Lenni Benson, a nationally recognized expert on immigration and a professor at NYU Law School, is confused about why, given the ascendancy of free market theories promoting the seamless flow of financial capital, the United States doesn’t facilitate an equally smooth flow of humanity. To an economist, immigrants represent “human capital,” and are in many ways the same as stocks and bonds: some reformers believe that a freer flow of labor across borders would normalize and improve the world economy.

More importantly, to currently illegal immigrants, seamless immigration policies would facilitate family reunions and economic opportunity, and drastically minimize the motivation to immigrate illegally.  Benson talked to Big Think about the history and the future of immigration in the United States.

Benson explains that, despite popular notions of the thirteen colonies providing an open-door “melting pot,” the United States had a problem with immigration even in its infancy: from our country’s founding to today, our main misunderstanding about immigration policy is our instinct to immediately associate it with illegal immigrants. Benson explains that, instead, we should be thinking about our legal immigration policies. She described several ideas for reforming the system that have emerged from leading academics and been tested by other countries, and explains how leaders in our own system—like Ted Kennedy—have moved the country towards a more inclusive immigration policy.

The successful NYU professor also shared some thoughtful career advice, encouraging young people to form a patchwork of experience and connections rather that pursue a traditionally “titled” career, and confessed about the mundanities that keep her up at night.