Home Borders Text

The case for free immigration, the case against borders

by BrainPolice

Immigration is a hot topic these days, particularly for those in the southern and south-western states of America. There has been a rising anti-immigration sentiment, directed specifically at immigrating Mexicans. The public cries out, "Secure the borders!" and "They're taking our jobs!". There is nothing new about this phenomenon. It has occurred time and time again throughout American and European history. The same sentiment was directed towards the Irish, Catholics and Chinese in the 19th century and the Jews and Italians in the early 20th century. The three main contributing factors to anti-immigration sentiment are undoubtably (1) economic protectionism (2) nationalism and (3) racism.

There are many different types of arguments that are made against both "illegal immigration" and immigration in general. Some confine their claims to economics, and base their anti-immigration sentiment on the notion that immigrants are effectively stealing jobs, lowering wages and being leeches on public services. Others have a more nationalistic and cultural approach in which their complaint about immigration has more to do with keeping a "unified culture" and "tradition". Others are downright racist, basing their complaints about immigration on attacks on the hispanic race itself. Even some libertarians have gotten caught up in the sentiment. All of it relies on a mixture of fallacy and disinformation.

I intend to cover as much ground as possible and address the bulk of the arguments put forward by proponents of border enforcement and immigration restriction. Particular emphasis will be placed on the debate over immigration internal to libertarian movement. Hold onto your horses, because this is going to be a long ride.

"I'm not anti-immigration, I only oppose illegal immigration"

This is a common claim made by many anti-immigrationists, including libertarian ones. But the legal/illegal distinction is entirely disingenuous. It's no different then making a distinction between legal and illegal drug use, and saying "I'm not against the right of people to use drugs, I'm against people illegally doing drugs". From what I can tell, an illegal immigrant is engaging in an act of civil disobedience no different then someone who wishes to smoke pot despite it being against the law.

To my knowledge, libertarians are not supposed to support the law just because it so happens to be the law. Opposing illegal immigration is to concede, by default, that you favor making immigration illegal to some extent. It is to support the notion that you need special permission from the government, under the guise of regulations, in order to be allowed to live within the territory. There is no way around this. If you favor enforcing laws that restrict or make immigration illegal, you are anti-immigration to some degree. And in order to enforce such restrictions, you must support a government bureaucracy.

The Leeches and The Legal/Illegal Double Standard

To some immigration restrictionists, surely these people are all disease-ridden, jobless, job-stealing (gotta love opposing claims), welfare-sucking criminal hoodlums who believe in communism.

It is undeniable that the public welfare system, which is meant to mean public services in general, is akin to a massive network of parasitism, where resources are redistributed to leech-like recipients. Many right-wing anti-immigrationists argue that the "illegal" immigrants are recipients, and this justifies "kicking the bums out". But this claim is dubious. Actually, many of the "illegals" pay taxes in some form or another. Furthermore, this claim could equally apply to domestic recipients of government funding, which implies kicking domestic citizens out of the country as well. That's the problem with "public property" and all that comes with it: everyone is a potential parasite. Noone is able to escape using the government's services to some degree or another, such as driving on the public roads.

Furthermore, public schooling has been compulsory for a long time, so following this twisted logic we should kick all of the public school students out of the country as well. After all, "they're not paying for it". It would be absurd to argue that the solution is to kick people off of their own property and deport them. A real solution would be to privatize them. Have a problem with masses of people using public services? Privatize the public services then. Don't propose new interventions that require more funding and therefore in actual fact an increase in government funding to public services.

I don't really buy into the common notion that the Mexican immigrants come here with the express purpose of sucking off of the breasts of the welfare state and to vote for socialism. On the contrary, in large part I see them as fleeing socialism and quite rationally perusing better economic conditions and opportunities, where they will be paid more than 50 cents an hour. It is not immigrants that are responsible for the welfare state that we already have, the gullible domestic populace already intellectually supports it in large part and they are the majority of the recipients of its bread and circuses.

Either way, all such charges that are thrown at immigrants apply equally if not more so to domestic citizens, who vote for socialism and beg for welfare all the time. Are we therefore justified in kicking domestic citizens out of the country for driving on the public roads and sending their children to public schools? Or should we strike at the root, the welfare state itself, rather than using the welfare state as a rationale for violating people's rights and implementing new or expanded government interventions?

