I grew up on a farm on the Rio Grande just outside Laredo, Texas, a city that is situated on the U.S.-Mexico border. I lived practically half my life in Texas. Throughout that time, I witnessed an immigration crisis, one that is still ongoing today.
There is a simple reason for this never-ending crisis: America’s system of immigration controls is a socialist system, and socialism always produces crises.
America’s immigration system is based on the socialist principle of central planning. The government plans in a top-down, command-and-control fashion the movements of millions of people. It decides how many total immigrants will be permitted to enter the United States and how many immigrants may come from each foreign country. It also decides the qualifications and credentials for people wishing to immigrate to the United States. It determines how many immigrants are needed and the types of immigrants that are needed in various occupations.
It is immigration central planning that has produced America’s ongoing, never-ending immigration crisis. That is why, for example, there is a huge backlog of people at the border eager to enter the United States and work while, at the same time, there are many American farmers whose crops are rotting in the fields for lack of labor to harvest them.
The economist Ludwig von Mises termed the results of central planning “planned chaos.” What better term to describe America’s socialist immigration system?
Socialism is an inherently defective paradigm. It is incapable of working. You could put the top 100 immigration experts in the country in a hotel conference room, along with 100 of the fastest computers in the world, and leave them there for a year to come up with what the mainstream media call a plan for “comprehensive immigration reform.” It wouldn’t make any difference. Whatever reform they came up with would not solve the immigration crisis. That’s because socialism simply cannot be made to work.
The only thing that works is freedom and free markets, which necessarily mean open borders — that is, the free movements of goods, services, and people across borders. I repeat: Nothing else will work to end America’s decades-long, ongoing, never-ending immigration crisis. If one wants to end the crisis, it is necessary to adopt the paradigm of open borders.
With a free market, there are no more crops rotting in the fields owing to a shortage of workers. That’s because of the intricacies of the price system, which is an information-transmitting part of a free market. If farmers in Oregon need workers to pick their crops, they raise the price of labor. Mexican workers learn about the high wage rate being offered and immediately head to Oregon. That’s how a free market and its price system operate.
Thus, the utilitarian case for open borders is that freedom and free markets work. They harmonize people’s interests. Socialism doesn’t work. It produces ongoing crises and perpetual chaos.
The moral case
But the more important case for open borders is the moral case — the case for liberty. People have the right to live their lives any way they choose as long as they don’t initiate force or fraud against others. The Declaration of Independence describes this principle in terms of the natural or God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As the Declaration observes, these are not rights that inure only to Americans; they inure to every human being in the world regardless of nationality.
When a person crosses a political border, he is exercising rights, not violating them. For example, every day countless people from Maryland cross the Potomac River and enter Virginia. When they do that, they are not violating anyone’s rights. They are exercising their natural, God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The same holds true for people who cross county borders and city borders. And the same holds true for people who cross international borders.
Proponents of immigration controls sometimes say that a nation has a right to protect its borders. But a nation doesn’t have rights. Only people have rights. People have the right to protect their private property from trespass but they don’t have the right to stop people from crossing borders to sustain their lives through labor, enter into mutually agreeable relationships with others, and pursue happiness in their own way.
It is sometimes said that in the libertarian movement, there are two positions on immigration — open borders and controlled borders. Nothing could be further from the truth. Libertarianism is an internally consistent philosophy. It does not embrace contradictions. The libertarian position on immigration is either open borders or controlled borders. It cannot be both.
A good clue to which position is the libertarian position is the libertarian nonaggression principle, which is the core principle of libertarianism. It holds that any initiation of force against someone else is morally wrong and inconsistent with libertarianism. As shown above, when a person crosses a political border, he is engaged in a purely peaceful act that violates the rights of no one. When someone stops a person from crossing a political border, it is he who is initiating force.
The police state
There is another clue to which is the correct libertarian position when it comes to borders. America’s system of immigration controls has brought into existence an immigration police state along the border, one that has been gradually extending further into the country.
What is a police state? It is a tyrannical form of governmental system, one that characterizes dictatorial regimes. When someone is living in a police state, there is no way that he can be considered to be free. Given that libertarianism is about freedom, there is no way to reconcile a system of immigration controls and its enforcement measures with libertarianism.
