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Let the Immigrants Stay


Virtually all commentary about the influx of unaccompanied Central American children into the United States, which some say could rise to 90,000 this year, misses the point: no government has the moral authority to capture these kids and send them back to the miserable situations they have escaped.

This claim will strike many people as outrageous. So I ask, Where does government get the moral authority — I’m not talking about legal power — to apprehend and detain human beings of any age who have committed aggression against no one? There is no such authority.

These children are human beings. Whether they are coming here to be with family or to escape danger, they have the same natural rights as Americans have. Our rights can be expressed in many ways, but they boil down to just one: the right to be free of aggression.

We have this right not by virtue of being American, but by virtue of being human. It is a natural, not national, right, so these young Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans have it too. Locking them up and deporting them should offend Americans, who claim to believe in the natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Did the Fourth of July have any meaning, or was it just a day off from work?)

For some strange reason, immigration makes people forget about freedom — their sense of freedom gets overwhelmed by their deference to the state and national sovereignty. That’s why most people think “securing the borders,” as Barack Obama is doing, is more important than the welfare of poor people born on the other side of those borders (especially the southern border). I say “strange” because volumes of evidence show that the influx of people from other lands and cultures is also good for the people already here. We need not fear newcomers. It takes initiative and courage to pick yourself up, leave the only home and culture you’ve known, and journey to a new land. Those qualities also lead people to become entrepreneurs and engage in innovation. But even immigrants who don’t start successful businesses still render valuable services as they strive to make better lives.

If this is not obvious to most Americans, it may be because the illegal status forces people without government papers to work in the shadows. That status also leaves them vulnerable to horrible exploitation by people who can threaten to call the immigration authorities if their commands are not obeyed. That appalling condition is reason enough to legalize the so-called illegals.

Speaking of exploitation, the perilous conditions that unaccompanied children face at home and on their northward journeys are direct results of evil government policies. If the borders were open — that is, if the natural right to be free of aggression were respected — children would not need to be entrusted to shady men who can extort large sums of money on the promise to transport the children to the United States. Without government agents hunting them, children and parents could move north together in freedom and safety. They would be welcomed by generous humanitarian organizations, as immigrants were in the past.

Also, if the U.S. government did not prosecute a violent war on drug makers and users, and did not push the war on Latin American governments, those children would be safer to start with. Many children leave today because of drug-related violence, or for fear of being impressed into drug gangs.

But, many people ask, how can we handle all these kids? Who will pay? Under the welfare state, unfortunately the taxpayers will pay. This is what leads many people to oppose open borders. No freedom of movement, they say, until the welfare state goes. The problem is that the welfare state will never go if it is saved from all stresses and strains. While immigrants don’t use the welfare system as much as people think, free immigration might help bring the end of government transfers. Private aid would take their place.

Even today, Americans are humanitarian enough to finance care for these children if people did not assume the government would do it. In other words, the welfare state is morally corrupting.

This post was written by:

Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.