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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Immigration Enforcement Comes with Immigration Controls


People are up in arms over President Trump’s decision to separate children from foreign parents who have entered the United States without official permission. The outrage has been so vocal and passionate that the president has been compelled to abandon the policy.

What most everyone fails to notice, however, is that this is just one more measure, albeit an extremely cruel and brutal one, to make the system known as “immigration controls” work. And that is a system that most critics of Trump’s child-separation policy do not want to confront: that Trump is simply doing his best to make the statist system of immigration controls that they themselves favor finally succeed.

A system of immigration controls is not just some esoteric, ivory-tower, intellectual program. This is a point that sometimes is even lost on libertarian advocates of immigration controls. A system of immigration controls doesn’t simply mean a sign at the border that tells foreigners: “We have a system of immigration controls, which means that you cannot enter the United States without official permission.” If that was all there was to immigration controls, hardly any immigrant would pay attention to the sign. Most all of them would ignore the sign and proceed to enter the country.

Thus, with immigration controls comes enforcement. Given that immigrants would ignore the sign, the government comes up with measures to enforce the sign. Separating children from immigrant parents is one of those enforcement measures. It is designed to send a message to immigrant families: “If you dare to enter our country illegally with your children, we will take your children away from you.”

It’s theoretically possible for a person to say, “I favor immigration controls but not immigration enforcement measures.” But that’s like saying, “I favor lightning but not thunder.” Immigration enforcement measures come with immigration controls, just as thunder comes with lightning.

Sure, there are different enforcement measures. Some are obviously crueler and more brutal than others. But what is important from a libertarian standpoint is this: Every single immigration enforcement measure involves the initiation of force against a person who is engaged in purely peaceful activities. That necessarily means that every immigration enforcement measure, including the seizure of people crossing a border and the forcible separation and removal of their children, violates the core principle of libertarianism, which is known as the “non-aggression principle.”

Sometimes advocates of immigration controls exclaim, “By crossing the border without permission, immigrants are invading the United States and violating our rights.”

Not so. An invasion is what the U.S. government did to Iraq. Bombs. Missiles. Assassinations. Torture. Death. Destruction. That’s what an invasion is. People who cross a border to tour, visit, invest, open a business, or work for a business are engaged in purely peaceful behavior.

When a person crosses a state border, is he violating anyone’s rights simply by crossing the border? Every day, countless people from Maryland cross the Potomac River and enter Virginia. When they do so, are they violating anyone’s rights? Every minute, there are also people crossing county borders. Are they violating anyone’s rights?

Of course not. Simply crossing a state or county border doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. And the same holds true for people who cross the Rio Grande and enter the United States. Simply by crossing an artificial government boundary doesn’t involve a violation of anyone’s rights.

What immigrants are doing when they cross the border is the same thing that Americans do when they cross state and county borders — they are travelling to pursue happiness, either by visiting, touring, working, shopping, or whatever. As Thomas Jefferson observes in the Declaration of Independence, which Americans will soon be celebrating on the Fourth of July, the pursuit of happiness is a natural, God-given right that adheres to all people, not just Americans. No government, including the U.S. government, has the legitimate authority to destroy the exercise of a natural God-given right.

From what I can tell, no libertarian advocate of immigration controls has come out publicly in favor of Trump’s child-separation policy. That’s a good sign and a bad sign. It’s good in the sense that they, like most people, most likely oppose this particular enforcement measure. It’s bad in the sense that they are remaining silent about the measure rather than openly condemning it. Maybe they are reticent to criticize Trump for trying what is obviously an extremely desperate measure to finally make immigration controls work.

Moreover, when you stop to think about it, most libertarian advocates of immigration controls remain silent in the face of other enforcement measures. Warrantless raids on private businesses by armed immigration agents. Highway checkpoints at which people who refuse to answer questions are sometimes beat up. Roving warrantless Border Patrol searches. Warrantless searches of farms and ranches both near and far away from the border. Immigration officers demanding proof of citizenship from travelers on planes, buses, and cars. The Berlin-type fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Incarcerating people for inadvertently crossing the Canada-U.S. border.

Rarely, if ever, do we hear libertarian advocates of immigration controls ever expressing approval of any of these immigration enforcement measures, which is a good sign. Instead, they mostly limit themselves to expressing support just for the lightning, the system of immigration controls themselves, even though they know that immigration enforcement measures come with immigration controls, just as thunder comes with lightning.

Trump’s child-separation policy is just one more attempt to make immigration controls work. But not even the cruelty and brutality associated with this particular measure will make the immigration-control system work. That’s because immigration controls can’t work. They are incapable of working. They are inherently defective. Even if a “comprehensive immigration plan,” which is the media’s favorite term for resolving the decades-long immigration crisis, were to be enacted today, there would continue to be an immigration crisis.

That’s because socialism produces crises. It always has. It always will. Immigration controls are a variation of socialism known as central planning. A government agency plans and directs the peaceful movements of millions of people, arbitrarily assigning quotas to countries and criteria for entry. The bureaucratic wait list for people wanting to come in sometimes extends years into the future.

But markets don’t work that way. Crops have to be picked today. American employers want those immigrants. And they are willing to pay for them. In fact, they are willing to pay so generously that immigrants are even willing to pay $12,000 to a smuggler to get them into the country.

Whenever the smugglers are caught, federal prosecutors and federal judges love to issue condemnations and high jail sentences to smugglers for helping immigrants to illegally enter the country. But what these prosecutors and judges, virtually all of whom support immigration controls, fail to recognize is that it is the immigration laws themselves that give rise to these smugglers. That’s what a black market is all about.

A good analogy is the drug war. For decades, federal prosecutors and federal judges have loved to condemn and incarcerate drug lords. In the process, they have been unable to recognize that it is drug laws, which most federal prosecutors and federal judges support, that have given rise to those drug lords. That’s what a black market is all about.

I grew up on the Texas-Mexico border. For my entire life, I have seen this ongoing immigration crisis (just as I have seen the never-ending drug-war crisis). I have seen enforcement measure piled on top of enforcement measure, each one inducing a feeling of hope among advocates of immigration controls that this or that measure will finally resolve the immigration crisis. I have seen countless advocates of immigration controls live their lives in anger, rage, and exasperation over the fact that nothing the government does fixes the crisis. They just will not bring themselves to acknowledge that regardless of what any U.S. officials, including President Trump, their system of immigration controls will continue to produce the never-ending immigration crisis. The economist Ludwig von Mises called this type of socialist-produced crisis “planned chaos.”

I have said it countless time before but it bears repeating: There is one thing — and only one thing! — that works. It’s also the one thing that is consistent with basic moral principles. That thing is the free market, which means open borders — the free movements of goods, services, and people. That’s the only thing that can and will cause the immigration crisis to disappear.

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.