Open Minds, Closed Borders

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Walk into any group of libertarians and ask whether 19th-century runaway slaves should have been returned to their masters. You will be greeted with stunned expressions, followed by horror stories involving America’s Fugitive Slave Law, the Underground Railroad, and the abolitionist movement. There

Could be a unanimous expression of outrage at the hated Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that ordered the forcible return of runaways to their masters.

Walk into any group of libertarians and ask if immigrants should be returned to tyrannical governments in foreign lands. You will be greeted ~ith sharply divided opinions regarding immigration, because of immigrants’ potential for ~elfare dependency, a lack of space, or the necessity of personalized invitations and guarantees for tax liabilities.

Did the abolitionists reject runa~ay slaves because they might become dependent on Northern charity or relief programs? Did they turn runawaysover to authorities because they worried about there runaways might settle? Did they demand that runaways be invited into free states by a responsible citizen or that they own property?

No. They championed the right of slaves to live free of tyranny, like all other hu~an beings. The issue of private slavery never divided libertarians. But govern~ental slavery does. Indeed, increasing numbers of libertarians are rejecting the whole notion of open immigration.

A survey of libertarians conducted in 1988 revealed that 69% believed that”the U.S. should remove all restrictions on immigration.” When the same issue was put to libertarians in 1998, only 50% agreed. This percentage has surely fallen further in the take of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Many citizens now see every airplane and ship as a potential Trojan horse filled with dangerous invaders.

No matter that the federal government has been incapable for decades of coping with terrorist networks or even individual criminals, public confidence in government is soaring, and so is support for tighter restrictions on immigration; sweeping aside foreign refugees, workers, and students as so ~uch collateral damage.

The intense and bungled war against the illegal movement of people is having many of the same tragic consequences as the intense and bungled war against the illegal movement of drugs. Government agencies thrive, smugglers thrive, and innocent victims abound.

Can this really be happening? Are libertarians really abandoning a fundamental policy tradition? I realize that there are reasons for this shift in opinion. But, try as I might, I cannot justify restrictions on immigration.

Who’s Allowed to Walk?

Immigration is the movement of people from one place to another across the territorial demarcations of nation-states. These lines do not exist only on maps, they exist in the “us vs. them” ~entality that gives ~ost people a sense of personal and cultural superiority and an identity with the policies and practices of political officials.

Im~igration is only part of the issue of peoples’ right to live ~here they please. There is also the matter of emigration – people leaving a country. There is only one country that allows its citizens a virtually unlimited right to emigrate. And between four to ten million of its citizens have taken advantage of this right. ~hat nation is the United States of America.

American emigrants leave their country for a variety of political and economic reasons. A few leave because they fear their government would jail them for offenses ranging from drug trafficking to tax evasion. But most are economic migrants who move abroad simply to improve their economic conditions.

American emigration no doubt results in unemployment or lost income among’citizens of other countries, since Americans do work that might otherwise be done by locals. Most of these new arrivals are unfamiliar with the language,. manners, and the customs of their new home and they stubbornly cling to the language, customs, and eating habits of their homeland, typically congregating at McDonald’s restaurants, speaking English in their homes, and raising their children as Christians. They congregate in isolated ethnic enclaves and are loathe to mix with the native population. Indeed, they are usually preoccupied with sending money home and arranging for relatives to join them.

They maintain strong ties with the homeland, leaving

The intense and bungled war against the illegal movement of people is having many of the same tragic consequences as the intense and bungled war against the illegal movement of drugs.


their loyalty to their adopted homes suspect. Worse, these newcomers are parasites on the services and amenities that have been established by the generations of taxpayers who built the infrastructure before their arrival.

Yet most countries see an influx of expatriate Americans as an economic benefit, much the same way Americans see the arrival of skilled immigrants from Western Europe to be a benefit. Why doesn’t the same logic apply to immigrants from other countries?

I suspect that the reason for rejecting people from some countries and not from others has much more to do with snobbish attitudes about ethnicity, status, and wealth than it does with economics. The economic effects of immigration have been explored by Julian Simon.* Does the arrival of poor people ruin the economic health of a nation? According to Simon, immigrants provide extraordinary benefits to their host countries. In a comprehensive survey of research on immigrants in the United States, he found that most immigrants come when they are in their most productive years.

