The Trouble With 'Cracking Down on Immigration'

Many of LRC’s writers and readers oppose open borders. I understand the Hoppean arguments against open borders, and against the idea that immigration is itself a natural right, since all land, in a free society, would be privately owned, and therefore not open to "immigration" except by invitation. Some libertarians are for open borders. Others are not. Some believe in some type of compromise, though nearly nobody would say the status quo is ideal.

The real ideal is total privatization of all land, elimination of laws that restrict freedom of association, and the allowance of everyone to do whatever they please with their property. Whether this would lead to more or less immigration is impossible to know a priori, but it is the ideal solution for a free society.

Decentralism would be a step in the right direction. Ideally, it would be up to individuals. But private communities, or even small, localized polities, would probably do far better and act far more humanely and in accordance with liberty and common sense in regard to the immigration question than anything we could expect from Washington, DC.

In today’s imperfect world, however, we need to take seriously the proposals of "cracking down on illegal immigration." The opposition to mass immigration, reflected in actual policy, can be seen in the Real ID Act and other such clearly un-libertarian measures. Many conservatives willingly place their concern about immigration above any devotion to American liberty and the Bill of Rights. While open immigration advocates on the left are in no way consistent friends of liberty and free markets, we can see that the anti-immigration zealotry on the right often accompanies warmongering, economic ignorance, nativism and calls for police state measures.

Section 102 of the Real ID Act illustrates the degree to which the perceived threat of immigration can blind people to all manners of tyranny. It decrees that the unconstitutional Homeland Security Department would have total authority on all matters concerning border construction, and that many of its actions would not be subject to judicial review.

This is police statism, pure and simple, even if you consider illegal immigration a crime. Murder is a crime, but we certainly wouldn’t want a federal agency to have sole jurisdiction over it, without any judicial review.

Anyone who thinks such sacrifices in procedural safeguards and expansions of the police state will actually stop illegal immigration has ignored the legacies of the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, and every other program whereby the government has sacrificed our liberties for the sake of some ostensible common good. This latest outrage is no exception. The Real ID Act has simply made it so, in Claire Wolfe’s words, "we’re all illegal aliens now."

Another idea, embraced most by the paleo-right and populist left, is to "crack down" on employers who hire illegals. This suggestion is particularly egregious. If the trouble with illegal immigration is that they come to America and consume "public" resources, and make use of "services" such as welfare and government schools, why target the ones who actually are working? And why target their employers, of all people? They are engaging in commerce, much the way that a merchant would in a free-trade relationship with a foreigner — and it makes little sense to attack them in all their productive and peaceful work, when the real problem is the state’s welfare programs and assaults on the freedom of association. Indeed, this proposed "solution" even widens the oppression of people who want to associate freely and are paying their own way.

The anti-capitalists on right and left want to target the employers — much the way some folks want to target drug dealers — without realizing that it takes both sides of a consensual economic arrangement to tango. In an interview last year, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader — both of whom I respect for their relative opposition to empire — appeared to agree with each other on a number of issues, including on immigration and trade. Even though they have slightly different takes on the matter, they seemed to be able to concur on courses of action to stem illegal immigration.

Nader thinks immigrants u201Cshould be given all the fair-labor standards and all the rights and benefits of American workers, and if this country doesn’t like that, maybe they will do something about the immigration laws.u201D He doesn’t u201Cbelieve in giving visas to software people from the Third World when we have got all kinds of unemployed software people here.u201D And he thinks the government should raise the minimum wage and u201Cenforce the law against employers.u201D

The interesting thing is, I’ve heard populists like Bill O’Reilly, rightwingers like Michael Savage, and paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan all agree with most of Nader’s basic proposals here. But none of this is grounded in an understanding in the troubles with public property and welfare statism, and none of it makes economic or practical sense. All of these anti-immigrant pundits are much more favorable to government interventions in the economy than any libertarian. If addressed through the federal government, it will be a coalition of statists, not paleolibertarians, that u201Csolvesu201D any problems associated with immigration — so don’t hold your breath for a freer or more prosperous America as a result.

In fact, Hillary Clinton somewhat recently came out in favor of stronger federal control of the borders. If she ever rose to presidency, I don’t think she would hesitate in putting more troops on the borders or further harassing employers of illegal aliens, especially if she thought it would win her more votes than it would lose her. And I very much doubt her rationale would be based on Hoppean private property ethics. In fact, as Hoppe points out, the democratic state is unlikely to protect private property with anything approximating a fair immigration policy. I would add that when the state "cracks down on immigration," it is also likely acting in its own interests of power and expansion, not doing it so as to reduce the pool of pro-government voters. (Besides, which party are the immigrants going to vote for? The big-government Democrats, or the even-bigger—government Republicans?)

I heard Michael Savage say on his show, only half tongue-in-cheek, that he — longtime hysterical opponent of all that Hillary ostensibly stands for — might seriously consider supporting someone like Hillary against a Republican like Bush who has been, in his mind, too laissez faire on immigration. Well, this is interesting. A Savage-Clinton alliance is unlikely to produce much good for freedom. Of course, illegal immigrants would still enter the country, but that will happen no matter what. It’s unrealistic to think that thousands of miles of borders can be closed, much less in a way compatible with liberty and fiscal responsibility.

Regardless of one’s stand on immigration per se, it is clear that the central state simply wants to further manage and rule our lives, and is using the borders as just another excuse. Yes, some politicians are lenient on the immigration issue as part of a general agenda of bigger government. This does not mean that when politicians suggest closing the borders, they are not also acting according to that agenda.

Until we get anywhere near the real solutions of slashing the welfare state, restoring freedom of association, privatizing the socialized realms of society and decentralizing decision-making regarding the use of property, we have to think about what we have now. Under the current regime, we should not cheer on the federal government to "close the borders," harass employers, or further nationalize law enforcement in the name of immigration control.

If the problem with immigration originates with the state, there is a paradox and danger in calling on the state to fix the problem it has caused. There is no knowing what the state will do in order to fix it. There is no guarantee that it will do a good job. It is more than likely that it will make things worse, all while expanding itself and eroding our liberties. We should all be cautious what we advocate, for we do not want to function as pressure from below for a web of policies and regulations we never would have endorsed if asked up front.

Open immigration compounded with the welfare state and indeed the entire socialized sector of society is problematic. But more government at this point is probably not going to bring about a solution that anyone with a deep respect for liberty would envision or desire.

And there is an even more compelling danger in escalating a federal war on illegal immigration.

Barry Goldwater said, "A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away." There is so much truth to this.

And a government border system capable, powerful and large enough to keep people out is just as able to keep people in.

On September 11, 2001, all commercial flights were grounded and leaving the country was prohibited.

If there’s ever a national crisis that would justify, in the eyes of Washington DC, a total crackdown on emigration, the remaining question will be how capable is the infrastructure for doing this. To the extent that the borders can keep people out, they can keep people in. To the extent that they can’t, what’s their purpose, anyway?

And certainly the state would consider trying to keep people in. The current rulers have nothing in principle against such policies. And, from the Real ID Act, we know how sensitive they are to our liberties.

I can only speak for myself, here, but I am a little uncomfortable with the prospect of Hillary Clinton or any other such statist further consolidating power in this era of a burgeoning U.S. warfare state. If the full-blown police state comes, stronger border and immigration controls will probably be part of it, and they won’t only be "cracking down" on lazy, Democratic-voting welfare bums.