It is revealing that libertarian proponents of immigration controls never — repeat: never — address the police-state problem that arises with their system. That’s not surprising, given that it is not extremely attractive for a libertarian to be openly endorsing a police state. Nonetheless, the fact is that a police state comes with a system of immigration controls, just as thunder comes with lightning. Thus, when a libertarian (or anyone else) advocates immigration controls, he is, at the same time, endorsing a police state, even if he isn’t doing it openly.
Under America’s system of immigration controls, the Border Patrol has been given the legal authority to enter onto lands along the border to search for immigrants who have illegally entered the United States. No search warrant is required. If a property owner locks the gate to his property and fails to give a key to the Border Patrol, they just shoot off the lock and enter the property. This power of trespass and warrantless searches has been extended to lands within 100 miles of any U.S border.
When I was growing up in La-redo, we hired immigrants who were here illegally to work on our farm. They were the hardest-working people I have ever seen. My brothers and I would work out in the fields with them harvesting our crops. Periodically the Border Patrol would enter our property without a warrant and bust our workers. I suppose they figured that they were patriotically helping to resolve the ongoing, never-ending immigration crisis in America.
Under America’s immigration police state, there are domestic highway checkpoints, where people who have never left the United States are stopped, asked about citizenship, and subjected to complete searches of their vehicles and persons. If a person refuses to answer the questions posed to him, they will smash his window, open his door, drag him out of his vehicle, stun him with a Taser, and brutalize him. That’s what immigration officials did to Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, at one of their inside-the-country highway checkpoints.
There is no way to reconcile these domestic highway checkpoints with a free society. Many years ago, I was traveling in Cuba, which, as everyone knows, is ruled by a dictatorial communist regime. They have the same domestic highway checkpoints in Cuba that the United States has in the American Southwest.
There are also roving Border Patrol checkpoints in the American Southwest. At these checkpoints, the Border Patrol stops any vehicle it wants that it deems “suspicious.” Drivers are required to pull over and submit to a warrantless search. When I was in high school, I was headed to the beach at Port Aransas, Texas. As I traveled down the highway, a Border Patrol officer pulled me over for no reason whatever. Even though I objected, he required me to open my trunk so that he could see that I wasn’t transporting an immigrant who was here illegally.
It is a federal criminal offense to engage in such peaceful acts as hiring, transporting, or harboring anyone who is here illegally. Anyone caught doing so is subject to a federal felony prosecution, conviction, and punishment. Violent raids are sometimes carried out on American businesses hundreds of miles from the border in the attempt to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. Moreover, the term “harboring” has been construed by federal officials as “helping” or “aiding” an undocumented immigrant, including one who is severely ill.
In order to resolve the decades-old, ongoing immigration crisis, immigration officials board Greyhound buses and demand to see people’s papers, just as is done in dictatorial or authoritarian regimes.
And then there are the infamous fence and wall that have been built along the U.S.-Mexico border. Every time I see a photograph of these ugly edifices, I think of what Ronald Reagan said when he visited the Berlin Wall: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” What every president since then, especially Donald Trump, would have said instead is, “Mr. Gorbachev, remove this wall to the southern border of the United States!” We also mustn’t forget that the government used the power of eminent domain to steal much of the land on which to build its Berlin Fence and Berlin Wall.
Those are the police-state measures that libertarian proponents of immigration controls never — repeat: never — bring up or deal with when defending their system of immigration controls. They simply advocate that libertarians endorse a system of immigration controls without regard to the police state that comes with such a system.
Adhering to principle
Over the past 20 years or so, many disgruntled conservatives and Republicans have left the conservative movement and the Republican Party. The problem is that in their migration to the libertarian movement, they have not been able to let go of some of their conservative and Republican baggage. Their support of immigration controls and the police state that comes with them is a good example of this phenomenon.
Some conservative-oriented libertarians know that a system of immigration controls is inconsistent with libertarianism and choose to remain fairly quiet, even though they can’t bring themselves to embrace this aspect of libertarianism. Others are more vocal and try to get libertarians to abandon their principled position in favor of open borders and instead embrace the conservative-liberal, Republican-Democrat system of immigration controls. Some of them make a practical argument — that libertarians will never be taken seriously or garner votes in the elections unless they abandon their commitment to open borders.
