There is a perception among some libertarians that simply by privatizing all property in the United States the issue of government-controlled borders would disappear. The issue would become, they say, simply a matter of each private owner deciding who comes onto his privately owned property. They conclude their argument by saying that there would be no “open borders” in a system that is based entirely on private ownership of property.
Alas, such proponents are simply wrong. Even if every piece of government-owned property were privatized, the issue of government controlled borders versus open borders would still have to be confronted.
Suppose an American citizen owns a 20,000-acre ranch. It is one large contiguous tract of land. Half of the ranch is in Mexico and the other half is in the United States. Since he owns the entire ranch, the ranch owner does not have a fence dividing the ranch. He has roads throughout the ranch that enable him to travel freely throughout the ranch.
How does the ranch owner know when he crosses into Mexico and back into the United States? He doesn’t. The border is nothing more than an imaginary line. It’s not like in Texas, where someone can see the Rio Grande and immediately recognize that body of water as the border between the United States and Mexico. In New Mexico, there is no river dividing the two countries. The border is just an imaginary line.
Consider, for example, the countless domestic borders that Americans cross every day. County borders. City borders. State borders. Unless the border is a river, hardly anyone sees the actual border itself. There is no bright red line that people cross to let them know that they are entering into a new jurisdiction. The way that people know they have crossed into a new state is by seeing a sign that says “Welcome to the State of….”
Now, if the rancher were to secure the services of a surveyor, he could determine where the border is. He could even place markers as to where the border is. But as far as he is concerned, he doesn’t care. All that matters to him is that he owns his 20,000 acre ranch and that he is free to freely travel all over it. He doesn’t have a fence and he doesn’t care where the border is.
But the U.S. government does care. Why? Because its political system is based on the concept of a government-controlled and government-managed border. Under this system, the government claims the authority to control the movements of people into the United States.
Suppose that there is a government-owned highway that runs parallel to the border and is located five miles north of the border. It runs adjacent to the northern property line of the rancher’s ranch.
How does the government control the border, given that the border is located five miles into the private ranch owner’s ranch? How does the government ensure that people are not crossing from Mexico into the United States without official permission?
One possibility is simply to have a Border Patrol monitor the government-owned highway. For people to go further north into the United States, they have to cross over the highway. When they do so, the Border Patrol can catch them and deport them.
But that’s not good enough for the government because people can still cross the border itself. To control the border itself, the government claims the authority to trespass onto the rancher’s property and drive five miles to the border and station federal agents on the border to prevent illegal entry into the United States.
Thus, the fact that the ranch is privately owned is irrelevant insofar as the government is concerned. It maintains that it wields the power to control the border, whether it’s dealing with government-owned property or privately owned property.
In a world of open borders, private owners have the right to invite anyone they want from anywhere in the world to enter onto their property. In a world of government-controlled borders, the government says: “Not so fast. We in the government will decide who will be permitted to cross the border to accept such invitations.”
Thus, in a world of 100 percent privately owned property or in a world of mixed government-private ownership, the same core issue still has to be confronted: Should the government have the authority to control the border by interfering with people’s fundamental rights to travel, move, pursue happiness, and voluntarily associate with each other, e.g., by inviting others onto their privately owned property?