move to a place that offered more safety from violence and a better chance at putting a solid roof over your head? And as much as a native Texan might try to ignore or deny it, the fact is that Debbie from Dallas did nothing to earn her U.S. citizenship — she was just extremely lucky to be born as an American.

Nevertheless, outrage and resentment continue to be unleashed against the “threat” of illegal immigration in our country, and many Americans still believe that the best course of action is to build an enormous fence with cyborg security personnel across the entire span of our nation’s southern boundary. And so the U.S. government continues to spend billions of dollars to make the border with Mexico as impermeable as possible. This is all being done with the knowledge that people aren’t going to stop trying to reach the sanctuary of the United States, they’re just going to resort to more dangerous routes of passage and pay more money to human smugglers to get them across the border — smugglers who also bring narcotics into the U.S. through those illegal passageways, meaning that U.S. border security efforts are indirectly funding the same organized crime groups that they’ve been throwing bank vaults at to eradicate.

Anyone who’s paying attention is aware of this — that more Latin Americans are inevitably going to lose their lives trying to evade the barricades being put up by the U.S., and yet the fence posts continue to be driven into the ground. If we’re going to make the claim that lengthening a person’s time on Earth is an unquestionably worthy aspiration, there is a course of action that we know with certainty will save hundreds (and probably many thousands) of lives, rather than a course of action that we know with certainty will cut hundreds of lives short. So the question remains: Do we believe we’re exempt from helping human beings in Mexico because someone drew a line in the sand hundreds of years ago? If we decide that we’re not, then the choice is simple: Let them come.

Could America’s economy, infrastructure and environment handle the elevated influx of residents that would result from an open border policy? From an economic standpoint, a country can always use determined laborers, especially when a large segment of its population is nearing retirement. But economics isn’t the main issue at stake here. What is at stake is the morality of our nation and the fundamental principle of preserving life. Yes, taking the humanitarian route would involve a lot of unknowns, but wouldn’t an unknown be better than knowingly denying millions of people the chance at a better life?

Connor Hastings is a UCSB alumnus.