November 22, 2014

Quick Note on the Current Immigration Issue

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

On the immigration debacle: It’s all a false dichotomy. The GOP wants to create more criminals (and, horribly and against their own alleged conservatism, round ’em up, tear apart families, and separate them from their employers) and give the Federal Government more militaristic control over the borders as if we were an impending police state while the Dem Party is seeking forced integration, larger agency (especially welfare) subsidies, and a larger voting constituency. They are both seeking power and control and are opportunistically playing off of each other in order to push their own narratives. The real solution is private property and local control. If certain counties in Texas want to handle things differently than certain counties in California then so be it. But it’s ridiculous for the Federal Government to expand its control via Federal means A or Federal means B, as are the current options. (This is clearly a tenth amendment issue)

Private property by definition implies a border, a line which defines what is and what is not one’s property. But for the Federal Government to come in and either prevent people from coming who would otherwise have been accepted by the local citizens; or else allow people to come in who the local property owners may have not been prepared for, is not only unconstitutional, but it is also anti-liberty and authoritarian. I do not think there is a dogmatic opinion for libertarians to hold on the immigration issue (and I do think that completely open or completely sealed off borders is a false dichotomy), but my own position, if anyone is interested, is Hans Hoppe’s (here –starting with section III is the most relevant) and Murray Rothbard (here –go to the open borders section on page 6). I at the very least, I think the border question should be a local, if not completely private (ideally), issue.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to
  • Mark N.

    I almost wonder whether Rothbard’s “privatized state” would be, rather than “open border” or “closed border”, most accurately described as “no border”. Yes, technically there would be many little borders that could be opened or closed or somewhere in between based on the decisions of property owners. But that’s nowhere near how the term is used now. We’d be using the term “border” so differently than it is used now that I think the concept eventually vanishes. I think the bridge between the current state’s conception of a “border” and that of Rothbard’s privatized state is so great that maybe its best to think of Rothbard’s conception as an elimination of borders. After all, in a system of absolute private property, the concept of what is inside and outside of the “border” could at various points either be fluid, or essentially become a moot point.

    • reformedlibertarian

      You are probably right. In his ideal world, “border” as it is known cannot exist by definition. And then on the other hand, he recognizes that the State does indeed currently exist and so we need to talk in terms of the State’s borders in discussing policy and solutions. But yeah, his ideal transcends the “open/closed border” debate.

      • David

        I think this argument logically leads to a conclusion that tariffs are OK to. After all, we’re talking in terms of the State’s borders, right?

        Oh, and we could also defend the revenue scam that is the system of traffic laws. After all, there would certainly be SOME traffic regulations on the free market, right? We know they’d be less onerous than what government comes up with to plunder us, but they would exist. So, are cops who enforce traffic laws OK “since we’re talking in terms of government roads”? (I would understand not really saying anything or choosing not to debate a rule that would probably exist even on a private road, but that’s a different thing altogether.)

        I submit that the State has no valid ownership rights over anything. Including “its” border.

        Is this the hill I would die on? No. Would I refuse to vote for a candidate who was otherwise libertarian because of this one issue? No.

        But I think the logical consistency behind the immigration restriction position is really weak. I don’t think there’s any Biblical support for it either.

        • reformedlibertarian

          See Hoppe’s essay: “The Case for Free Trade and Restricted Immigration.”

          I think some traffic laws are fine, yes. Obviously there are huge grievances in both the law itself and the punishment for disobeying said laws.

          “I submit that the State has no valid ownership rights over anything. Including “its” border.” I agree. That’s why it is my opinion that it’s not the federal government’s border to open. Border’s are inherent in private property, which of course has Biblical support.

          • David

            If some traffic laws are OK, which ones? How do you decide?

            I freely agree that there are certain traffic laws without which it would be very hard for roads to function, and others without which the roads would function fine. There are many junctions that would not work well without traffic lights (or at least “yield to traffic” lights.) And of course, if you could drive on whatever side of the road you wanted…

            On the other hand, there is pretty much no benefit to “speeding laws” in the sense that it is very easy to “speed” without endangering anyone else. And certainly nothing to be gained from mandatory seatbelt/helmet laws.

            But, what objective principle are we using here, unless the roads are privatized? What aggression is committed in any of these cases? IF violating traffic laws (or whatever regulation on “public” property) is not aggressive, than isn’t it, on philosophical principle, aggression to enforce them?

            Keep in mind I am dealing in philosophical principle here. I’m not suggesting people start ignoring traffic lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, or racing down highways. But philosophically, where’s the line where AGGRESSION is done by the driver?

          • reformedlibertarian

            I suspect that we have similar conclusions as to which traffic laws are good and which aren’t. The State sets the rules, while the preference is that private entrepreneurs set the rules. In the meantime, chaos is not preferable.

            No one has a “right” to travel on the roads. So therefore it is not aggression to kick them off for disobeying the rules. No one has a “right” to travel to new lands that they don’t own if they haven’t first been given permission by the landowner. The solution is to remove the State and let private parties set the rules, not open up the lands to unrestricted immigration and lawless behavior on public roads.

  • Antonio Germano

    C. Jay,

    A very timely post.