The Postponement Argument and Interventionism

Some proponents of immigration restriction, including libertarian ones, have advanced an argument that roughly goes as follows: "since we still have a welfare state, until it is done away with, we should support government intervention in the name of stopping the migration of people into the country". In short, since intervention X exists, intervention Y is okay as a solution to the problems created by intervention X. This is interventionism, plain and simple. The only libertarian solution would be to get rid of intervention X, in this case, the welfare state. Anything else just leads to a cycle of interventionism and a distraction from the root cause of problems. In practice, you will end up with a welfare state + more police powers and a larger immigration bureaucracy. That's just how these things work.

This particular closed border position is interventionism, since the argument is essentially that in order to solve the problems created by intervention X (the welfare state) we must support intervention Y (a police state, quite frankly). And in order to possibly enforce these "borders" and immigration "laws", more taxes and spending are inherently required, more planning at the federal level is required and quite a bit of force will be required in order to go through with deportations and whatnot. At the end of the day, I do not consider immigration quotas to be any better than affirmative action, nor do I consider immigration controls in general to not be a form of central planning.

Immigration Restriction As Pre-Emptive Force

On the topic of war, I recall Walter Block arguing that is not sensible to argue for war that on the grounds of what people might do in the future. His point was that it is not libertarian to advocate initiating aggression against another country on the grounds that the country might initiate force in the future. I see the anti-immigration position as being no different. Initiation of force is being "justified" on the grounds of what immigrants might do (that they might accept welfare or they might vote for social democrats). It's pre-emptive force. Using the forceful power of the state to stop other people from using the forceful power of the state is self-defeating in principle. Increasing the power of the state in the name of preventing future increases in the power of the state will only *drum roll* increase the power of the state.

Furthermore, the position that accepting welfare or voting constitutes an initiation of force against the tax-payer doesn't make much sense. These are rather passive activities. It is the state that is initially stealing from the tax-payers. The state then redistributes the stolen loot to various interest groups, like a robber handing out the booty to gangs or to the peasantry. It is a misplacement of blame to go after the peasantry, the arguably passive receivers of the loot while neglecting the actual robbers. Where is the gun in the room? Most certainly not in the hands of the immigrants. The gun in the room is the state. To blame immigrants is to essentially blame the victim. It misplaces the burden of proof entirely. 

The State As Private Property Or A Voluntary Commons?

Some proponents of immigration restriction tend to argue that the state is like a home. Others treat it more as a commons. But treating the nation-state as if it were the legitimate private property of the government, or the people's common property (tragedy of the commons, anyone?), opens up a huge can of worms that could imply some highly questionable things if we consistently applied it. The private property of the government notion can be used to justify practically anything that the government does, and makes everything (and everyone) within the territory subject to be controlled (in other words, it merely reinforces and falsely justifies the territorial monopoly). The common property notion has communalist implications. The state, in either case, clearly is not private property. The state cannot emulate a free market by its very nature, so it makes no sense to me to use the state's intervention in a particular way on the assumption that this is how private property owners would choose to employ their property. This is an imposition of a personal preference.

If the state is treated as the private property of the government's members, then it is legitimized. The members of the state itself may henceforth be treated as legitimately controlling the entire territory. All of us who reside in the territory, and all of the individual plots of land and things that we possess, may be treated as the property of the government. You do not own yourself, the state owns you. You do not own your home, the state owns your home. You may not decide how to employ your property; you are not its owner, you are only being allowed to use it by its true owners, the state. It is not your property. The members of the state may freely decide to exclude anyone from the territory as they please, since it is theirs. You may not decide how to employ the individual portion that you are "allowed" to use; the state decides this for you. All hail the total state.

If the state is treated as the common property of the tax-payers, then it is legitimized. We should all henceforth buy into the phrase "we are the government". Of course, a gigantic practical problem arises: the tax-payers cannot act as a single entity with a preference scale of its own. The tax-payers are conflicting over how they wish to use this common property. The tax-payers cannot exercise their quota ownership in reality. You cannot sell your 1/500000th (or what have you) portion of government land.  It is impossible for the "community" as a whole to enforce all of their individual preferences for how to employ such property.

