In Defense of Ron Paul, Part Four: The Immigration Conundrum

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Ron Paul has
received criticism in some camps, both among leftists and libertarians,
for his positions on immigration. Indeed, from my own viewing of
libertarian-oriented blogs and discussion lists, I’d have to say
this is the most frequent objection to Ron Paul raised by those
libertarians who oppose his candidacy. While leftist objections
to Dr. Paul are more varied, the immigration question figures prominently
in many of these as well. Recently, there was something of a brouhaha
in some corners concerning a campaign ad dealing with Ron Paul’s
proposal to place wider restrictions on visas granted to persons
from countries believed to be principal places of origin for individuals
involved with terrorism. A number of recent polls indicate that
immigration is a primary issue of importance to many people and
it is clearly an explosive and emotionally charged issue.

Immigration
is one those issues, like abortion, race, gay rights and some others,
where debate frequently deteriorates into hostility, finger-pointing
and people talking past one another. It’s also an issue where the
point of view of both sides, if taken to extremes, can result in
absurd conclusions. The position that says “open borders, no matter
what” would provide no barrier to tens if not hundreds of millions
of immigrants potentially setting up shanties on public streets
and squatting on public lands until American cities began to resemble
Calcutta or Rio de Janeiro. Even mass immigration from regions with
similar levels of economic development (like Japan and other Pacific
Rim countries, Australia and New Zealand or Western Europe) would
result in serious problems pertaining to overcrowded schools and
neighborhoods, burdens on entitlements, social services and public
transportation systems, ecological damage and effects on wage and
employment rates. However, the position that says “zero immigration,
no matter what” also brings with it certain destructive implications,
not the least of which is the likelihood that a Stalinist-like police
state would be necessary for its enforcement. Certainly, we should
not desire a “war on immigration” that is modeled on the present
“war on drugs."

Libertarians
and Leftists who oppose any immigration restrictions whatsoever
typically justify their position by arguing that immigration controls
are a set of rules and as such must be anti-libertarian by definition,
and that such controls constitute a form of racial or national chauvinism,
or “international apartheid." I confess to once holding such
views myself. As a traditional left-wing anarchist who regards the
state as the facilitator of various forms of class-based economic
and political oppression, I came to the realization that the mass
immigration policies that have been adopted by the ruling classes
of the Western nations very much serve the interests of the elites
at the expense of the people at large. An interesting observation
along these lines comes from the noted immigration critic Peter
Brimelow: “You know, when I was a kid, in England, I went to a very
left-wing university, and I spent a great deal of time arguing with
the Left, about the Vietnam War and so on. It's a major reason why
I chose to come to the U.S. – because I was opposed to all
that stuff. But I have to admit that immigration policy is susceptible
to a very simple Marxist analysis. It is a class policy. It benefits
the upper classes. It disadvantages the lower classes. What's going
to happen if it continues is that the U.S. is not going to be a
"Republic" in any sense that Jefferson would recognize.
It's going to become Brazil, or Mexico. There are going to be a
lot of very wealthy people, and a lot of peons who are going to
live in the barrios.”

Mass immigration
is simply a form of upward wealth redistribution. Immigration provides
“big capital” with a greater supply of cheap labor and “big government”
with a greater supply of clients for social bureaucracies of all
kinds, voters for political parties, constituents for ethnic lobbies,
and inadvertent allies for the cultural elites wishing to wage war
on traditional society in the name of liberal ideology. It is the
indigenous American poor and working class (of all colors) who pick
up the bill for all of this in terms of lower wages, reduced availability
of social services and higher taxes, overcrowded schools and communities,
increased crime and heightened ethnic conflict. The British libertarian
Sean Gabb has observed that multiculturalist ideology is largely
an instrument of class warfare employed by the ruling class as part
of a divide and conquer strategy to prevent resistance to the state
“by promoting movements of peoples so that nations in the old sense
disappear, and are replaced by patchworks of nationalities more
suspicious of each other than of any ruling class.”

