In Defence of Absolutely Open Borders
This is a defense of a policy of absolutely open immigration, without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports.
After a phase-in period, entry into the U.S. would be unrestricted, unregulated, and unscreened, exactly as is entry into Connecticut from New York.
(Note: I am defending freedom of entry and residency, not the granting of citizenship or voting rights, not even after decades of residency.)
An end to immigration barriers is required by the principle of individual rights. Every individual has rights as an individual, not as a member of this or that nation. The rights of Americans do not flow from their status as Americans, but from their status as human beings.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Instead of “their Creator” the reference should be to “their nature,” but it is quite clear that rights are held to be universal, pertaining to all men as such.
No special geographical location is required in order to have the right to be free from governmental coercion. In fact, government is instituted “to secure these rights”—to protect them against their violation by force or fraud.
A foreigner has rights just as much as an American. To be a foreigner is not to be a criminal. Yet our government treats as criminals those foreigners not lucky enough to win the green-card lottery.
Seeking employment in this country is not a criminal act. It coerces no one and violates no one’s rights. Jobs taken away? There is no “right” to be exempt from competition in the labor market, or in any other market. (And it is solid economic fallacy to believe that immigrants “take away jobs,” as I show below.)
It is not a criminal act to buy or rent a home here, and then to reside in it. Paying for housing is not a coercive act—whether the buyer is an American or a foreigner. No one’s rights are violated when a Mexican, or Canadian, or Senegalese rents an apartment from an American owner and moves into the housing he is paying for. And what about the rights of those American citizens who want to sell or rent their property to the highest bidders? Or the American businesses that want to hire the lowest-cost workers? It is morally indefensible for our government to violate their right to do so, but that’s exactly what immigration restrictions do.
Immigration quotas forcibly exclude foreigners who want not to seize housing but to purchase it, who want not to rob Americans but to work with them to produce goods and services, raising our standard of living.
Forcibly excluding those who seek peacefully to trade with us is a violation of the rights of both parties to such a trade: the rights of the American seller or employer and the rights of the foreign buyer or employee.
Immigration restrictions treat both Americans and foreigners as if they were state property, and as if the peaceful exchange of values to mutual benefit were an act of destruction.
To take an actual example, if I want to invite my Norwegian friend Klaus to live in my home, either as my guest or as a paying tenant, what right does our government have to stop me? Or to stop Klaus? To be a Norwegian is not to be a criminal. And if some American business wants to hire Klaus, what right does our government have to interfere?
The implicit premise of barring foreigners is: “This is our country, we let in only those we want here.” But who is this collective “we”? The government does not own the country. It has jurisdiction over the territory, but jurisdiction is not ownership. Nor does the majority own the country. America is a country of private property. Housing is private property. So is a job. Only the owner of land, or of a business employing people, may set the terms regarding the use or sale of his property.
There is no such thing as collective, social ownership of the land. The claim, “We have the right to decide who is allowed here” means that some individuals—those with the most votes—claim the right to prevent other citizens from exercising their rights over the land they own. But there can be no right to infringe upon the rights of others.
In a constitutionally limited republic, 60% of the population cannot vote to enslave the other 40%. Nor can a majority issue dictates to the owners of private property. Nor can a majority infringe the freedom of employers to hire whomever they wish. Not morally, not in a free society. In a free society, the rights of the individual are held sacrosanct, superior to any claim made by anyone or any group, regardless of the number of claimants. Even if every citizen of the nation wishes to violate the least right of a lone individual, they may not do it. That is the meaning of a society based on moral right, not on mob rule.
The rights of one man end where the rights of another begin. Every man is free to act on his own judgment—but only within the sphere of his own rights. The criminal is the man who deliberately steps outside his rights-protected domain and invades the domain of another, depriving his victim of his exclusive control over his property, or liberty, or life.
The criminal, by his own choice, has rejected rights in favor of brute violence, and thus can claim no rights himself. So, in principle, there’s no objection to barring criminals from entering the country.
There is, however, a procedural objection, and a decisive one: how are government officials to determine whether or not a given man about to enter the country is a criminal? Since potential or actual criminals do not carry signs announcing this fact, how can the government ferret it out—without violating the rights of the innocent immigrant?
And we must ask: “criminal”—by what standard? Is “the criminal” a man convicted in Canada of stealing a car, or a man convicted by a “revolutionary tribunal” in Iran for insulting The Prophet, or a man held to be a criminal in Sierra Leone because . . . ? Is the U.S. government to review every law and every trial of every immigrant from every country in order to bar “criminals”?
The crucial point is often overlooked: in its efforts to capture or bar criminals, the government may not violate the rights of the innocent. That means, no detention at borders, no demand to produce “papers” or “passports,”— such procedures violate the rights of the innocent. In order to interfere with a man’s free movement, the state needs to show “probable cause”—which means specific evidence against the specific individual, not the indiscriminate subjection of everyone to a screening process.
