In response to my article “Open Borders Is the Only Libertarian Immigration Position,” I received a praising attack in an article entitled, “Hornberger, Right But Still Wrong,” written by a person who writes under a pseudonym — “Black Flag” — owing to potential repercussions at his place of work as a result to his political beliefs. (FYI, last Friday I wrote a supplemental article on immigration entitled, “Open Immigration with a Welfare State.”)
In his email to me, Black Flag, who described himself as a young libertarian, wrote:
I’m a fan of yours that disagrees with your stance on the borders. What’s better, your stance has not derailed my respect for you, your ideas, or your contributions to the ideas of liberty.
I would like to invite you to examine my argument here, and reply if you feel so inclined. I seek no fame, and my writing pales in comparison to many of the brilliant libertarian thinkers that have helped me refine my libertarian theory and practice.
Okay, I feel so inclined. If my analysis of his arguments brings him a bit of fame anyway, I hope he’ll forgive me.
Flag opens his article by pointing out that after reading my article in its entirety, he didn’t see anything that necessarily flies in the face of libertarianism.
But then comes a “but”: But, he says, I make “the assumption that being against open borders in a world where the state controls the border means that you favor not just closed, but sealed borders in the same world.”
What? When did I make that assumption? Moreover, I honestly don’t get the point of erecting that straw man.
The fact is that I never made that argument in my article, nor have I ever made it. Just do a quick search in my article for the word “sealed” and you’ll see that Flag is, well, way off base here.
What I did say was that any libertarian who supports government-controlled borders is supporting a violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle. That doesn’t mean that a person who favors controlled borders necessarily wants totally sealed borders. It means that he wants government to be in charge of controlling the peaceful movements of people.
That’s not to say that there aren’t people who support both controlled borders and sealed borders. Of course there are. Donald Trump is one of them. It just means that a person can support the concept of controlled or regulated borders without favoring a total prohibition on immigration.
Of course, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, since controlled borders violate libertarian principles, so do sealed borders.
Flag writes that “despite the otherwise sound libertarian arguments in Hornberger’s piece, I disagree with his overall message, summarized in the title of his article. Open borders aren’t the proper libertarian position at all. Closed borders isn’t a proper position either. Removing the State from social and economic activity is the only libertarian position. Our aim should be, and likely is, decentralization.”
First of all, I never said that open borders is the proper libertarian position. I said that it is the libertarian position. Period. That’s because it is consistent with the libertarian non-aggression principle, the core principle that undergirds the libertarian philosophy. It holds that people have the right to engage in any activity they wish — make any choices they want — pursue happiness in their own way, so long as their conduct is peaceful. That is, so long as a person isn’t murdering, raping, stealing, trespassing, defrauding, or otherwise initiating force or fraud against others, he is free to do whatever he wants.
Thus, people have the fundamental right to associate with others, to enter into mutually beneficial exchanges with others, to enter into trades with others, to go work for others, to hire others, to visit, tour, and open up businesses because it’s all peaceful.
Open borders is the libertarian position on immigration because people are exercising their fundamental right of liberty by engaging in purely peaceful activity with others.
By the same token, when conduct violates the libertarian non-aggression principle, it stands to reason that it can’t be a libertarian position.
Under a system of controlled borders, the state trespasses onto private property — i.e., ranches and farms along the border — in order to stop people from crossing the border. It steals people’s property through eminent domain to build fences and walls on what was previously privately owned property. It forcibly prevents people from peacefully seeking and accepting employment from employers who wish to hire them. It involves domestic highway checkpoints where people are coercively subjected to full searches of their automobiles and persons, without a judicially issued warrant. It encompasses roving Border Patrol searches of automobiles on the highways, where people are stopped arbitrarily and subjected to searches. It involves mass immigration raids by government agents on privately owned businesses, with the aim of interfering with mutually beneficial labor relationships. It involves the forcible deportation of people back to their country of origin notwithstanding the fact that the deportees are doing nothing more than sustaining and improving their lives through labor.
That’s why controlled borders cannot be the libertarian position of immigration. Controlled borders violate the libertarian non-aggression principle. And that’s also why there are not two opposite positions on immigration within libertarianism. Libertarianism is a consistent philosophy, one in which there are no contradictions.
Thus, Flag is right when he writes, “Removing the State from social and economic activity is the only libertarian position.” But that’s precisely what the removal of immigration controls does — it removes the state from social and economic activity involving commerce across international borders. It frees multitudes of people to exercise their fundamental, natural, God-given right to pursue happiness by seeking employment, visiting, touring, opening businesses, or any other peaceful activity.
But Flag is wrong when he states that our aim as libertarians should be “decentralization.” Perish that thought! Our aim as libertarians is freedom. That’s what we want above all — the freedom to lives our lives the way we want, without being punished or interfered with by the state or by anyone else, so long as our conduct is peaceful.
Where Flag also goes wrong is that he apparently considers freedom to be just another policy of the state. He writes, “Do we endorse Romneycare over Obamacare? Or Hillarycare? Is Medicare the best libertarian alternative to any of these? What about the Canadian model? Should we consider the Sanders plan?
He then proceeds to suggest that open borders and controlled borders are simply two different state policies from which libertarian are choosing.