It says much
about the blinkered nature of modern leftist ideology that so many
on the Left cannot recognize even the existential threat posed by
mass immigration to everything they supposedly cherish. This is
less of a problem in America than in Europe, where present demographic
patterns indicate that indigenous Europeans will eventually become
a minority displaced by an eventual Islamic majority. Polls taken
among European Muslims indicate that a majority reject assimilation
into their host countries with more than a third agreeing that Islam
should be the state religion of each of the European nations. Such
trends are incompatible with the ultimate survival of such values
as religious liberty and church/state separation, scientific and
artistic freedom, a high material standard of living, freedom of
political opinion, high social standing for women and sexual minorities,
a humane penal system and abolition of the death penalty, tolerance
of drug users and sex workers and other such things that have been
partially achieved in some European nations but are barely existent
in other parts of the world, often including the United States.
Dramatic civilizational differences of this type are less significant
to the immigration issue in North America, though it needs to be
recognized that efforts by ruling classes to maintain power by playing
off different ethnic, cultural or religious factions against one
another are usually successful for only so long before violence
and bloodshed eventually transpire. This has occurred in nation
after nation.

However, recognition
of these issues need not be cause for hysteria. Nor is there any
need for the scapegoating of immigrants. This is primarily a structural
and institutional problem and an indication of serious flaws in
our intellectual culture. The late Milton Friedman once remarked
that you can’t have open borders and a welfare state. To this we
might add that you can’t have open borders and a welfare state,
a corporate state, an imperialist foreign policy, a corporate-mercantilist
trade policy, a maze of “antidiscrimination” laws and other impediments
to freedom of association in every area of social life, drug prohibition,
a police state and prison-industry, centralized mass democracy,
an intellectual and cultural elite with a fanatical commitment to
multiculturalist ideology and a prevaling set of social ethics that
pretends nations, cultures, religions, social values and political
and economic systems are merely interchangeable commodities to be
discarded or exchanged on a whim (like different brands of deodorant).

The need to
curb and reduce the present levels of immigration is largely a matter
of altering the perverse incentive structure currently in place.
Ron Paul has proposed a set of common sense reforms with a primary
emphasis on reducing immigrant access to state entitlements and
service programs and tightening citizenship requirements. None of
this involves escalation of state control over the individual (though
I have encountered some supposed “free market” libertarians arguing
for the “right” of immigrants to collect welfare payments). Indeed,
there is a long way we could go to reduce immigration through the
use of economic incentives and other voluntary methods alone. One
way might be to repeal antidiscrimination laws altogether or at
least as these apply to immigrants. Another might be to boycott
businesses that employ illegal immigrant labor. The flip side of
such an approach might be to practice labor solidarity with immigrant
migrant workers, thereby collectively pushing wages up and reducing
incentives for employers to hire further immigrant labor (okay,
so my anarcho-syndicalist biases are coming out here). Some among
the paleoconservatives have called for the prosecution of corporate
entities found to be employing illegal immigrant labor. Many corporate
systems are not private institutions at all, but the product of
a myriad of state interventions for the sake of creating artificial
privilege. I’m sure some of my readers will find this to be an overly
socialistic proposal, but I would be inclined to deal with such
cases simply by leaving the immigrants alone but placing the operations
of such corporate structures under workers-syndicalist control!
(Okay, start sending the hate mail.) Indeed, the wider proliferation
of worker-owned and -operated enterprises would make a significant
dent in this problem, given that American workers would be unlikely
to fire themselves for the sake of employing Third World labor,
whether by outsourcing or by hiring immigrants, legal or illegal.
I’m sure the libertarian-left and the libertarian-right, socialists
and paleocons, nativists and humanists can all agree on the need
to heed Dr. Paul’s call for repealing the North American Free Trade
Agreement and stopping any potential North American Union and accompanying
continental superhighway dead in its tracks. Deferring once again
to my unrepentant anarcho-syndicalism, I’m also for the creation
of labor organizations spanning national borders for the sake of
countering the power of transnational corporations. I’m also sure
we can agree on a policy of deporting immigrants convicted of serious
crimes, particularly given that such a policy would be far more
lenient and humane than sending anyone to a US jail or prison.