There is no more authority to demand papers at the border than there is for the police to board a city bus and demand papers of everyone on it. A man, citizen or non-citizen, is to be presumed innocent. He does not have to satisfy the government that he is not a criminal, in the absence of any evidence that he is.
At the nation’s borders, instead of “inspection,” there should simply be a sign: “Welcome to America.”
Things are different in wartime, or when an epidemic breaks out in a certain region, of course, but what about peacetime? What about now, when millions of Mexicans, South Americans, Chinese, Canadians, etc. are seeking entry into the U.S.? What about the overwhelming majority, who are not criminals, not terrorists, and not carriers of some plague? By what moral principle can they be inspected, harrassed, or excluded? Majority vote? No single individual has the right to stop another and “inspect” him to see if he is “acceptable,” so no majority—which is simply a number of individuals—has that right either.
In the absence of specific evidence against him, nothing can justify subjecting an immigrant to coercive interference.
I’m very afraid that the actual reason for limiting immigration is xenophobia, which is simply a polite word for racial bigotry.
The denial of rights to non-citizens is despicable, an affront to moral principles as such. We have erected a vicious and hypocritical double standard: we locals grant ourselves a right to violate the rights of outsiders.
THE MORAL AND THE PRACTICAL
That’s the moral case for phasing out limits on immigration. But some ask: “Is it practical? Wouldn’t unlimited immigration—even if phased in over a decade—be disastrous to our economic well-being and create overcrowding? Are we being told to just grit our teeth and surrender our interests in the name of morality?”
This question is invalid on its face. It shows a failure to understand the nature of rights, and of moral principles generally. Rational moral principles reflect a recognition of the basic nature of man, his nature as a specific kind of living organism, having a specific means of survival. Questions of what is practical, what is to one’s self-interest, can be answered only in that context. It is neither practical nor to one’s interest to attempt to live and act in defiance of one’s nature as a human being.
Yet that is the meaning of the moral-practical dichotomy. When one claims, “It is immoral but practical,” one is maintaining, “It cripples my nature as a human being, but it is beneficial to me”—which is a contradiction.
Rights, in particular, are not something pulled from the sky or decreed by societal whim. Rights are moral principles, established by reference to the needs inherent in man’s nature qua man. “Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival.” (Ayn Rand)
Every organism has a basic means of survival; for man, that means is: reason. Man is the rational animal, homo sapiens. Rights are moral principles that spell out the terms of social interaction required for a rational being to survive and flourish. Since the reasoning mind cannot function under physical coercion, the basic social requirement of man’s survival is: freedom. Rights prescribe freedom by proscribing coercion.
“If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work.” (Ayn Rand)
Rights reflect the fundamental alternative of voluntary consent or brute force. The reign of force is in no one’s interest; the system of voluntary cooperation by mutual consent is the precondition of anyone achieving his actual interests.
To ignore the principle of rights means jettisoning the principled, moral resolution of conflicts, and substituting mere numbers (majority vote). That is not to anyone’s interest. Tyranny is not to anyone’s self-interest.
Rights establish the necessary framework within which one defines his legitimate self-interest. One cannot hold that one’s self-interest requires that he be “free” to deprive others of their freedom, treating their interests as morally irrelevant. One cannot hold that recognizing the rights of others is moral but “impractical.”
Since rights are based on the requirements of man’s life as a rational being, there can be no conflict between the moral and the practical here: if respecting individual rights requires it, your interest requires it.
Freedom or force, reason or compulsion—that is the basic social alternative. Immigrants recognize the value of freedom—that’s why they seek to come here.
The American Founders defined and implemented a system of rights because they recognized that man, as a rational being, must be free to act on his own judgment and to keep the products of his own effort. They did not intend to establish a system in which those who happen to be born here could use force to “protect” themselves from the peaceful competition of others.
One major fear of open immigration is economic: the fear of losing one’s job to immigrants. It is asked: “Won’t the immigrants take our jobs?” The answer is: “Yes, so that we can go on to better, higher-paying jobs.”
The fallacy in the protectionist view lies in the idea that there is only a finite amount of work to be done. The unstated assumption is: “If Americans don’t get to do that work, if foreigners do it instead, we Americans will have nothing to do.”
But work is the creation of wealth. A job is not just drawing a salary, it is acting to produce things—food, cars, computers, internet content—all the goods and services that go to make up our standard of living. And we never get a “too high” standard of living or “too much” wealth. The need for wealth is limitless. And that means the need for productive work is limitless.
From a grand, historical perspective, we are only at the beginning of the wealth-creating age. The wealth Americans produce today is as nothing compared to what we’ll have two hundred years from now—just as the standard of living in 1800 was as nothing, compared to ours today.
Unemployment is not caused by an absence of avenues for the creation of wealth. Unemployment is caused by government interference in the labor market, preventing the law of supply and demand from “clearing the market” in labor services, as it does in every other market. Yet, even with that interference, the number of jobs goes relentlessly upward, decade after decade—from 27 million workers in 1900 to about 140 million in 2010. Jobs do not exist as a fixed pool, to be divided up. Jobs can always be added because there’s no end to the creation of wealth and thus no end to the useful employment of human intelligence. There is always more productive work to be done. If you can give your job to an immigrant, you can get a more valuable job.
