A Minarchist’s Case for Open Immigration

Before I had run out of excuses, as one bumper sticker chides, I was still a minarchist — whereby I believed the only purported role of the state was the defensive protection of individual rights. I was still fiercely opposed to immigration restrictions, based on my reading Ayn Rand, who was obviously sympathetic to immigrants having moved from Russia in her early adult life.

I still have the same support for open immigration today but for different reasons, of course. What I mean to say is that support for open immigration is not exclusive to anarchists, though I do believe they have a deeper understanding of why immigration should be unregulated. Support for open immigration is not universally adopted by anarchists. One example would be Hans Hermann Hoppe, who claims that open immigration is equivalent to “forced integration.” I believe Sheldon Richman has sufficiently eviscerated that argument though.

Another libertarian unfortunately caught in the current immigration scare is Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). He has called it “an invasion.” Constitutionally, congress has no expressly delegated power to regulate who may immigrate to or emigrate from the country, only how to become a citizen. The framers of the constitution had intended that states would be responsible for their own immigration policy but never envisioned such a welfare state either. In the interim, until government welfare is no longer subsidizing immigration, Paul and other constitutionalists dumbfoundingly insist that government needs additional powers to alleviate the consequences of the immigration problem it created.

Using Paul’s own premise of the necessity of political government, I believe it is self-evident that the only practical and ethical immigration policy is to open the borders. I do not happen to share Paul’s premise that government is necessary or proper, but I think I understand his stance after being a minarchist for several years myself.

Through Minarchist Glasses

Accepting for a moment that the state, as commonly understood, is necessary for the protection of individual rights, an open immigration policy would be a necessity. With that said, open immigration does not mean letting anyone into the country for any old reason whatsoever. A minarchist government could still require immigrants to register and pass a screening check to ensure they are neither perennial aggressors nor intent on committing aggression in the future. Additionally, a government could establish its own guidelines for becoming a citizen.

The argument against open immigration, as I understand it, is that government has the final say who can enter its territory. For this to be true, two conditions must both be true, that the government’s territory is legitimately controlled and that government can properly be assigned powers outside the scope of the defensive protection of individual rights.

First, I have said before that a stipulation on whether property is legitimately controlled is the means by which it was acquired. Government property, presently, is commonly acquired under coercion and with stolen money. Mandatory taxation is one form of theft, even to minarchists like Rand and Andrew Napolitano, who support the idea of a voluntary taxation paid in exchange for government services. Presently, no state in the history of civilization has met this fist condition, so no state in the history of civilization has the legitimate power to exclude peaceful, honest immigrants.

So far, I have made the gross assumption that government is necessary for the protection of individual rights. Simply looking at it as a thought experiment, I’m going to imagine that a government had aquired its territory by just means. The second hurdle a government would have to prove is that it can properly be assigned powers that are outside the scope of its legitimate function of defending individual rights. But this is objectively impossible. In the ontological sense, an individual or a group of individuals may not transfer power to a government other than those which are used expressly for the defense of individual rights. Government by its nature is coercive. That coercion may be used defensively or aggressively. Any government action that does not involve the defensive protection of individual rights must necessarily be used in aggression, even if everyone in the society agrees beforehand to grant government additional powers. To say that somone has the right to violate my inalienable rights is contradictory, so government can have no proper powers beyond the scope of the defensive protection of individual rights.

Rand said, “To take rights like those of property and contractual freedom that are based on a foundation of the absolute self-ownership of the will and then to use those derived rights to destroy their own foundation is philosophically invalid.”

Transferring additional rights other than those necessary for the defense of individual rights would require being able to transfer one’s free will, which is impossible, of course.

In the same way, a group of people could not form a government wherein someone becomes a voluntary slave. Free will is not transferable, in whole or in part, so a voluntary slave can never exchange his free will. The notion that property like roads and parks, neither of which are necessary for the protection of rights, can properly be granted to government would still require a transfer of free will but only to a lesser scale and in a slightly augmented way. At worst, a voluntary slave could be looked upon as a making a promise. A slave who breaks that promise could be ostracized, but it would not be legitimate to use force against him.

Basically, just as someone cannot be held liable for agreeing to voluntary slavery, one cannot properly assign rights or powers to a government other than those which make forming a government a necessary function of society. This is important because a government that goes beyond its proper function could no longer operate as an objective referee who enforces objective rules. A government is given this exception of having a legal monopoly to determine the proper use of force, according to minarchists like Rand, because free will could not function in any practical sense without the existence of a limited government to defend rights and enforce lawful agreements.

Further Implications as a Minarchist

Property that is currently under the unjust control of government does have an owner. It just so happens that proper claims are made so murky that it would be practically impossible to determine who deserves restitution and to what degree, making property under unjust government control de facto unowned.

Sentimentally, I agree that someone with long-standing ties to the community or the original owner has a higher moral claim to that property than a recent mover. But when left with the alternative of leaving it in the hands of an oppressor or liberating that stolen property, the emphasis should be to reduce the harm being inflicted as soon as possible.

If government property is being used to violate individual rights, that property should revert [Edit May 6, after some reconsideration] to whoever is being aggressed against. If someone were to destroy that property or liberate it, then the government responsible for violating rights would be morally responsible for providing restitution to the willing legitimate owner.

Back in Reality Mode

My thoughts are that citizenship under political government is just an embellished form of voluntary slavery, making it void and in contradiction with human nature.

The questionable land acquisition of nearly every government in existence is an obvious point in favor of anarchism. But that debate usually breaks down into how consent of the governed can be achieved. My deeper concern is whether granting final decision-making authority to a single organization could result in a just social order. Often, we can see how relationships based on power are exploitative without either party resorting to aggression. After all, the state minimizes its naked aggression because it can rely on the inertia of majority will, propaganda, or its overwhelming military presence to command obedience. Many libertarians or so-called anarcho-capitalists I read do not seem to object fundamentally to these power structures, which is disappointing, because they do overly focus on the low-hanging fruit of the state’s land acquisition process. So, I associate a pro-liberty mindset with more just anti-statism but with a more robust expression of opposition to collectivist authoritarianism in general.

It is still an on-going process in my own mind to understand, and I am open to criticism (including the ones I mentioned above). If anyone would like to discuss this off-site, let me know.

[Note: This post was compiled from an e-mail discussion.]