Ron Paul has
made only two proposals concerning immigration reform that require
any physical coercion of individuals whatsoever. These are visa
enforcement and upgrading border security. I confess that I would
prefer to live in a world where it was possible to travel to other
nations without bothering to get a passport or a visa and I am skeptical
of recently constructed plans for erecting a fence along the southern
border of the United States. This latter proposal reeks of a standard
statist public works program whose likely end results are destined
to be less than optimal. For one thing, it would probably be less
expensive and less obtrusive for local residents to forgo the fence
and simply station regular army or national guardsmen along the
border following their much needed return from Iraq or Afghanistan.
I’m also pretty sure the South Koreans, Taiwanese or Europeans could
do without some of the American troops located in their respective
homelands as well.

Can opposition
to visa enforcement or border security of any kind really be rationally
defended on libertarian grounds? Leftists who support open borders
but otherwise espouse statism (as the majority of leftists do) all
the while claiming to be friendly to labor simply want more immigration
for the sake of advancing the cause of multiculturalism. This much
is obvious enough. Free-market libertarians seek to strip government
down to the bare minimum level of protecting private property or,
in the case of anarcho-capitalists, seek to abolish government altogether.
Left-libertarians or “libertarian socialists” usually favor some
kind of decentralized federation of communes, cooperatives, socialist
municipalities or some similar arrangement. My own views are somewhere
in the middle of all of this. I’m in favor of private property,
not just for individuals as the Lockeans are, but also for families
(as illustrated by the law of inheritance), communities (“the commons”),
property rooted in ancestral traditions (for instance, the recognition
of the prerogative of indigenous peoples’ to their sacred burial
grounds), the property of tribes and ethnic groups (their historical
homelands), and of nations (their generations long established domain).
However, I’m also in favor of alternative business models like cooperatives
and works councils. Whatever the particular approach to property
theory one adheres to, or whatever model of business/labor/economic
organization one finds to be most optimal or just, it is unlikely
that there can ever be a system of ownership, whether individual
or collective, that places no barriers to entry whatsoever. Is an
anarcho-leftist commune going to accept all comers, irrespective
of beliefs, behavior or economic output? Republicans? Religious
fundamentalists? Meat-eaters? Skinheads? And is enforcement of rules
pertaining to immigration visas or border crossing inherently any
more authoritarian than the enforcement of laws against trespassing
or the restriction of entry to private facilities such as school
campuses, shopping centers or office buildings? Both involve forcible
expulsion of those uninvited persons who refuse to exit on their
own initiative and not necessarily anything more.

Most libertarians
do not reject some bare minimum of rules for traffic safety. Most
libertarians favor the decriminalization of drugs but may favor
peripheral regulations concerning content and purity, driving under
the influence, or selling drugs to children. Surely reasonable rules
of immigration for the purpose of preventing social chaos are no
more intrusive than these.

Perhaps the
best policy might simply be to make immigration a states’ or even
a local issue, like liquor licensing or school boards. Communities
with a Hispanic majority, for instance, might be more receptive
to Latin American immigration. Communities where pro-immigration
sentiment was strong might well adopt a policy similar to those
of present day “sanctuary cities." Other communities might
take a much more restrictive approach, perhaps even stationing a
ring of Minutemen along the state border or around the city limits
or the county line. Localities might well be in a better position
to determine, for instance, which immigrants are genuine refugees
from political or religious persecution and which are simply economic
migrants. During the civil wars in Central America during the 1980s
(which were greatly aggravated by US intervention), there were indeed
refugees who fled for their lives from those regions. I would not
be in favor of deporting refugees to face a certain death elsewhere.
Despite my opposition to large scale Islamic immigration into the
West, I could make a generous exception for genuinely pro-freedom
political dissidents from Islamic lands, persecuted religious minorities
(like Iraqi Christians or members of the Ba’Hai faith in Iran),
women and homosexuals from Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, or victims
of ethnic persecution elsewhere (like the Hmong of Southeast Asian
or white Zimbabweans).

Whatever one’s
views on immigration policy, this issue alone should not be an impediment
to giving support to the candidacy of Ron Paul. If only twenty percent
of Dr. Paul’s proposed policies were put into place, America would
be a far more decent and humane place than it is today, and certainly
more libertarian. It is hard to resist the impulse to consider those
who would use a single issue to reject Dr. Paul’s entire program
as motivated by little more than simple sectarianism.

January
17, 2008

Keith Preston
[send him mail] is a
long-time radical writer and activist from Richmond, Virginia. See
his website
.

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