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Where Libertarians Go Wrong on Immigration

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Published : October 28th, 2013
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Category : Editorials

Libertarians and conservatives agree on many issues and are allies in the fight against statism. But there are several areas where they disagree quite vehemently. One of them is immigration.

The libertarian refrain goes something like this: Isn’t a policy of “open borders” the only approach consistent with freedom and individual rights? Besides, policing the borders and restricting immigration requires still another government bureaucracy. And for pete’s sake, we have enough of those already.

The conservative answers that capturing criminals, defending the nation, and engaging in foreign relations require bureaucracies also. But they are necessary bureaucracies. Immigration policy is no different. It is a legitimate function of our government – to defend the borders and preserve the freedom and order of society.

The question is not, should we as a nation allow for “open borders,” or endeavor to “close down our borders.” The question is: what level of immigration is conducive to preserving the American culture of ordered liberty? Closed borders (permanently) would asphyxiate us; open borders would balkanize us. Ever since the 1965 Immigration Act, we have been hell-bent to balkanize ourselves. With the stratospheric rise in illegal immigration over the past 30 years, the balkanization process is now firmly imbedded in our culture and spreading its ruin at an accelerating pace.

Yes, America has always been a nation of immigrants. But never has she been a nation of unrestricted immigration. From the beginning of their formation of America into a nation, the Founders were acutely aware of the need to lay down rules for entrance into the country and the acquiring of citizenship.

The Founders’ View

The Founders realized that the eternal verities such as our basic individual rights do not change from the past to the future, but immigration rules are not eternal verities; and basically they have nothing to do with the issue of individual rights. They are matters of public policy that will always be subject to both quantitative and qualitative revision with the passage of time.

In other words, entrance into a country is not a “right.” It is a “privilege” granted by the citizens of the country involved. If those citizens decide their country would be better off with a small, selective stream of immigrants instead of a large and indiscriminate stream, then it is their right to bring about such a border policy. There is no such thing as a right to enter any country one chooses, no more than there is a right to trespass on the personal property of one’s neighbor, or enter his house uninvited.

As the Supreme Court rightly ruled in the latter 19th century, “It is an accepted maxim of international law, that every sovereign nation has the power, as inherent in sovereignty, and essential to self-preservation, to forbid the entrance of foreigners within its dominions, or to admit them only in such cases and upon such conditions as it may see fit to prescribe.” [Nishimura Ekiu v. U.S., 142 U.S. 651, 659 (1892).]

The Founders certainly agreed with this. George Washington told his contemporaries that, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted…if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” [Writings of George Washington, Government Printing Office, 1931-44, 27:254.]

Political philosopher, Thomas G. West, points out that “Washington’s openness to common citizenship with those who were neither Protestants nor descended from Englishmen did not…lead him to favor unlimited immigration. He believed that immigrants of the wrong sort and in the wrong quantity would endanger American liberty….

“Whenever he discussed immigration, Washington linked his ‘liberal’ vision of multinational and multireligious America with a ‘conservative’ concern about the character of those who would become Americans.” [Vindicating the Founders,1997, pp. 150-151.]

Jefferson also covered the issue of immigrant quality in Notes on the State of Virginia. He felt strongly that there are certain “regime principles” that need to be thoroughly grasped and ingrained into one’s character, such as natural reason, inalienable rights, equality of rights, the virtues of self-reliance, independence, self-government, etc., which will make one into a citizen who favors liberty. Without a thorough grasp of these principles and the presence of these virtues in one’s character, the result will be disintegration of the special uniqueness of America as a nation. [Erler, West, and Marini, The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration, 2007, pp. 19-22.]

So the Founders were obviously very cognizant of the special “way of life” upon which their new nation was structured. They readily grasped that no country can ever afford totally open borders. There are always undesirables that must be excluded from entrance to a country. And even “desirables” must be allowed in sparingly.

Since the same principles and concerns that built America are needed to sustain her, we in the modern day too must be concerned with both the quality and the quantity of immigrants that enter the country. With the world’s and the country’s populations increasing relentlessly, America hardly needs to be adding millions of newcomers from outside our borders. Our population is growing steadily on its own.