Even granting that it may constitute stolen property, it has been redistributed so many times over and time has passed for so long that it would be impossible to allocate it back to the original just owners. Thus, in practice, we are left enforcing either the members of the state's preferences for how to use it or the preferences of a particular group of people within "the community" for how to use it in the name of "the community". You may not decide how to employ the individual portion that you think you own; "the community" (i.e. in practice, the state or a special interest group acting through the state) decides this for you. All hail the total state.

The Incentives of Inclusion and Exclusion

While private property owners would indeed be free to exclude Mexicans in a free society, I believe that the incentives in a free market would make racial or cultural separatism suicidal in the long-run for reasons having to do with the economics of discrimination (and what I consider to be the large-scale implications of comparative advantage). At least on the margin, there will be an incentive towards integration; and there will always be willing sellers to some degree. The consequences of free association are a mixed bag and therefore pluralist. This is why I think that free association ultimately pans out in favor of so-called "multiculturalism", more so as time passes. Separatists would effectively exile and impoverish themselves.

There will always be willing buyers and sellers. Consequentially, in a society in which all property is private, there is nothing that can be done to stop people from immigrating through voluntary exchanges for home and land property and voluntary patronization of transportation services, as well as good and services in general. In short, it is virtually impossible to keep a community completely ethnically "pure" when there are individuals within that community willing to buy and sell things with immigrating people from other ethnicities. In a truly free society, the incentive towards voluntary association would be so strong as to render absolute cultural "isolationism" impossible.

Free Trade and the Law of Association

Ludwig von Mises: "The productivity of social cooperation surpasses in every respect the sum total of the production of isolated individuals." - Epistemological Problems of Economics

For the same reason that blocking trade between people in New Mexico and Arizona would have a hampering effect on production, so too will blocking trade between people in, say, China and America. Economics provides us with the insight that voluntary exchange is mutually beneficial to both parties and has a ripple effect of sorts (I.E. its benefits may extend beyond the two people exchanging down the line). Any kind of protectionism is going to block this mutually beneficial exchange. It always is at the expense of consumer choice and bestows a privilege to one narrow interest at the expense of everyone else, and eventually at the expense of the original "beneficiaries" themselves. And since it stifles competition, it has the obvious effect of artificially keeping prices higher than what the true market level would be.

In essence, it is beneficial even for someone who is productively "superior" to others in multiple areas to exchange with others who are "superior" in none of those areas. Even if country X is superior to country Y in both areas, it is still in its advantage to exchange with country Y. If we accept the principle of the division of labor within a country, we must accept the division of labor within the world.

How does this apply to immigration? Well, there is a labor market for immigrants. It represents competition to non-immigrant labor. The economic law that Mises speaks of applies here as well. The anti-immigration movement wishes to use protectionism against the immigrant labor market. Economically and socially, such separatism is counterproductive even for the people who wish to remain isolated. While people are perfectly within their rights to choose not to associate with people, they undermine their own well-being the more liberally that they isolate themselves.

For example, if a business refuses to sell products to group X, they lose business, indeed, they are restricting their consumer base. It becomes vitally in the best interest of people to associate and engage in social cooperation, otherwise they harm themselves in the long-term by withdrawing from the benefits of society. This applies to immigration as well. To forcibly block off immigration is also to eschew the benefits of social cooperation. While there is indeed a right of voluntary disassociation, the person who chooses to freely disassociate often does so at their own risk.

Property Rights and Free Association

Immigration itself is merely the act of moving from place A to place B. This is typically coupled with the act of purchasing a home, and the act itself may involve some form of transportation service. It should be obvious that this is a free trade activity just as much as any other. Yet many anti-immigration advocates, in effect, wish to make selling goods and services to such people illegal, hiring such people or allowing them onto one's own property; charity even. Such measures inevitably violate the property rights of both the immigrant and the citizens that they are associating with. If the government stops me from selling a home to an immigrant, hiring one or associating with them in any way, then my property rights are being violated along with that of the immigrant.

The problem with immigration controls and border enforcement is that it inherently requires dictating what citizens do with their own property: it disallows me from inviting someone onto my property, selling someone my property or hiring a willing worker. A lot of the closed borders advocates accuse open borders of violating free association and allowing people to engage in "trespass" and "invasion" (and this argument can only be superficially maintained if we treat political borders or unused land as private property or the common property of the tax-payers, which simply is not the case; there is no discernible just owner of the entire country or borders), but they apparently fail to see how their own position egregiously violates free association (forced disassociation is no better than forced association). It's not just the "illegals" that are effected, it's domestic citizens who wish to associate with them as well.

