Warrantless searches and seizures on a massive scale, bureaucratic logjams, arbitrary edicts that squelch freedom of association, unchecked waste and corruption — it is difficult to reconcile any of these symptoms of big government with liberty. And yet, many who strongly value freedom still support all of them in the name of border control.
For these “closed-border libertarians”, the argument against open borders usually rests on the popular claim that more immigrants (read: Hispanics) will come to the United States seeking its rich welfare benefits and using public property the taxpayer has financed. Hence, according to the closed-border advocate, we need to further militarize the border, build a massive 2,000 mile wall, or even forcefully expel millions of people from America.
Despite the evidence disputing the real-world validity of that claim, it deserves underscoring that even if it were unequivocally proven that the majority of immigrants were coming to the United States solely to leech from the productive (and, again, it hasn’t), it still should not change a libertarian’s stance on immigration: open borders is the only viable solution to the immigration problem.
When libertarians advocate the state regulation of borders they are invariably divorcing themselves from principle in favor of political strategy. Strategy, when enacted through the clumsy hammer of government action, inevitably and predictably results in the destruction of resources, injustice, and unintended consequences. Libertarians have long known of this glaring and insurmountable problem present in all state action, arising from the economic-calculation problem. Because border control is government action, it is insulated from the signals and feedback that guide the voluntary market, falling victim to the same irreconcilable flaws in all central planning. As economist Walter Block writes, “Because of the socialist economic calculation problem, there is no way for government immigration controls to keep out the ‘uninvited,’ let in the ‘invited,’ or even determine who would fall into each category.”
For a libertarian to concede that the state can and should be entrusted to regulate the border, allowing in only those who receive government approval to work and live belies the entire economic theory of the market. We know goods, investments, ideas, and labor across international boundaries benefit everyone. If central planning can work for immigration, an especially complex economic phenomenon, why not elsewhere?
There are, without a doubt, immigrants who come to the United States to pick the low-hanging fruit of public programs. But there are tens of millions more native-born Americans who do the exact same! Treating immigrants as if they are the ones who deserve to be put on trial for using the unsustainable and corrupting welfare state is not only intellectually dishonest, but it distracts from meaningful discussion of welfare reform or total abolition. Like the war on drugs or the war on terror, the problem is not that the U.S. government is not doing enough (on the contrary, Obama has deported more illegals than any other president), but rather that it has already done far too much.
Instead of asking the state to do more — to tax, spend, plan, regulate, spy, patrol, interrogate, arrest, jail, and deport more — anyone concerned with liberty and freedom should focus his ire solely on the root culprit: the welfare state. Libertarians are well aware of the atrocious effects of massive welfare programs, taking from the most productive while ensnaring millions of others in hopeless poverty traps. Nobody, regardless of his place of birth has a just right to live at other people’s coerced expense, regardless of how many votes say so. That is the underlying problem — the continually expanding welfare state and the democratic system that props it up — not the people who enter America with the hope for a vastly better life. And yet so much of the anti-immigration rhetoric scorns and demonizes the immigrants themselves, as if they were the legislators, judges, or voting blocs responsible for what the United States and its constituents themselves created!
We certainly do not live in an ideal libertarian world. But for a libertarian to say that we should not advocate individual liberty until all other state injustices are removed is nothing but fuel for the interventionist status quo. If one accepts the premise that borders cannot be liberalized until the welfare state is abolished, then many other fundamental libertarian issues should not only be ignored but completely dropped altogether. Studies have found links between marijuana use and welfare dependence. One could easily make a colorful argument that marijuana legalization would contribute to future welfare enrollment. Are closed-border libertarians also prepared to advocate drug prohibition until the welfare state is abolished?
Indeed, if one subscribes to the reactionary belief that state policy should attempt to prevent “future dangers” such as speculative welfare increases, any host of patently anti-liberty policies can and have been advocated, from foreign interventionism, to all kinds of prohibitions and mandates. Once a libertarian advocates state violence against a class of people who have committed no identifiable or individualized aggression, they have abandoned the very ethic that sets them apart from the rest of the political quagmire — a refusal to sacrifice individual liberty for the supposed safety of the collective.
Regardless of the supposed justification, it is clear that there is no way to wage a war on immigration without further empowering the state and violating individual liberties. If one advocates present aggression to prevent a speculative future aggression wholly divorced from individualized damages, anything and everything can be fallaciously justified — just as George W. Bush famously said in 2008, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save a free-market system.” Libertarians, don’t do the same thing by defending closed borders. Let’s endorse something that actually adheres to our principles: let’s end the war on immigration.
This article was originally published in the January 2016 issue of Future of Freedom.