Simon found that immigrants average one year less of education than the native population of the United States, but that their children are highly motivated and excel beyond the level of native Americans in school. Immigrants have a higher proportion of advanced degrees than the native population, especially in technical fields such as science and engineering. Immigrants, even from poor countries, are in general healthier than natives of the same age. Family cohesion, and a tradition of hard work, is stronger than among natives.

Simon reports on 14 separate studies that conclude that immigrants do not cause unemployment, even among very sensitive groups of low-paid, minority, or low-skilled natives. Another twelve studies revealed that inlmigra.nts do not have a negative effect on wages.

Simon concluded from a review of the research that, when they are not prohibited from working by anti-labor laws, immigrants contribute more in taxes than they draw in government welfare services. And, over the years, immigrant earnings exceed the earnings of Fomparable native groups.

Simon also found that in most industrial nations it would be more logical to argue that taxpaying, wealth-producing immigrants provide the last glimmer of hope for sustaining the bankrupt welfare systems supporting aging native populations. Without immigrants, state welfare would collapse sooner.

If the benefits from immigration are so great, then why aren’t immigrants treated as treasures? Why aren’t politicians the world over competing with each other to lure these valuable human resources to their land in the same manner that they compete to lure the capital and products that are made by all this human labor?

When people think of .opening borders, they imagine crowds of people rushing into their living rooms and back- yards. Where’ would immigrants fit if they were all allowed to come? Where’s the space for all this humanity?

Hong Kong is known for being one of the most densely crowded places on earth, with 17,500 people per square mile. Yet few people are aware that living conditions are as crowded as they are in Hong Kongin part because 40% of the land area is zoned for parks!

The same is true in Hawaii.’There isn’t a lack of land, but there is a .lack of politically approved zoning. In all of the Hawaiian Islands, only four percent of the land area is zoned for all commercial and residential use. There would be plenty of room for newcomers on those tiny islands in .the Pacific if only the government stood out of the way. ‘

In fact, if people in Hawaii were willing to accept a third of the population density of Hong Kong, then all of the refugees in the world could live on the the Hawaiian Islands, and still leave 40% of the land area for parks, as in Hong Kong. If those people were allowed to farm the abandoned sugar plantations, there is no doubt that diligent Chinese and Filipino newcomers could turn the land into abundance without a penny of government subsidy, just as their ancestors did a hundred years ago.

Space is not the problem. Government policy is.

But don’t Americans prefer open space to cities? Don’t we need rolling hills and great expanses between each other? Some do, yes. But as a general rule, Americans are like people everywhere. They prefer to live and work in cities or suburbs. that’s where the action is. When these cities have problems, it isn’t because of the number of people, it is because of the failure of governments to provide primary services. A free market can perform effectively where governments have failed.

As anyone who has flown across the United States can confirm, the population is highly concentrated in certain regions. One can fly for hours across vast expanses of land that is virtually uninhabited. But even the most desolate of land becomes inviting when the law permits freedom. For instance, the number one travel destination for residents of Hawaii is Nevada, not for the open spaces, but for the crowded casinos of Las Vegas.

The land area of the United States, a third of which is owned by the federal government, could support ten times its current population and still be less densely populated than Japan. If only one percent of that number of people were allowed into the United States, the country would be able to accommodate the entire refugee population of the world. This includes all refugees who have fled across international borders, as well as those who have been displaced within national borders by civil strife.

One of the most frequent arguments against opening borders is that it would add to the welfare burden of the state and innocent taxpayers would be compelled to pay for slothful immigrants.

This is the same circular logic that is used to propound government control of just about everything:

• Citizens cannot smoke cigarettes or marijuana, because the state might compel us all to pay the potential medical costs of their illnesses.

• Citizens cannot keep a child out of government schools, because the state might compel us all to pay the potential unemployment costs of those with inadequate training.

• Citizens cannot keep their money out of the Social Security system, because the state might compel us to pay the potential retirement costs of those who stayed out of Social Security.

If one accepts this logic, then the right to all individual human action is lost to the state.

Many free marketeers champion individual freedom in

The reason for rejecting people from some countries and not from others has much more to do with snobbish attitudes about ethnicity, status, and wealth than it does with economics.

virtually every aspect of economics except immigration. They might accept immigration theoretically, but only after all forms of welfare have been abolished. Which is to say, not in any of our lifetimes.

