There is no libertarian case for restricted immigration
It is almost 30 years to the day since Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee Ed Clark set off a firestorm of criticism within the party for indicating that he didn’t think free immigration should be immediately adopted. One of the strongest criticisms came in a post-mortem of that campaign by Mr. Libertarian, Murray Rothbard, who stated:
Immigration provided probably the greatest (or perhaps the second greatest) single scandal of the Clark campaign. New York Times liberals, you see, love Mexicans but only in Mexico; they are not too keen on Mexicans emigrating to the United States. And so the Clark position, which not only betrayed the libertarian principle of free and open immigration, but also froze immigration restrictions in with the welfare system. – Libertarian Forum, Sep-Dec 1980
We all make mistakes, and the purpose of this post isn’t to single out Clark for something he said three decades ago under the pressure of the highest profile campaign in LP history (indeed, Rothbard himself strayed much further only a few years later). But the question of whether Clark’s campaign had violated libertarian principles wasn’t even considered debatable at the time: it was obvious to all libertarians that free and open immigration was as clearly the libertarian position as was free and open trade. It should still be obvious and, in the present environment, it is more important than ever to rekindle that awareness.
An excellent contribution toward that end is today’s post by dL of Liberale et libertaire: Restricted Immigration is not a Libertarian Position. I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety. There are some hard issues on which the libertarian position is debatable. Immigration (more accurately, freedom of travel) is not one of them.
For those who agree that free immigration is the only position consistent with the non-aggression principle, but who are concerned about the plausibility of some of the non-libertarian objections based on practicality, I would encourage a thorough reading of University of Hawaii Professor Ken Schoolland’s long article for the International Society for Individual Liberty: Why Open Immigration? In particular, Schoolland has demolished the “welfare magnet” theory with an insightful study of migration within the 50 states: there is an incredibly strong correlation between welfare benefits and migration: IT IS STRONGLY NEGATIVE! Immigrants flee the high welfare states to go to the low welfare states (Arizona ranks 46th in welfare benefits: it would be almost the very last place for a welfare-seeker to settle).
Violent crime rates are also negatively correlated to immigration, and immigrants increase the wealth of current residents. Even the security argument is backwards: the underground railroad that has developed to allow workers to enter this country makes it easier for an undetected terrorist to enter, and would disappear without the revenue provided by the demand by millions of secret passage.
Utopia is not an option, and the practical argument over the pluses and minuses of immigration can never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction, but two principles should guide the confused:
(1) When in doubt as to whether aggression will work or not, the default position should be don’t aggress.
(2) To successfully control the borders would require the delegation of an enormous amount of power to government officials, who are fallible human beings prone to the corruption of power, like all other human beings. The type of society we would need to restrict immigration successfully would be Hell on Earth.