Thus if our nation can be said to possess a culture or a certain “way of life,” then any immigration policy we adopt must be geared toward preserving that way of life. Reason demonstrates quite clearly that unlimited, indiscriminate immigration is a dire threat to our way of life.

The Libertarian Flaw: Bad Ideology

Unfortunately libertarians cannot properly confront this dire threat because the great bulk of them believe in “open borders” for all nations. They don’t believe in the nation state concept as it has evolved over the centuries. They want to form a borderless world where all humans are allowed to migrate wherever they wish. The anarcho-capitalist libertarians want to do away with all government itself. Thus in any public debate over illegal immigration, libertarians self-destruct in the public’s eyes. They come off as blind utopians divorced from reality who would destroy America and her political principle of “federalism,” which is the only way to make freedom work in the real world. I discuss this problem of libertarianism extensively in my book, The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.

Libertarians also tend to line up with liberals in their push for cultural relativism and multiculturalism. This is another flaw that does not bode well for America as a nation. Strong countries have historically been based upon a primary culture linked to a metaphysical vision with secondary cultures intermixed in a way that does not upset or erode the primary culture.

Patrick Buchanan, writes brilliantly about this in Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025. Chapter Seven, “The Diversity Cult,” is a blistering demolition of multiculturalism and the primitive incomprehensibilities with which it is saturating the American mind.

Multiculturalism was one of the primary reasons for the fall of Rome. It has wreaked savagery and chaotic cruelty throughout the modern day Balkan States. It is lethal to the maintenance of a free and stable society. This is why conservatives espouse “ordered freedom.” Freedom cannot exist devoid of tradition and slow, minimal immigration.

Revered political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, denounced multiculturalism forcefully in his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Even the liberal, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., strongly criticized the concept of multiculturalism in The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1998).

Buchanan writes, “We are attempting to convert a republic, European and Christian in its origins and character, into an egalitarian democracy of all the races, religions, cultures and tribes of planet Earth. We are turning America into a gargantuan replica of the U.N. General Assembly, a continental conclave of the most disparate and diverse peoples in all of history, who will have no common faith, no common moral code, no common language and no common culture. What, then, will hold us together?”  [World Net Daily, November 7, 2011.]

Libertarians need to reread Friedrich Hayek and his emphasis on tradition as a filter for the evolution of a free and rational society. They need to abandon the disastrous approach of pure libertarianism that the anarchists and moral neutralists have dumped into their brains. They need to examine the Founders’ ideas on immigration. As we saw in the above, immigration is not a “natural right.” It is a “privilege” granted by the citizens of the country involved.

Tossing Freedom in the Trash 

The first step toward getting on the right side of this polarizing controversy is to grasp that all nations possess cultures that are delicate sociological balances of long-standing traditions, mores, and metaphysical views. In nations that lean toward freedom, their cultures are especially dependent upon these balances not being upset in a sudden and irresponsible fashion. Freedom is like an orchid. It is fragile and prone to being tossed in the trash by obtuse mobocracies that have not been taught to value it.

The illegals streaming into our country today have no grasp as to what freedom and its requisites are. To make matters worse, many of them are brazenly anti-American with an arrogant sense of entitlement already built into their personalities. They are bringing with them the political and cultural assumptions of their country of origin. And those assumptions are that the state is meant to take care of them. Unlike earlier America, we now have a state that will cater to those assumptions. This is the flaw in the rationale of open border advocates. The quality of immigrants that flows to a welfare state country will not be the same as that which flows to a laissez-faire country. For this reason alone, any influx of immigrants to our nation must be severely restricted.

But as the Founders knew, even in a laissez-faire country immigration must always be restricted. Today’s unbridled welfare state merely makes restriction all the more mandatory. In fact it makes restriction a matter of national survival.