    Since I have been convinced that the federal government is not given authority over immigration, but “naturalization”, I think the best way to think about this issue is in the realm of private property.

    If the Welfare State were entirely eliminated, I doubt most people would have any problem with anyone wanting to come to this country for a better life. There was no border control or ICE or anything like that in the early days of the (long-ago-abandoned) Republic. People simply came here if they had the will and the means, and they paid their own way by being productive people, citizen or not.

    Now that the feds have mucked this up just like they have messed up every other thing that they have touched, maybe it’s time to go back to that state of affairs.

  • David

    As long as we have “public” property, I do not see how we can justify restricting anyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, from entering said “public” property. Private property, of course, is a different matter.

    Thus, I don’t really see how immigration restrictions, even if constitutional, would be libertarian. I can see how they could be pragmatic, considering our massive welfare state, but that’s not the same thing as saying it is libertarian.

    This issue has never been high on my priority list, but I’d advocate letting anyone come in on condition that they sign away any chance at welfare benefits at the door. Yes, I’d rather eliminate welfare benefits for everyone, but until then, denying them to immigrants is a good way of getting the benefits of immigration without the costs.

    Regarding the tenth amendment, I am not a constitutional expert but I don’t know how you’d have fifty different immigration policies, short of also forcing citizens to be stopped at each state border, which seems terrible to me (indeed, that is the reason for the interstate commerce clause, to prevent things like that.) I’m all for decentralization where possible, though. If states decide to enforce or ignore immigration laws that exist, the Feds should not interfere in either case.

    BTW: When I say “libertarian” I am referring to my understnading of libertarian theory, with the understanding that there is dissent.

    • reformedlibertarian

      The problem is that under a private property society the right decisions would be well known because they would be made by private property owners. So under a public property scenario, the right decisions cannot be known because the State has claimed to itself jurisdiction over the decision making process. Thus, the State, if it has a complete closed border, might be restricting people from coming who otherwise would have been accepted by the landowners. This is forced “separation” because the State is creating an artificial barrier. On the other hand, if the state mandates a complete open border where the property owners would have not wanted people to enter, the state is in effect denying the local property owners the right to stop intruders. This is forced “integration.” So we can’t say that “as long as we have public property” restrictions are unjustified. This is why paleo-libertarians like the later Murray Rothbard and also Hans Hoppe do not advocate an open border. They see it as forced integration. You’ll have to read the Hoppe article to which I linked. The constitutional paragraph has an answer too. I’ll try to respond to that when I can.

      • David

        I have read Hoppe’s arguments. I respect them and I’m not one of those who says someone isn’t a libertarian if they disagree on questions like this. But it seems to me that forcibly stopping somebody at an artificial border would be a violation of the NAP. Is arresting someone who smokes a marijuana cigarette in a public park, or who open carries a pistol, not a violation of their rights just because “we don’t know what the polices would be if it were privatized”? I would say the logical implications of this thinking are quite authoritarian.

        I can see some utilitarian problems with completely open borders, but morally, I think its immoral for government agents to threaten people at gunpoint to stop them from crossing a border. Which effectively is what a “immigration restriction” is.

        Do I agree with Obama’s power usurptions? No. But I don’t agree with immigration restrictions either. I also don’t think the government should be giving away other people’s money to help immigrants.

        • reformedlibertarian

          The problem is that under the Statist scenario, decisions have to be made on a practical basis. The solution under a state scenario is pragmatic in nature. So for instance, would it violate NAP if the public parks outlawed sexual activity to occur? Or what about extremely loud drunken and drugged up parties? The solution, of course, to these “problems” is to privatize everything. But in the meantime, each person has preferences about what should happen. And many of these preferences are mutually exclusive. Such is the inherent predicament of “public goods.” The two examples you gave above happened to be things I disagree with but the examples I gave happen to be things I agree with.

          Of course its utilitarian. The Statist society prevents principle and the only principled opinion is one of privatization.

          • David

            My inclination is to say, as distasteful as I find those things, that banning them would be violations of the NAP.

            That’s in part because I cannot stand utilitarian arguments of any kind.

            We agree that we cannot be free until everything is privatized. But in the meantime, I cannot imagine why putting guns to people’s heads for what they do on “public” property, whether crossing a border or even doing the most disgusting things you can think of, would be OK.

            Let me put the question to you. Say you saw sexual activity going on in a public park. What would you do about it? If you had a gun on you, would you use the threat of violence to get them to stop doing it? If they didn’t (for whatever odd reason) would you follow through?

            If the answer is yes, than I can respect you calling upon police to do the same thing you would do yourself.

            But if not, I think it would be hypocritical to support a “law” to regulate said property in a way you would be unwilling to physically enforce yourself.

            Just my opinion of course!

          • reformedlibertarian

            I think you misuse the NAP. Nobody has a right to do such things on “public” property. They only have a “right” to do such things on their own property. The publicity of the good is what is wrong in a moral sense, not the restriction on people’s action. The problem with the restriction can only be solved by solving the core of the problem: “public ownership.” You say you cannot stand any utilitarian argument of any kind, but perhaps you would admit that it is better that the State, since it exists, stop the rapist rather than let him rape. Preferably, all security would be privatized. In the meantime though, there are preferences on a spectrum.