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


  Read More Open Letters    

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