Libertarians are bound by the non-aggression axiom. This axiom leads one to support free association (and disassociation) between individuals on the basis that no aggression is used to force people to either associate or disassociate. This means that one must oppose both forced integration and forced segregation (forced association and force disassociation). If force is used to stop people from voluntarily associating, then a rights violation has occurred. As such, using the law to stop immigrants from associating with citizens (and all that comes with it) is a rights violation on the part of both people in question. But the cultural isolationist essentially is arguing in favor of using the law to enforce forced segregation.

Prohibition Theory

When you prohibit something, in the short-term you might get less of it. But in time it is inevitable that a black market arises despite this limit on supply (example: we have drug and prostitution prohibition, yet we have a black market in these areas). Prohibition theory also applies to employment itself, to jobs. Thus, to overtly prohibit immigration will do nothing to stop people from simply immigrating anyways, just like prohibiting drugs does nothing to stop people from buying, selling and using drugs. If you make the hiring of "illegals" illegal, you will simply create a black market for those jobs, and thus those jobs will continue to exist. Simply put, there will always be willing sellers and buyers. The answer to the question, "why do we have an immigration black market?" is "because immigration isn't free enough", "preciously because of the governmental limits on it that already exist".

Therefore, it is absolutely illogical to think that immigration quotas, more cops on the streets, the federalization of the borders, national I.D. cards, or any other such scheme, is going to actually eliminate illegal immigration. It is impossible to eliminate illegal immigration for the same reason that central economic planning fails, is unable to calculate, due to the complexity of information and economic decisions on the market. The fact that we have so many illegal immigrants right now as it is only shows that they can get through despite whatever previous limits existed. Indeed, immigrants are given an incentive to illegally come over by the mere inadequacy of the immigration process, with its red tape and bureaucracy. "Illegal immigration" exists precisely because of the degree to which immigration is prohibited.

Nations and Borders

What is a nation? A nation is nothing but a concept meant to describe a geographic territory. "Nations" do not actually exist other than as a linguistic term. Unfortunately, many people conceive of the nation in an anthropomorphic way, in which it is given a definite character as if it were a single individual, with uniform traits. But obviously, those within the territory that we call a nation all differ widely in their physical and mental traits, in their opinions and in their actions. The concept of nations is inherently collectivist. It presumes uniformity on the part of its atomic parts. And, most dangerously of all, the nation and state are implied as being one and the same. But this is an obfuscation, because the state is made up a minority, an oligarchy, of individuals, while "society" as a whole is an entirely different thing.

What are national or state borders? They are nothing but a line on a map, and do not exist independently of that line on that map. They do not exist when one actually zooms in on the earth from outer space. The concept of national borders is a concept of collective property; it presumes that the entire territory of the "nation" is "ours". But this is obviously absurd when one considers the objective criteria for ownership of property. In reality, it is property that the government is claiming ownership of, without necessarily actually using it, homesteading it or exchanging for it. In short, national borders effectively represents a claim of ownership by the government over the entire territory, and as a consequence, everything within it.

The entire concept of national borders depends on government ownership of property, specifically land. If one supports that government do something with respect to that land, including determining who should be allowed in or out of it, then they are accepting the notion that the land is justly the state's. It should be clear from a property rights standpoint that ownership of land requires that the homestead principle be fulfilled, or that a voluntary exchange has taken place for previously owned land. Government does not justly own the land that it claims, because it achieved that land by (1) putting up barriers to entry to unused land for homesteaders (2) confiscating it from its original just owner or (3) buying it with funds that were likewise confiscated from the original just owner.

The homesteading principle implies that it is not legitimate to claim ownership of un-used land, it requires first-use. When government is held up to the homesteading principle, or the principle of voluntary exchange, it becomes apparent that it is impossible to justify government ownership of any property at all, let alone land. Indeed, it becomes apparent that the history of the establishment of governments is the history of invasions and occupations followed by confiscation of land. In short, property precedes government and governments require the confiscation of property, including land property, to form in the first place. But in a purely libertarian world, all land is privatized, and therefore the only "borders" are private property borders. Immigration would be free insofar it would be at the consent of private property owners, and under such a context some kind of voluntary integration would become inevitable, more so as time passes.

