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Death, Suffering, and an Immigration Police State

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Ever since the libertarian movement began attracting conservatives, the movement has grown by leaps and bounds. Not surprisingly, some of these conservatives have come with baggage consisting of conservative positions that some of them have simply been unable to let go of. Rather than simply accept the fact that their conservative views are contrary to those of the movement which they have decided to join, some of these conservative libertarians have instead tried to get the libertarian movement to abandon its libertarian principles and embrace conservative positions instead.

There is no better example of this phenomenon than the issue of immigration. Conservatives share the same view on immigration that liberals (i.e., progressives or leftists) have: that the federal government should centrally manage and control the peaceful movements of people across borders that separate nations.

Interestingly enough, most liberals and conservatives believe that governments should not have the authority to manage and control the movements of people across state and county borders. It is only people’s movements across international borders, they say, that the federal government should manage and control.

The libertarian position turns on what is called the non-aggression principle. It holds that people are free to engage in any peaceful act without governmental interference. Obviously the act of crossing a border, in and of itself, does not entail a violent act or one that violates the rights of others. For example, the countless Marylanders who cross the border into Virginia every day aren’t violating anyone’s rights simply by crossing the border. If they commit murder, assault, rape, or other violent crime when they get into Virginia, they are violating people’s rights. But they are not violating anyone’s rights simply by crossing the border into Virginia.

Conservatives and liberals often say that libertarians oppose borders. That is patently false, at least for libertarians who favor limited government. As a limited-government libertarian, I favor borders. I believe in them. I just want people to be free to cross them back and forth, including, by the way, the retention of their original citizenship if that is what they wish to do.

Thus, open borders — or the free movements of people across borders — has long been the libertarian position because it embodies the libertarian non-aggression principle as well as the exercise of such fundamental rights as freedom of association, economic liberty, liberty of contract, private ownership of property, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet, conservatives who come into the libertarian movement with immigration baggage spend a lot of their time not just promoting the conservative (and liberal) position on immigration but also trying to persuade libertarians to make that position the official libertarian position. What that would mean, of course, is that libertarians would be abandoning the core principle of libertarianism, the non-aggression principle.

But embracing the liberal-conservative position on immigration would actually mean more than that. It would also turn the libertarian movement into one of death, suffering, and an immigration police state. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, there are few things that would be more destructive for the libertarian movement than to become known as the movement of death, suffering, and a police state.

Whenever you see an article or a speech advocating immigration controls by a conservative libertarian, you will notice one glaring feature, without exception: the absence of any mention of the death, suffering, and the police state that inevitably accompany a system of immigration controls. There is a good reason for that silence: the conservative libertarians do not want libertarians to know that the system they are advocating for the libertarian movement comes with death, suffering, and a police state.

Consider the immigration police state that immigration controls have brought to the United States, primarily in the American Southwest but also, more recently, in other parts of the United States as well.

  1. Fixed highway checkpoints. These are located on domestic highways. Federal agents stop domestic travelers who have never crossed into Mexico. They ask them questions. If people refuse to answer their questions, the agents will break their car window, drag them out of their car, and beat them up. People are subject to a complete search, including being ordered to completely disrobe to enable federal agents to search their body cavities. Their vehicles can also be completely searched. If illegal drugs or contraband are found, the person will be charged, prosecuted, convicted, and punished. That’s what a police state is all about.
  2. Warrantless trespasses onto farms and ranches within 100 miles of any U.S. border. No search warrants. No probable cause. No reasonable suspicion. Just trespass. If a farmer or rancher puts a lock on his gate and forgets to give a key to the Border Patrol, they simply shoot off the lock and enter the property. If they find “undocumented immigrants” working on the farm, they seize and arrest them, even if that means the loss of the farmer’s crops. That’s what a police state is all about.
  3. Roving Border Patrol checkpoints. This is where Border Patrol agents arbitrarily stop any vehicle they want, based on a “reasonable suspicion” that the vehicle might be carrying illegal aliens. As a practical matter, that means that they are authorized to stop anyone they want, and they do. When I was living in my hometown of Laredo, Texas, I was subjected to one of these roving Border Patrol checkpoints for no reason whatsoever. That’s what a police state is all about.
  4. Violent government raids on private businesses, ones in which the business owner has decided to use his own money to enter into mutually beneficial labor relations with citizens of foreign countries. That’s what a police state is all about.
  5. Forcible governmental separation of children from their parents, with the aim of inflicting massive mental and psychological suffering in both parents and children. That’s what a police state is all about.
  6. Forcible deportations of people who are engaged in purely peaceful acts, such as exercising the fundamental God-given rights of pursuing happiness and entering into mutually beneficial economic relations with others. That’s what a police state is all about.
  7. The construction of a Berlin Fence and the proposed construction of a Berlin wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, along with the use of political stealing through eminent domain in order to take people’s property from them in order to construct the Berlin fence or wall. That’s what a police state is all about.
  8. Border Patrol agents boarding Greyhound buses in cities and towns within 100 miles of any U.S. border, which they are now doing all over the United States. They are targeting Hispanics and anyone else who doesn’t look like a genuine American and demanding to see their papers. If the bus traveler is unable to prove that he is an American citizen, he is forcibly removed from the bus and taken into custody. That’s what a police state is all about.
  9. Complete searches of body and vehicle at international crossing points, including body cavities after the person is required to completely disrobe in front of federal agents. People are also now being required to turn over their cell phones and passwords to enable federal agents to do a complete search of their cell phone. That’s what a police state is all about.

There is also the massive death toll that accompanies a system of immigration controls. The countless immigrants who die of thirst or exposure on lonely deserts or from suffication in the back of 18-wheelers. Under a system of open borders, those deaths would never happen because people would be free to cross back and forth peacefully and harmoniously. Such deaths are an inherent part of a system of immigration controls.

I would be remiss if I failed to remind people of the infamous “voyage of the damned,” in which the presidential regime of Franklin Roosevelt, an icon for both conservatives and liberals, used immigration controls to prevent a shipload of German Jews in the 1930s from disembarking at Miami. We have the “quota” system, Roosevelt maintained, meaning that the federal immigration planners had set a “quota” for German immigrants and the “quota” had already been filled. For that matter, it’s worth mentioning that Roosevelt used the immigration “quota” system to prevent millions of German Jews from immigrating to the United States in the 1930s, when Hitler was willing to let Jews leave Germany, long before he ended up killing them in the Holocaust.

Like I say, the conservative libertarians who attempt to persuade us libertarians to abandon our libertarian principles and embrace the conservative-liberal position on immigration never — repeat never — mention the death, suffering, and a police state that are inherent aspects of the immigration-control system they advocate. Why, they rarely even criticize, much less condemn, any of these police-state measures or the death and suffering that their system produces. They want libertarians to focus only on the lightning and never on the thunder that inevitably accompanies their lightning.

Given libertarians’ devotion to freedom, peace, prosperity, and harmony, the consequences of the conservative-liberal system of immigration controls should always be on the mind of every libertarian. That last thing we need is for libertarianism to become the movement of death, suffering, and a police state. Let’s leave that to conservatives and liberals.

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.