That’s ridiculous. The right to be free should never be considered a state policy. As Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, people’s fundamental rights, including freedom, pre-exist the state. They are independent of the state. Freedom isn’t something the state gives us. We don’t have to be grateful to public officials for establishing a policy that enables us to be free. We are free by our very nature, and no government has the legitimate authority to destroy, regulate, control, or interfere with the exercise of fundamental rights.
Thus, open borders is not a “state policy,” any more than freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion are state policies. Examine the First Amendment carefully. Does it grant people those rights? Of course it doesn’t. Our American ancestors clearly understood that rights don’t come from government. Instead, the First Amendment simply prohibits the government from interfering with the pre-existing rights of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.
The principle is the same with open borders. As Jefferson also wrote in the Declaration, the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness adhere to all people, not just Americans. Open borders is simply a declaration that government is prohibited from infringing on economic liberty, just as the government is prohibited from infringing on intellectual and religious liberty. Everyone, not just American citizens, has the natural, fundamental, God-given right to engage in economic enterprise with others.
What is the libertarian position on healthcare? A repeal or repudiation of Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, Hillarycare, Sanderscare, occupational licensure, healthcare regulations, and all the taxes that fund these socialist and interventionist programs. Ideally, a constitutional separation of healthcare and the state, which would prohibit the government from interfering with, regulating, and controlling healthcare.
And while we are on the subject of socialism, I would be remiss if I failed to also point out that controlled borders are nothing more than socialist central planning, in that they necessarily involve a government commission planning the movements of millions of people, with rules and regulations as to who can enter the country, what their qualifications are going to be, how many people from each country, and more. At the risk of asking a discomforting question to libertarians who favor immigration controls: How can socialism possibly be reconciled with libertarianism?
Black Flag concludes his piece with what appears to be a call for anarchy — that is, a society in which there is no government at all. Since I am currently addressing the limited-government versus anarchy arguments in FFF’s monthly journal Future of Freedom (subscribe here), in a series of articles entitled, “Why I Favor Limited Government,” I’ll leave that controversy aside for now.
Nonetheless, even given Flag’s position favoring anarchy, I don’t understand why he wouldn’t come down with a full-throated, unconditional support of open borders. There are a number of anti-freedom things that the government is doing that both anarchists and limited government advocates do not hesitate to condemn — the drug war, Social Security, foreign interventionism — indeed, the entire welfare-warfare state gamut of socialist, interventionist, and imperialist programs.
Why isn’t Flag condemning all of them, even as he condemns the state in general? Why refuse to condemn immigration tyranny or any other tyranny? If I wrote an article condemning drug laws, would Flag praise the “otherwise sound libertarian arguments” in the piece but then “disagree with [my] overall message” calling for drug legalization?
Not surprisingly, Flag chose to ignore the hypothetical I posed many years ago, and which I restated in my article, which exposes the fatal flaw in the pro-immigration control paradigm. His excuse? He says that no one is talking about that particular situation.
Well, let me make it easier for him to address the fundamental problem associated with immigration controls — that they violate fundamental rights. I own my own home. As the owner, I have the fundamental right to invite anyone I want into my home. It’s my home, not Flag’s, not the government’s, and not society’s. The same holds true for a person who owns his own business. It’s his business. It’s his money. He has the fundamental right to hire anyone he wants with his own money. It’s the same with a landlord. He has the right to rent his property to whomever he wants.
Yet, the libertarian advocates of immigration controllers, including those who are libertarian anarchists, favor sending armed government agents into people’s homes, businesses, and rental properties and arresting, prosecuting, convicting, and punishing people for exercising those fundamental rights. It is impossible to reconcile that with libertarian principles.
Flag also takes me to task for not addressing the refugee crisis in Europe. Maybe my failure to do so was because the focus of the article was on only one particular aspect of the immigration controversy — i.e., that there is only one position in libertarianism on immigration rather than two contradictory positions.
I have addressed the European refugee crisis in other articles. The crisis is a direct consequence of the U.S. government’s interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East, including its regime-change operations in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere.
Whenever socialism or interventionism creates chaos and crises, the proponents of socialism and interventionism cry, “What’s the libertarian solution to fixing the mess our policies have caused?” But as I have pointed out over the years, libertarianism doesn’t purport to fix the messes produced by socialism, interventionism, and imperialism. It is a philosophy of liberty, one that protects the right of people to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful.
Having said that, however, as I have written before, yes, people in the Middle East have the absolute right to flee the chaos, death, and destruction that the U.S. death machine has wreaked in the Middle East. They have a right to seek to preserve their lives and to pursue happiness by moving to other places. The fact that people are dying on the high seas trying to escape the horror is a direct consequence of both foreign interventionism and immigration controls.
Flag writes: “At very few points in its history has the United States held a libertarian position.”
Well, one of those “few points” is relevant — the fact that the United States had open borders throughout much of the 19th century. America had sent a message to the world: If you are suffering under tyranny, oppression, or starvation and are able to escape, know that there is one country where you can come whose government will not forcibly repatriate you to your country of origin. It was that policy of open borders that saved and improved the lives of millions of immigrants and raised the standard of living of the American people. It was that policy of open borders that inspired Emma Lazarus to write her famous poem welcoming to America the homeless, the tempest tossed, the wretched refuse of Europe’s shores. Ironically, the poem is still posted at the base of the Statue of Liberty.