Walls and Fences

Among the more absurd propositions of anti-immigrationists is the idea of building a huge wall on the southern border. These people don't realize that they are playing out the exact same problem that existed in Germany before the Berlin Wall fell. They are supporting the pretext for a police state and for locking the people into their own country. After all, what can keep people out can also keep people in. Furthermore, has any such scheme historically worked in the long-run? Did the great wall of China hold out? No. Did the Berlin Wall? No. Some claim that immigration itself is balkanizing the country. On the contrary, fences, walls, increased police powers, and anti-immigration sentiment in general is balkanizing it. The state, and therefore national borders, breeds social conflict.

Artificial barriers do not ease hostility, they create hostility and intensify already existing hostility. In the same way that trade sanctions are a boon to international war, anti-immigration sanctions, artificial walls and the enforcement of imaginary divisions, leads to cultural war. But as Randolf Bourne once stated, "war is the health of the state". It is not just foreign wars that the state thrives on. It thrives on all kinds of domestic wars between interest groups, and wars on inanimate objects and ideas such as the war on drugs, war on poverty, war on terrorism, the so-called war on christmas, and now the war on immigration. Anti-immigration sentiment provides a perfect atmosphere for politicians to exploit as to increase their power. And that's what it's leading to: increases in economic and police intervention.

"Isolationism" vs. Non-interventionism Revisited

There are some very compelling reasons for distinguishing between a non-interventionist and isolationist foreign policy. The key differences are over international trade and immigration. Insofar as isolationism applies to economics and the association of individuals, it is a bad thing and constitutes a form of interventionism, not non-interventionism. Economic protectionism is a key tenet of traditional isolationist foreign policy, as is what could be considered cultural protectionism. While the paleo-conservative movement can be considered better than the neo-conservative movement in various ways, unfortunately many paleo-conservatives have a tendency to support protectionism. What does the isolationist foreign policy imply? Painfully high tariffs, import quotas, export bans, immigration quotas, martial law at the borders, walls at the borders, prohibition of lower-end jobs, prohibition of various goods and services. Taken to it's furthest extremes, it implies a ban on all trade and immigration between America and other nations. In either case, it implies a plethora of potential government interventions. This sentiment represents a sub-culture of "buy American products only" and "the immigrants are taking our jobs" people. It has culminated in a "anti-globalization" movement, constituted by people ranging from the far left to the paleo right. This sentiment is riddled with economic fallacy. The non-interventionist foreign (and domestic) policy, in contrast, would inevitably have to be opposed to such measures. They are, after all, government interventions in the market. The non-interventionist foreign policy with respect to economic exchange can only lead to one possible conclusion: the unhampered division of labor, voluntary exchange, is the correct policy for both inner-national trade and inter-national trade. This inevitably means that protectionist devices such as tariffs, quotas (which includes immigration quotas, which is nothing but a peculiar form of affirmative action) and prohibitions have to be eliminated. Anti-immigration legislation is nothing but protectionism with respect to the migration, employment arrangements and housing arrangements of people, driven by nationalist emotionalism. Protectionism, nationalism and neo-mercantalism are the bane of a free society.


Immigration in itself is a free market activity and within the realm of free association. The problems associated with immigration are really problems created by the state, wether it be the welfare state or the nature of national borders in general. The solution to the issue does not lie in the state, it does not lie in federal troops at the state's borders, it does not lie in making jobs illegal, it does not lie in public-funded walls, it does not lie in immigration quotas. It lies in private property. It lies in the privatization of land. State borders don't need to be protected or enforced, they need to be torn down. Governmental borders do not represent legitimate property titles, and possess all of the problems associated with "public property". Immigration should be left to the free market, which resolves such muddled collective/state property disputes by establishing a clear definition of property rights and a clear method of determining who the just owner is of a given property title.

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You can make use of the following text and video to expand your knowledge and understanding of the topic covered in this unit.

Against All Nations And Borders

Five Reasons Why Low Skilled Immigrants Are Good For The Economy

How Immigration Can Help the Economy

Immigration: Anarchy Worked

Immigration Myths Debunked

Importing Freedom

Liberty For All Means Immigrants Too

Open The Borders — To Trade And To People!

Terrorists At The Gate

The Age Of The Suitcase Nuke

The Case For Free Immigration, The Case Against Borders

The Libertarian Immigration Conundrum

Travel And Labour Should Be Peaceful

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