Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

Do Immigrants Have the Right to Pursue Happiness?

by

Next Wednesday, July 4, Americans will be celebrating the anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. An important question arises: How many Americans truly believe in the principles enunciated in the Declaration?

The real significance of the American Revolution does not lie in the military battles between the English colonists and the English military. Those are interesting from a military-history standpoint but the battles are of only secondary importance. What shook the world — and has shaken the world ever since — are the principles enunciated by Jefferson: that all men are created equal and are endowed by nature and God with certain fundamental rights.

What are these fundamental, God-given rights? At a minimum, they encompass life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Most Americans are familiar with that part of the Declaration of Independence. But how Americans truly agree with what it says?

Think about what Thomas Jefferson is saying with those words. He says that all men have been endowed with such rights. Not just American citizens. All men, meaning all persons everywhere.

That is one revolutionary principle, which is why it struck terror in the hearts of political rulers and regimes everywhere and why it continues to do so. Throughout history, the commonly accepted notion is that people’s rights come from government in the form of state-granted privileges. As such, it has always been commonly accepted that it is within the legitimate province of government to control, regulate, infringe, suspend, or remove what it itself has granted.

In one fell swoop, Jefferson destroyed that notion. If people’s right comes from nature and God, rather than from the government, then no government can legitimately infringe, suspend, control, or destroy such rights, not even the U.S. government or any other democratic form of government. People’s natural, God-given rights are immune from governmental interference.

In fact, here is the other revolutionary principle that Jefferson sets forth in the Declaration: If any government becomes destructive of these rights, it is the right of the people to initiate violence against government officials to replace the tyrannical government with a legitimate government.

Now, consider immigrants. When they enter the United States to seek employment, tour, visit, open a business, or engage in any other peaceful activity, they are clearly pursuing happiness.

Do immigrants have the right to pursue happiness or not? The Declaration of Independence says everyone has the right to pursue happiness, not just Americans. Everyone means everyone. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, “everyone” includes foreigners.

Was Jefferson right or wrong? Have people been endowed by nature and God with the right to pursue happiness? Does that mean everyone has the right to pursue happiness, as Jefferson states, or just American citizens?

Proponents of immigration controls respond that nations have the right to control their borders. But nations don’t have rights. Only people have rights. That’s what the Declaration of Independence says — that every man, not every nation, has been endowed with natural, God-given rights, among which are the right to pursue happiness.

Proponents of immigration controls say that when immigrants cross the border to enter the United States, they are violating people’s rights. But such is clearly not the case. The mere act of crossing a political boundary doesn’t violate anyone’s rights.

For example, every day countless people from Maryland cross the Potomac River on the American Legion Bridge and enter Virginia. They are entering Virginia to tour, work, shop, or engage in other peaceful activity. They are pursuing happiness. The thing is this: The simple act of crossing the border that separates the two states does not violate anyone’s rights.

The same principle applies when a person within Virginia crosses the Rappahannock River, which forms the border between Rappahannock County and Fauquier County. The mere act of crossing the river doesn’t violate anyone’s rights.

The same principle applies when a person crosses the Rio Grande, which is the political boundary between two countries, the United States and Mexico. Simply crossing the border to go from one political jurisdiction to another does not violate anyone’s rights.

Proponents of immigration controls claim that the United States is a “national homeland” and, therefore, that the owner of “the national home,” the federal government, has the right to control who comes into its home.

But the United States is not founded on the national-homeland concept. That’s the concept that National Socialist (i.e., Nazi) Germany was founded on. It is also the concept on which communist Cuba is founded on, where the government owns everything and where there is no private property.

The United States is founded on the concepts of private property and economic liberty. Thus, the nation consists of a mixture of privately owned homes, businesses, real estate, and personal property and state-owned properties, such as roads, streets, post offices, courts, and parks. When people cross the Potomac River to enter Virginia or when people cross the Rappahannock River to enter Fauquier County, they are ordinarily going from private establishment to private establishment, like for work, visits, touring, or shopping. Or they are going to some government office to conduct some sort of official business. In doing so, they are not violating anyone’s rights.

It’s the same principle with immigrants. When they cross the Rio Grande, they are headed north to go to work for private employers who wish to hire them in their private businesses, or tour, or engage in other peaceful activity. When the immigrants arrive at their destination, they enter into rental contracts with private homeowners to have a place to live, or with hotels or motels to have a place to stay, or with friends who let them live with them. They to go work or shop in privately owned establishments. Everything is consensual. No one’s rights are violated.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that among the grievances that the signers of the Declaration of Independence cited as the reason for taking up arms against their own government was one related to immigration: “[The king]  has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.”

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that our American ancestors lived without immigration controls for almost a century, until 1882, when other socialist ideas began percolating within the American populace. The result was not only the conversion of the federal government to a full-fledged welfare state in the 1930s but also the use of immigration controls during that decade to justify preventing Jews in Nazi Germany from escaping to the United States.

Every American should take great pride in the Declaration of Independence and the revolutionary principles enunciated by Jefferson in the Declaration, including the principle that everyone has been endowed by nature and God with the right to pursue happiness. That is truly something worth celebrating.

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.