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Should States Control Their Borders?

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Given the decades-long, ongoing controversy over immigration, a question must naturally be asked: Should the states of the United States be given the authority to control their respective borders? That is, should they have the same power to control their borders that the federal government has to control the nation’s borders.

To clarify, I’m not asking whether state borders should be abolished. I’m asking whether state governments should be empowered to control the free movements of goods and people from other states into their states.

I realize that the Constitution does not permit the states to do that. But the Constitution can be amended and has been amended several times. So, the question is: Would it be a good idea to amend the Constitution to permit each state to control its borders?

Here in northern Virginia, where I live, countless people cross the border into Maryland every day. And vice versa. No one knows how many people are crossing, back and forth, because not one single federal or state agency is keeping count. The same holds true for state borders all across the country.

Also, no one knows the reasons that all these people are crossing borders to enter another state.

They might be looking for work, which could displace workers in the state they’re entering.

They could be entering to tour or shop, which could cause prices to rise in the state they’re visiting due to the increased demand. They could be coming to sell things, which could harm in-state retailers. There could be trade imbalances and trade deficits between different states.

They could be moving permanently into the state, which could cause population problems in densely populated cities. Imagine, for example, if everyone suddenly decided to move to New York City.

They might be moving from a state that provides low welfare in order to get on welfare in a state that provides high welfare, which would burden taxpayers in the high-welfare state.

Indeed, they could be terrorists or other criminal types who are entering the state to do bad things to people.

Open borders between the states obviously pose a dangerous situation for America. The question then, again, is: Should the Constitution be amended to address these dangers by authorizing the states to control their borders?

Several years ago, people living in northern Virginia and Maryland were living under the threat of being shot by unknown people known as the “D.C. snipers.” These terrorists were killing people at random, oftentimes as they were just pumping gasoline into their cars. They were killing people in both Maryland and Virginia. The cops had no idea who the killers were.

One option would have been to establish checkpoints at all the border crossings between Maryland and Virginia, where cops could demand that people show their identification papers and subject their vehicles for inspection. To the everlasting credit of Marylanders and Virginians, no one, as far as I know, ever called for border controls between the two states, not even to keep people safe from the terrorists. Americans have long held the belief that open borders domestically are an essential aspect of being a free American. Marylanders and Virginians just didn’t want to sacrifice their freedom, not even if it brought them a degree of safety.

My hunch is that most Americans would oppose amending the Constitution to permit the states to control their borders. Even though such controls might make people safer, even though they might mean lower welfare taxes, even though they could alleviate overcrowding in certain areas, even though some jobs might be saved, even though trade deficits between certain states might be reduced, and even though terrorists and other criminals might be inhibited from freely moving about the country, most Americans, I believe, would say: Economic freedom and free markets are too important to be sacrificed for the sake of security and, therefore, keep the state borders open.

If only more Americans could apply their reasoning in favor of open borders domestically to the nation’s international borders.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.