Conservatives and liberals favor a system based on immigration controls, which are founded on the socialist principle of central planning. As any person in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union will attest, central planning always produces chaos and crises. That’s why we have had a perpetual, ongoing crisis for decades in the area of immigration.
Libertarians, on the other hand, favor a system based on the principles of economic liberty, which necessarily encompasses free trade and open immigration, i.e., open borders — the free movements of people, goods, and services across borders.
Many years ago, libertarian economist Milton Friedman remarked that a society can’t have open borders, however, if it also has a welfare state. The idea was that if the dole was available to foreigners, everyone in the world would come to the United States to get on the dole. That would obviously bring about an increase in taxes for the American people.
What Friedman was saying was that, yes, open borders is the correct position when it comes to liberty, morality, and prosperity but that he would oppose the open-borders concept and join up with conservatives and liberals so long as a welfare state existed. If the welfare state were ever abolished, he would then be willing to return to the libertarian principle of open borders.
But Friedman was wrong. Given that open borders is the morally and economically correct position, why should libertarians permit statists to manipulate libertarians into abandoning their principles and join up with the statists to support their socialist system of immigration controls? After all, it’s not libertarians who have brought the welfare state into existence. It is conservatives and liberals who have done so. Why should we libertarians abandon our principles to accommodate ourselves to what they have done? Why shouldn’t we continue to be true to ourselves and to our principles and continue working to get the welfare-state (and the warfare state) dismantled?
After all, the central issue in this debate is that people will have to pay higher taxes once the borders are open and millions of foreigners come to the United States to get on the dole. Is that a sufficient reason for abandoning our principles and joining up with conservative and liberal statists? I say no. If we abandon our principles for the sake of expediency, then how are we different from conservatives and liberals? What distinguishes us from those people are not only the libertarian principles to which we subscribe but also the fact that we are willing to adhere to them regardless of the price to be paid for doing so.
There are other factors to consider.
One is that Congress can prohibit immigrants from going on welfare. In fact, that’s the way the law already works. An immigrant must be here for three years before he can go on welfare. That’s a long time for someone to wait who is planning on leaving his country to come to the United States to get on welfare. What does he do during the 3 years that he’s waiting to get on welfare? Moreover, there is no reason why that period of time can’t be extended or even converted into an outright prohibition.
Sure, we are still talking about socialist institutions like public schooling and government-owned emergency rooms. But is the price of those things really worth the abandonment of principle? After all, immigrants pay property taxes and other local taxes, either directly or indirectly (through rent), which fund the government schooling system and the government-owned hospitals. What’s the net cost of the foreigner who periodically goes to an emergency room, especially compared to all the taxes that foreigners are paying to fund the government-owned emergency room?
Why not focus our attention and energies to getting rid of socialist institutions while, at the same time adhering to our principles, even if by doing so theoretically end up having go pay higher taxes? If we libertarians instead endorse socialist institution, such as immigration controls until the welfare state is dismantled (or the drug war until Medicaid is abolished), then why should people pay us much mind when we advocate the abolition of other socialist institutions (such as public schooling and government-owned hospitals)?
Moreover, while it might be tempting to conjure up an image of hundreds of millions of people coming to the United States to get on welfare, the reality is that most people around the world aren’t going to leave the security of their homeland, where they speak the language, have friends, and are accustomed to their culture and laws, especially if they are going to have to wait 3 years or longer to get on the dole. A person who has a dole mindset isn’t going to go to that much trouble.
The people who are willing to leave their country, their families, their friends, and their culture to come to a different country, much of which is unwelcoming to them, are the types who come to make money. And everyone knows that no one gets rich on welfare. You get rich in the private sector. Thus, it’s no surprise that immigration officials always raid private businesses and not welfare offices when they are looking for illegals. That’s because illegals are not found in welfare offices. They’re found working in private businesses where American employers wish to hire them.
There is also the police state that immigration controls bring into existence, something that Friedman failed to confront. With a system of immigration controls, we are not dealing with just a sign at the border that says, “Do not enter without official permission.” If that were the case, no one would pay attention to it. That’s where immigration enforcement and the resulting police state come into play.
The Border Patrol and other immigration officials wield the authority to trespass onto private property and conduct searches without a judicially issued warrant. Most of this activity takes place on farms and ranches on or near the border. But the federal courts have confirmed that the Border Patrol’s authority to enforce border controls extends to 100 miles from any international border. That wide reach encompasses more than 60 percent of the American population.
Within that geographical area, immigration officials can set up fixed highway checkpoints, where they wield the authority to conduct complete searches of people and their vehicles, without a warrant. These are for domestic travelers — i.e., people who have never left the United States. If they happen to catch you with drugs, they will arrest and prosecute you.
There are also roving Border Patrol checks, where they just arbitrarily stop vehicles and conduct searches, again without a warrant.
Within that large geographic area, immigration agents also have the authority to board buses and demand to see people’s papers. If travelers are unable to produce them and if they are dark-skinned or speak English with an accent, they will be arrested and carted away.
At international entry points, immigration officials wield the authority to conduct complete searches of people and vehicles, even requiring them to completely disrobe and permit an intrusive search of body cavities. They also have the authority to require people to turn over their cell-phone password so that their phone can be extensively examined.
There are also the raids on private businesses, forced separation of children from immigrant parents, the tear gassing of people seeking refugee status, and the assaults and abuse that the Border Patrol has historically committed against immigrants.
Those are all characteristics of a totalitarian regime and a police state. For more on how border controls have contributed to the establishment of a police state in America, see this new article by John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute: “The Danger Within: Border Patrol Is Turning America Into a Constitution-Free Zone.”
Thus, when Milton Friedman said that he supported immigration controls given America’s welfare state, he was also implicitly saying that he was willing, at the same time, to accept living in a police state, which, needless to say, is a strange position for a libertarian to take. But there is no way around it because a system of immigration controls necessarily brings into existence a police state, just as thunder follows lightning,
Should libertarians be endorsing a police state? If they do, then how much credibility will they have when it comes to convincing people to, say, give up the drug war or the war on terrorism based on the destruction of civil liberties that come with those programs? Wouldn’t someone be likely to say, “Why should we listen to you libertarians on ending the drug war and its police state when you libertarians have no problems endorsing an immigration police state?”
There is but one immigration system that is consistent with moral, religious, ethical, and economic principles. That system is the libertarian system of open borders — i.e., the free movements of people, goods, and services across borders. Not only would such a system immediately bring an end to the ongoing, never-ending immigration crisis that conservatives and liberals have brought to our country with their socialist system of immigration controls, it would also be a major step in restoring peace, prosperity, harmony, morality, and liberty to our land. Libertarians should continue leading the way by continuing to adhere to libertarian principles.