The flippant libertarian retort to this dilemma, that “all we need to do then is just get rid of the welfare state,” is naïve and irresponsible. Open borders is not a rational policy even for a free, laissez-faire country. Moreover, the welfare state will require 50-100 years to phase out. If present immigration trends continue, in a half-century Mexicans and Central Americans (and their socialist assumptions) will have overrun the entire southwest and much of the midwest. They will be the majority voting block in the country. Thus all libertarians do with their flippant advocacy is confuse the populace, which allows collectivist bureaucrats and corporatists to continue bringing in larger and larger swarms of illegals. Rationality is needed here, not flippancy.

Here lies our danger. Because of Republican greed for cheap labor and Democratic greed for new party members, Washington is opening up the nation’s doors to millions of legal and illegal immigrants from Third World cultures who have no respect for Jefferson’s “regime principles” of individualism, self-reliance, and equal rights under the law. To compound the problem, our welfare state schools are teaching all today’s immigrants the precise opposite of these Jeffersonian principles.

The vision of America launched by the Founding Fathers is flagrantly smeared throughout our schools today. Our textbooks openly denigrate the Founders as “aristocrats” and “elitists,” and depict Western civilization and capitalism as evil, exploitative, racist, and criminal. Our professors teach that the country must be transformed into a collectivist society. Success, security, and health are no longer personal responsibilities; they are to be granted to us by the all-powerful State via massive redistribution of earnings.

It therefore comes as no surprise that millions of immigrants now swarming into America view themselves as rightful recipients of an ever-increasing array of privileges, quotas, subsidies, and handouts. Incredibly this view extends even to the illegals.

The Demopublicans’ Default

Naturally establishment politicians have constructed appropriate spin to avoid facing this pink elephant that sits in their ideological living room stinking up the future of our country. But none of the objections from the liberal multiculturalists and the conservative corporatists hold water in face of what should be our ultimate concern – the preservation of a sovereign America with our distinctly American culture of ordered freedom under the dictates of objective law.

Our solons on the Potomac are selling out our birthright to the globalists in pursuit of regional government and the end of American sovereignty. It is the most craven and short-sighted sell out in our history. Both Republicans and Democrats are obsessed with the illusions of multiculturalism. Both are poisoned with altruistic guilt concerning the poverty of the Third World. Both are blind to the balkanization morass into which they are driving America.

Despicable indeed. But a nation gets the politicians it deserves, and we have reaped an assortment of quislings that now slither around in the most fetid of Machiavellian muck.

Our stand as patriots must be a restoration of the pre-1965 immigration accords and a return to a far more selective process in the qualitative requisites needed to enter the country. In addition, we must steadfastly insist on legislation that 1) mandates English as the official language of America, 2) closes the anchor baby loophole, 3) denies welfare services to illegals, 4) enacts E-Verify, and 5) prosecutes the present laws on the books about hiring illegals.

Just as “harboring” a criminal is a crime in any rational society, the “hiring” of illegal immigrants is also a felony. It is aiding and abetting a criminal. This is why it is proper to punish employers for doing so. But in order to justly do this, employers have to be given a means to check citizenship status. Therefore, E-Verify must be enacted. Will E-Verify threaten us with a national ID? No more than we already have with our Social Security number. E-Verify merely opens up the data base to all private employers so they can easily verify an applicant’s citizenship.

The above five policies remove the attractiveness of illegally entering the country. If we do not remove the lures that bring the illegals here, they will continue coming. For soft and squeamish Americans, such policies will seem cruel. For tough minded patriots, they are just and necessary if we are to save the country.

Libertarians among the freedom movement will have to reexamine their policy of “open borders.” It is not a policy that any rational American can afford to adopt. The Founders’ wisdom and the vast experience of mankind over the millennia must become the basis of our policy again on the vital issue of immigration.


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Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and serves as the Director of Americans for a Free Republic,, an educational organization founded to promote sound money and fair taxation. Mr. Hultberg's articles have appeared in publications such as The Dallas Morning News, The American Conservative, The Freeman, Liberty, and on numerous Internet sites such as The Daily Bell, Financial Sense Online, and Safe Haven. He is the author of a soon to be released book, The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.
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