Libertarians seem to have hit a fork in the road with proper immigration reform.
On the one hand, amnesty and open borders appear to the libertarian as the default position. Human beings should be free to travel and live where they please: this is a classic exercise of personal liberty. Giving the state the power to control such movement is ominous indeed. For one, save the harrowing notion that the government is the just owner of all the land within their borders and that private property is really just a fantasy, controlling the movement of immigrants is a clear invasion of their property rights.
Further, the idea that the government should be allowed to prosecute these people on grounds of trespassing is frightening — what would then legally stop them from prosecuting any naturalized citizen on these same grounds? (Keep in mind that the Constitution is systematically ignored.) We could all be subject to such treatment based on our movement on “public” (government) streets.
Then, on the other hand, controlling such movement seems to be the cure for a far more grim danger to liberty
: the unstoppable growth of the welfare state. Many of the illegal immigrants who come to the United States contribute enormously to the strain on social benefit programs; Medicaid, welfare, housing subsidies, and food stamps are all easily obtained by some illegal immigrants who come determined to live off the state. Giving these people amnesty would almost certainly lead to more pro-welfare votes and policies at a time when the country can least afford it. Clearly, it seems, the government must put a hold on such immigrants until the welfare state is abolished or at least shrunk drastically.
However, there is a simple and obvious middle ground that no one seems to be discussing: amnesty and open borders on the condition that the immigrants and their children are completely ineligible for any and all social benefits. Thus, liberty is preserved in both cases: movement is left unrestricted, and the country does not collapse (as quickly) under the strain of social entitlements. In fact, future immigrants may then turn out to be rather libertarian in their votes and policy preferences: why should they wish to expand a welfare state which can only harm them?
But then the question becomes, is this politically tenable? The sad answer from Washington seems to be: If it makes sense, we won’t consider it. The nativism of the the right and the bleeding hearts of the the left would lead them both to reject such a solution. Illegal immigrants are often flouted by conservatives, not because of their contribution to the size of the welfare state, but because of their perceived cultural differences. Liberals, of course, believe that social benefits are a right and would never accept the exclusion of certain groups to those benefits.
The saddest bit of this political situation is that this reform was already attempted and received widespread grassroots support — in California of all places! — but was despotically shot down by political elites after a landslide democratic victory. If you’re interested in how this occurred, I encourage you to read Rothbard’s take on the voter initiative Prop 187 (half way down the page)
Hopefully in the future such reform will have better prospects.
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