But once libertarians abandon this principle for the sake of expediency, then how are they any different from conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats? Moreover, where does the abandonment of principle stop? If libertarians are to lead America out of the statist morass into which conservatives and liberals have plunged our nation, it is absolutely necessary to continue adhering to principle.
Conservatives and conservative-oriented libertarians often say that as long as America has a welfare state, America cannot have open borders. What they actually mean by that is that people from around the world will come to get on welfare, which could mean higher taxes on people.
Of course, it’s not inevitable that Congress would permit foreigners to go on welfare in a system of open borders. Congress could place restrictions on the extent to which foreigners could go on welfare. But even if Congress fails to do that, should the possibility of paying higher taxes because of open borders induce libertarians to abandon their principles? Perish the thought! There have been people willing to pay a much higher price for liberty than that. Again, if libertarians are going to abandon their principles and join up with the statists because adhering to principle is going to cost them a bit more money in terms of higher taxes, then how are libertarians any different from conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats?
Another objection to open borders is that the “whole world” will move to the United States. Actually, that’s not true. Moving to a different country is a very difficult process, in both financial and psychological terms. A person has to leave friends, family, culture, and, to a certain extent, language behind. He has to find a place to live and work. He has to put up with considerable abuse from anti-immigrant Americans.
Most people lack the intestinal fortitude for that sort of transformation. It’s just too difficult. Consider, for example, the number of Americans who have never traveled overseas just for a vacation. It’s just not considered worth it to them in terms of difficulty and hassle, especially if they can’t speak the language of the country they would be visiting. Imagine that they were faced with the possibility of moving permanently to a foreign country. That’s the way most people around the world feel. It takes a special type of person to pick up roots, leave family, friends, and culture, and move to a new country.
It’s important also that we distinguish between immigration and citizenship. Being free to come to the United States under a system of open borders doesn’t mean that foreigners automatically become American citizens. They retain the citizenship of their country of origin. They come and work and stay for as much time or little time as they want. Of course, if they wish to apply for citizenship, they are free to do so.
Today, there are more than a million American citizens living in Mexico. Many of them have not assimilated. They have retained their American citizenship. They eat American food. They haven’t learned Spanish. They pay income taxes to the U.S. government. They cheer for American sports teams. Should they be required to become Mexican citizens? Of course not. They should be left alone to pursue happiness in their own way.
I have a friend who is a Japanese citizen. She has lived here in the United States for some 30 years. Both of her grown children are American citizens, but she has never wanted to become an American. She speaks English but teaches Japanese in private schools. Should she be required to become an American citizen? Of course not. She should be free to continue living in the United States and retain any citizenship she wants.
There is also the matter of our American heritage of open immigration. For more than 100 years, people were free to come to the United States with virtually no questions asked. Yes, there was a tuberculous inspection at Ellis Island but most of the millions of people who came to the United States didn’t suffer from that illness. In the American Southwest and along the West Coast, there wasn’t even a TB inspection. People were free to immigrate here without fear of being forcibly returned to their country of origin.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention what happened when later generations of Americans abandoned our founding system of open immigration. In the 1930s, German leader Adolf Hitler was willing to let German Jews leave Germany. The problem was that no nation, including the United States, would take them. The Franklin Roosevelt regime’s position was that we had the “quota system,” and the quota for Germany had already been filled. Immigration controls by nations around the world were a major reason many Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Finally, there are those, including some libertarians, who limit themselves to calling for the government to “let in” more immigrants. The operative term, of course, is “let.” Freedom doesn’t involve the word “let.” Freedom is the right to exercise natural, God-given rights. A system that “lets in” more immigrants is still an immoral and tyrannical system, one that continues to produce death, suffering, and impoverishment among countless people.
Americans have the opportunity to lead the world to liberty, free markets, prosperity, harmony, and morality. Americans have the opportunity to lead the world out of the socialist morass into which it has been plunged. A good place to start would be by opening America’s borders to the free movements of goods, services, and people.
This article was originally published in the October 2020 edition of Future of Freedom.