Last night I had the good fortune of sharing libertarian perspectives with students at Northwood University, one of the few colleges in the country where students receive a great education into free-market principles. My talk, which was delivered live on the Internet, was part of Northwood’s “Freedom Week,” which brought together both students and the general public to hear speakers share insights on the principles of free enterprise in the context of current issues.
My topic was immigration.
I began my talk by pointing out that for 100 years, the American people have lived under a permanent immigration crisis. Every five years or so, the crisis bursts into the public arena, during which many people go into paroxysms of angst and anxiety. Those periods inevitably generate reforms, after which the controversy seems to reside. However, after a few years the crisis, which inevitably is worse than ever, pops up again, accompanied by new expressions of angst and anxiety, followed by new reforms.
The reason for this permanent state of crisis? Immigration controls.
It really shouldn’t surprise us that immigration controls have produced chaos, crises, and even a large number of deaths.
That’s because immigration controls are nothing more than socialist central planning. A central board of immigration commissars plans, in a top-down, command-and-control fashion, one of the most complex labor markets in the world, one involving millions of people from different countries with diverse backgrounds and skills and different languages.
Studying the situation carefully, the federal planners decide how many immigrants to allocate to each country and what their skills and qualifications are going to be, weighed against what the planners feel is needed by businesses in the United States.
The planners possess what libertarian Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek called “the fatal conceit” — the mindset that purports to have the requisite knowledge and expertise to centrally plan such a complex endeavor.
How can it surprise anyone that immigration has long been in a permanent state of crisis? That’s what socialism always produces — crises. Or as the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises put it, “planned chaos.”
For 100 years, immigration socialists have tried to fix their system with an endless array of reforms, each of which has served to increasingly diminish the liberty of the American people. Immigration law now makes it a felony to hire an illegal immigrant. There are also Soviet-style checkpoints in highways in the American southwest, where federal gendarmes demand to see people’s papers and search their vehicles, notwithstanding the fact that the victims have never exited the United States. There is also a Berlin Fence all along the border. None of these reforms has ever ended the permanent state of immigration crisis. Instead, they, along with all the other immigration reforms, have only exacerbated the crisis.
There is really only one solution to all this: the free market. A free market in immigration would immediately bring the permanent immigration crisis to an end. The free market harmonizes people’s interests. It nurtures peaceful relations between people. It increases standards of living because people are improving their respective positions with trades. It treats people humanely.
What does a free market in immigration mean? It means open borders — the free movements of people across borders. With open borders, the permanent immigration crisis that Americans have lived under for 100 years would come to an immediate halt. No more deaths on lonely deserts or in the back of 18-wheelers. No more black-market human smugglers. No more immigration raids on businesses. No more forced separation of families. No more police state along the border.
Instead, people would be free to come to the United States and enter into mutually beneficial labor relationships with American employers who would be willing to hire them.
Why shouldn’t an American employer be free to hire anyone he wants? It’s his business, isn’t it? It’s his money isn’t it? Isn’t that what private property rights are all about? And isn’t private property the foundation of a free society?
There are those who claim that open immigration means no more borders. That’s nonsense. Simply because people are free to cross borders in search of a better way of life doesn’t mean the border they are crossing disappears. It simply means that they are entering a new jurisdiction when they cross the border. Every day, countless people cross the border between Virginia and Maryland. The border between those two states doesn’t disappear. It simply means that people are now subject to the laws of the state they are entering.
The same principle applies to the countries in the European Union, which has had a system of open borders for many years. Every one of the borders of the EU countries is still there, and so are France, Italy, and other EU countries. People within the EU are simply free to cross the borders of other EU countries.
Today, the entire world, including the United States, is mired in statism. We — the advocates of freedom, free markets, and private property — have the opportunity to lead the world out of this statist morass. A great place to start would be by adopting a free-market immigration system.
There were some interesting questions during the Q&A session:
- Wouldn’t open borders enable drug lords to freely bring drugs into the United States? My answer: The war on drugs has been as big a failure and disaster as the war on immigrants, if not bigger. The best thing we could do is end both wars. We need to do what Americans did with Prohibition — legalize all drugs. That would put all the black-market drug suppliers out of business immediately. It would also end the massive number of deaths the drug war brings — 60,000 dead people in Mexico in the last 7 years, not from drugs but from the drug war. Moreover, anyone who lives in a society where drug users are put into jail because the government doesn’t like what they are ingesting is not living in a free society.
- How would green cards be handled with open borders? My answer: The term “free market” does not mean less-regulated markets. It means markets that are free of government regulation. With a free market in immigration, there would be no green cards because the government would lack the authority to grant permission to people to work. Labor relations would be entirely dictated by market conditions and liberty of contract.
- What about welfare? My answer: I have never heard of one instance where the immigration authorities have raided a welfare office. The raids are always on private businesses. That’s because that’s where the immigrants are — working. It is extremely difficult for anyone to leave his country, his friends, his customs, and his language to come to a country where he is abused, insulted, and discriminated against. It takes a very special person to do that. Foreigners who are interested in living on welfare usually lack the intestinal fortitude necessary to immigrate to the United States. The vast majority of immigrants come here to make money and better their lives. Why punish them just because statists have foisted a statist economic system on the American people? Moreover, immigrants pay taxes just like everyone else. Maybe the thought that immigrants are free to come to America will induce statists to join us in calling for a dismantling of the welfare state. But we advocates of liberty should never permit the statists to maneuver us into supporting any aspect of statism, including immigration controls.
- Don’t immigrants take jobs away from Americans? My answer: No one has a right to any particular job. Employers have the right to hire anyone they want because it’s their business and their money. While it’s true that immigrants oftentimes displace American workers in the lowest-echelon jobs, the economic prosperity that immigrants produce engenders higher-paying jobs for the Americans they displaced at the bottom. Thus, an American who previously was working in the fields might now find himself making more money selling used cars to immigrants.
I had an awesome time exchanging ideas on liberty with the Northwood students and other participants in “Freedom Week.” A special thank you to Northwood for providing me the honor of doing so!