The core principle of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle. It holds that it is morally wrong to initiate force against another person. That means no murder, rape, theft, burglary, trespass, or other acts of violence (or fraud) against others. Or another way to put it is: A person should be free to do whatever he wants in life, so long as his conduct is peaceful.
A corollary principle of libertarianism is the one expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: Every person in the world, not just Americans, is endowed with fundamental, natural, God-given rights. These rights include life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
The right to life means that people have the right to sustain their lives through labor by engaging in an occupation, profession, or economic enterprise without governmental permission, restriction, regulation, or control.
The right to liberty includes freedom of association — the right to associate (or not) with whomever a person wants to associate.
Liberty also includes freedom of travel and freedom of movement. That doesn’t mean that a person is free to trespass onto another person’s property. It means that government lacks the authority to interfere with a person’s decision to move to another dwelling whose owner is willing to sell or rent to him, to work in another business whose owner is willing to hire him, or just to visit and tour, or do anything else a person wants to do to pursue happiness in his own way, so long as his conduct is peaceful.
Liberty also entails the concept of liberty of contract — the freedom to enter into mutually beneficial economic arrangements, relationships, and contracts with others.
Property encompasses the right to keep the fruits of one’s earnings from economic activity and to decide for himself what to do with it — e.g., no mandatory charity or mandatory retirement or medical savings accounts.
The pursuit of happiness means having the right to make whatever choices a person wants to make that make him happy (so long as they are peaceful), even if others consider them to be irresponsible, immoral, dangerous, or destructive.
All of these principles — from the libertarian non-aggression principle, to the principle of natural, God-given rights, to the meaning of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness — apply to immigrants and to the concept of open borders — both open immigration and free trade, a way of life in which people are free to cross borders to sustain or improve their lives through labor and trade, associate with others who wish to associate with them, enter into mutually beneficial economic relationships with others, including labor relations, to accumulate wealth, and to decide what to do with that wealth. In other words — the right to pursue happiness, each in his own way.
Consider the following hypothetical. There is a ranch owner in New Mexico whose ranch is on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border. The ranch owner is an American citizen. There is a state highway that runs along the northern border of the rancher’s property. The distance from the state highway to the southern border is five miles.
There is another ranch owner — whose ranch is located in Mexico directly across the U.S. ranch owner’s ranch.
The two ranch owners are brothers who were born to a mother who was a Mexican citizen and to a father who was an American citizen. One son chose Mexican citizenship and the other chose American citizenship. The brothers inherited what amounted to one gigantic ranch, one-half of which is situated in Mexico and the other half in the United States.
There is no fence along the border. The two brothers don’t want a fence dividing their properties. The border is nothing more than an imaginary line, one that surveyors could locate but is irrelevant to the brothers.
One day, the American brother invites the Mexican brother to come to his house to have dinner and to discuss a proposal for a joint cattle operation.
Should the Mexican brother be free to accept the dinner invitation? Of course he should, at least under libertarian principles. He has the right to travel onto his brother’s property to reach his house because he’s been invited there. He has the right to associate with his brother. He has the right to enter into a mutually beneficial economic arrangement with his brother. He has the right to pursue happiness in his own way.
Now, let’s bring the immigration controller into the picture. “Wait just a minute,” the immigration controller says. “We have immigration controls in the United States. You can’t just cross that imaginary line to have dinner at your brother’s house. You don’t have the permission of the U.S. government. We control the border.”
What does “controlling the border” mean? It means that armed government agents are going to travel along the state highway that abuts the American brother’s northern boundary. But there’s obviously a big problem — the border that the Mexican brother intends to cross is five miles inward.
The armed agents approach the ranch gate, where they encounter the American ranch owner. They ask for permission to enter onto his ranch, so that they can do what is necessary to prevent the Mexican brother from crossing the border. The American rancher says, “No. I do not give you permission to enter onto my property.”
The armed agents respond, “We have the authority to control the border. They shoot the lock off the rancher’s gate, forcibly push him aside, enter onto his property (without a warrant), and attempt to forcibly arrest him. He pulls out his gun and they shoot him dead, for “resisting arrest.”
When they travel the five miles to the border, they encounter the Mexican brother about to cross the imaginary line known as the border in order to have dinner with his American brother. The armed agents declare, “Not one step further.” The Mexican brother says, “Go to hell” and proceeds to cross onto his brother’s ranch. The agents take out their guns and tell the man he’s under arrest. He pulls out his own gun and says, “You’re not taking me to jail.” They shoot him dead for “resisting arrest.”
So, there you have it. Immigration controls leading to the state’s initiation of force — i.e., trespass and murder — against two men who were doing nothing more than engaging in peaceful behavior by exercising fundamental, natural, God-given rights of life, liberty, property, freedom of association, liberty of contract, and economic enterprise.
Given that large numbers of people choose to violate the law against illegal entry, obviously the government is going to resort to immigrant enforcement measures. As each enforcement measures fails to achieve its end, the government enacts an ever-increasing array of harsh and brutal measures to enforce its immigration controls.
In the immigration arena, we have not only laws making illegal entry a crime but also an entire array of enforcement measures that have been adopted in response to people’s failure to obey immigration controls. There are laws against transporting, harboring, and hiring illegal immigrants. There are immigration raids on private businesses. There are checkpoints on domestic highways and airports. There are roving Border Patrol searches and seizures. There are bank reporting requirements. There is the Berlin fence along the border, and calls to convert it into a Berlin Wall.
Whenever anyone endorses immigration controls, he necessarily endorses the enforcement of immigration controls. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to favor immigration controls while opposing their enforcement.
Needless to say, these same libertarian principles apply not just to adjoining ranches along an international border but to people everywhere. That’s what fundamental, natural, God-given rights are all about. Under libertarian principles—indeed, under the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence — it is the duty of government to protect, not destroy, the exercise of such rights.