The freedom movement is inspiring in many ways.
It promotes a peaceful, liberated society in which people can be free to pursue their own ideas. Yet I find it ironic that while most involved in the freedom movement recognize the idea of personal liberty, many still hold an anti-liberty, anti-immigration view. When it comes to inalienable rights with which all men are endowed, why does it matter whether a person is born on one side of a border or another? Does crossing a border invalidate the nonaggression principle?
In the liberty movement, it is generally agreed that people are within their rights to make rules regarding their own personal property. You have a right to decide who may or may not cross a border into your privately owned land. But when it comes to borders that do not encompass privately owned property — borders between cities, counties, and so on — does any government official possess the moral authority to control the crossing of those borders by private individuals?
The Declaration of Independence states that all men share equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Keeping in mind the principle of equal rights, what could give one person a right to tell another person what borders he may or may not cross, when those borders do not surround privately owned land? If everyone has equal, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and private property, land that is not privately owned ought to be equally available to everyone on the planet.
Notwithstanding the idea of equal rights, many libertarians have, when it comes to immigration, a collectivist mentality: the notion that because a person is born within the borders of a particular country, he, by virtue of birth and in conjunction with others, owns the country. Such libertarians think they have the right to dictate who may or may not cross into their country. Again, that contradicts the very basis of the Declaration of Independence, as it assumes unequal rights among people.
As a pro-freedom individual, I strongly believe in the nonaggression principle. If I were to attempt to initiate control over other people, dictating where they may or may not live or to which location they may or may not travel, I would be violating this fundamental principle of freedom — and that’s exactly what the anti-immigration advocates propose.
Though a principled approach toward immigration is important, there are also some practical issues that need to be addressed.
Illegal immigration and the welfare state
First and foremost, there is a claim that illegal immigrants use the system to get a free ride, contributing nothing and receiving welfare benefits. Besides the fact that some immigrants do in fact contribute to the economy through their labor, the real problem is not immigration but the existence of the welfare state itself. The welfare system increases the size of government, increases the transfer of wealth from private individuals to government, and increases the transfer of wealth from government to welfare recipients.
In other words, the welfare state leads to an increase in the size of the unproductive class. In a free market, there would be no such system, and immigration would serve as a boost to the economy. In a free-market economy, when there are more people ordinarily there are more goods and services, more jobs, more competition, and more economic vitality.
While it’s important to dismantle the welfare state, one might ask what should be done with respect to immigration while the welfare state is still in effect. It is not the fault of illegal immigrants that there is an ineffective, immoral government system in place that requires people to involuntarily surrender a portion of their hard-earned money so that it can be distributed to others. Moreover, many illegal immigrants, who are working just as hard as anyone else, are actually willing to pay their share of taxes, but their illegal status makes it difficult for them to pay openly. Those immigrants who go to work for U.S. employers do end up paying taxes, as their employers withhold income tax, Social Security, and Medicare from their paycheck.
Illegal immigrants and jobs
It should be noted that the illegal status of many immigrants makes it easy for employers to take advantage of immigrants’ vulnerability. Illegal immigrants are so desperate to find work that they will take a job for much lower pay than most Americans. If immigrants were not afraid of getting caught and were free to conduct their business openly, they would be competing for jobs on an equal level with U.S. citizens and, thus, would be able to seek higher pay.
However, there is nothing morally wrong with a person’s offering cheap labor, and it actually benefits the economy. If an employer can hire someone to perform the same job for lower pay, more consumers benefit. That is how the free market works. In practical terms, immigration increases competition, and competition benefits the economy by encouraging innovation, reducing prices for the consumer and giving the consumer more options.
But aside from this practical solution, some people argue that illegal immigrants “steal” jobs from hard-working Americans. In reality, a person does not own his job. The employer offers the job, and the employee works for the employer. If there is no contract involved that states otherwise, an employer may fire his employees at any time and hire whoever he feels is better suited for the job. Returning to the concept of equal rights, a person should be free to travel, free to conduct business, and free to make his own monetary decisions, regardless of where he happens to have been born. You are not entitled to my wealth or to dictate to me what I should do with my money, and vice versa. As morally equal persons, we are both entitled to the freedom to pursue our happiness in our own way.
More and more of our freedoms, however, are being stripped away at a faster and faster rate, through higher taxes, increased socialized government programs, and the continued prohibition of substances and consensual activities. Immigration is just as much a freedom issue as any other government prohibition. And the fact is that immigration is not going to stop occurring, whether or not we make it illegal, just as the supply of drugs and alcohol did not disappear when selling them was made illegal.
In fact, the consequence of prohibiting immigration is going to be just what we see when other prohibitions are enforced, viz., the creation of a black market, which encourages real crime and leads to the development of a police state. The war on drugs has created hundreds of thousands of criminals who are in jail for peaceful reasons, just as the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcohol did back in the 1920s. History has taught us that prohibition does not eliminate the supply or demand for a product or service, and the same principle applies to immigration.
Whether or not immigration is made illegal, immigrants are going to continue crossing the border in an attempt to provide for themselves and their families. If we embrace the idea of open borders, we are not only advocating freedom for all people, we are also saving innocent lives, raising standards of living, and enriching our own lives.
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 edition of Freedom Daily. Subscribe to the print or email version of Freedom Daily.