What is the effect of a bigger labor pool on wage rates? Given a constant money supply, nominal wage rates fall. But real wage rates rise, because total output has gone up. Economists have demonstrated that real wages have to rise as long as the immigrants are self-supporting. If immigrants earn their keep, if they don’t consume more than they produce, then they do not subtract from per capita output, which means no one is injured by their employment. And to the extent that immigrants save, postponing current consumption, they increase capital and total output, raising everyone’s standard of living.
And, in fact, rising real wages was the history of our country in the nineteenth century. Before the 1920s, there were no limits on immigration; yet these were the years of America’s fastest economic progress. The standard of living rocketed upward. Self-supporting immigrants brought economic benefit, not hardship.
The protectionist objection that immigrants take away jobs and harm our standard of living is a solid economic fallacy.
A popular misconception is that immigrants come here to get welfare. In fact, this is rarely immigrants’ motive. It is true that the small minority of immigrants who come to get welfare do constitute a burden. But this issue has been rendered by the passage, under the Clinton Administration, of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which moot makes legal permanent residents ineligible for most forms of welfare for 5 years. I support this kind of legislation (which should be enacted at the State level as well; currently left-leaning States, like California, continue to throw tax money at immigrants—and myriad other groups).
Further, if the fear is of non-working immigrants, why is the pending House bill aimed at employers of immigrants?
Contrary to “accepted wisdom,” the data show that immigrants are less prone to crime than are native Americans. For instance, over one-fourth of the residents of the border-town El Paso, Texas are immigrants. But El Paso has about one-tenth the murder rate of Baltimore, a city of comparable size.
That’s not an anomaly:
“If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population,” says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. “If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you’re likely in one of the country’s safer cities. San Diego, Laredo, El Paso—these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they’re some of the safest places in the country.”
Criminals have a short-range, stay-in-the-‘hood mentality. Immigrants are longer-range, ambitious, and want to earn money, not grab it.
The deeper point is moral-legal. The fact that some men in a given category may commit crimes is no justification for treating everyone in that category as criminals. Guilt is not collective. Just as Bernie Madoff’s crimes are his, not those of all hedge-fund operators, just as the fact that Madoff is of Jewish descent in no way legitimates anti-semitism, so it is a slap at morality to curtail the rights of all immigrants because of the crimes of a few individual immigrants.
Man has free will. The choices of some do not reflect on the moral status of others, who make their own choices. Each individual is responsible for his own actions, and only his own actions.
America is a vastly underpopulated country. Our population density is less than one-third of France’s.
You say that hordes of immigrants would come to overcrowd America? Okay, take a really extreme scenario. Imagine that half of the people on the planet moved here. That would mean an unthinkable eleven-fold increase in our population—from 300 million to 3.3 billion people. The result? America would be a bit less densely populated than England. England has 384 people/sq.km; vs. 360 people/sq. km. if our population multiplied 11-fold.
Here’s another comparison: with half of mankind living here, we would be less densely populated than the state of New Jersey is today (453/sq. km.). Note that these calculations exclude Alaska (our biggest state) and Hawaii. And these density-calculations count only land area.
Contrary to widespread belief, high population density is a value not a disvalue. High population density intensifies the division of labor, which makes possible a wider variety of jobs and specialized consumer products. For instance, in Manhattan, there is a “doll hospital”—a store specializing in the repair of children’s dolls. Such a specialized, niche business requires a high population density in order to have a market. Try finding a doll hospital in Poughkeepsie. In Manhattan, one can find a job as a “Secret Shopper” (a job actually listed on Craig’s List). Not so in Paducah.
People want to live near other people, in cities. One-seventh of England’s population lives in London. If population density is a bad thing, why are Manhattan real-estate prices so high? People are willing to pay a premium in order to live in a densely populated area. And even within that area, the more “crowded” the more in demand: compare prices for apartments in mid-town Manhattan with prices for apartments on the less crowded northern tip of the island.
THE VALUE OF IMMIGRANTS
Immigrants are the kind of people who refresh the American spirit. They are ambitious, courageous, and value freedom. They come here, often with no money and not even speaking the language, to seek a better life for themselves and their children.
The vision of American freedom, with its opportunity to prosper by hard work, serves as a magnet drawing the best of the world’s people. Immigrants are self-selected for their virtues: their ambitiousness, daring, independence, and pride. They are willing to cast aside the tradition-bound roles assigned to them in their native lands and to re-define themselves as Americans. These are the people our country needs in order to keep alive the individualist, hard-working attitude that made America.
Here is a short list of some great immigrants: Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, most of the top scientists of the Manhattan Project, Igor Sikorsky (the inventor of the helicopter), Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Ayn Rand.
Open immigration: the benefits are great. The right is unquestionable. So let them come.