This was the argument of my hero, economist Milton Friedman, at the Costa Rica conference. His own parents immigrated to the United States, but he argued that things are different today because of the welfare system that now exists.

If we truly believe in the notion of personal responsibility for individual actions, then we must punish politicians for welfare system; not immigrants, who had no say in the policy. Blaming immigrants is just as illogical as holding a refugee to account for the tyranny of the dictator that drove her from her home.

Arguing the practical side, Julian Simon asserted that it is a misconception that immigrants, as a group, are a welfare burden on taxpayers. Immigrants do a great deal to contribute to the economic health of a country and they pay more in taxes than they absorb in benefits, so the continuation of welfare benefits for citizens may well depend on their contributions. This is especially true in countries like Japan and the United States, nations that find it more and more difficult to maintain social services regimes that cannot keep up with their aging populations.

Is Milton Friedman correct to suppose that immigrants are lured by the American welfare system? Evidence shows that the opposite is true.

Proof can be found in migration patterns within

Immigration is spurred by the promise of opportunity, not of welfare. People who are too lazy to work are usually too lazy to move away from the familiar.


America’s 50 states, where there are no border guards and virtually no language and cultural barriers. Do people move between states to find the most welfare? No. Just the opposite.

States that give the most welfare have the most out-migration. States with the least welfare have the most in-migration.

Take my home state as an example. Hawaii is the most socialistic state in America and has by far the most generous welfare benefits. According to Michael Tanner and Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute the six basic welfare benefits in Hawaii (six out of 77 welfare benefits the state provides) could provide a mother and two children with the equivalent of a pre-tax income of $36,000, or a wage of $17.50 an hour. By the welfare-magnet theory every welfare mom in America should be living in Hawaii.

They don’t. According to recent Census data, Hawaii experienced a net domestic. out-migration of 9% of its population during the 1990s. In fact, all of the top welfare regions – Hawaii, Alaska, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia – experienced net domestic out-migration.

Hawaii has an ideal climate, fabulous beaches, and wonderful people – but the economy is in decline. In fact, it is the only state in the nation that experienced negative real growth for the entire decade of the 1990s. No wonder, since it has been chronically listed as the number one tax hell in the country by Money magazine.

The legislature feels it has to raise taxes to pay for the welfare, and by raising taxes they drive people away.

Contrast this with states that grant little welfare. Mississippi offers only a third of the welfare money that Hawaii does. In fact, the median income of a worker in Mississippi is $6,000 less than what a family can get on welfare in Hawaii. Did everyone abandon Mississippi to get on the gravy train in Hawaii?

Just the opposite. In fact all five states at the very bottom of the welfare list – Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Arizona – experienced net domestic immigration. And the deserts of Arizona and Nevada, with some of the lowest taxes, were the fastest growing states in the nation.

There’s no doubt about it. Immigration is spurred by the promise of opportunity, not of welfare. There are exceptions, but people who are too lazy to work are usually too lazy to move away from the familiar. It is the courageous of the world who are likely to risk everything to go to a new and potentially hostile land where the language, the customs, and the people are all unfamiliar.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe has proposed an anti-immigration argument based on property rights.* He argues that just as an owner of private property has the right to invite or exclude whomever he pleases from his property, a government has the right to exclude whomever it pleases from government property such as streets and bridges; giving it the power to bar immigrants from the country altogether.

Most libertarians dismiss this notion out-of-hand, arguing that government property is fair game for privatization or homesteading. Hoppe responds that this approach is unrealistic. Government property won’t be privatized or open to homesteading anytime soon, so we should be realistic in the apportionment of government services and infrastructure so that immigrants won’t be an additional burden on citizen taxpayers.

Hoppe’s conclusion is that immigrants must not be allowed to cross a border unless they are personally invited by a citizen who agrees to take full responsibility for the additional costs of government services and infrastructure. So even if the inviting citizen does not want the government provision of such things as welfare, subways, art commissions, libraries, schools, parks, space launches, farm subsidies, and border patrols, he is still obliged to guarantee payments on behalf of those he invites.

The same logic implies that parents must take on these obligations as well — that people should be denied the right to have children unless they can first guarantee their lifetime support. I can hardly believe anyone can take this argument seriously.

I believe that the limits of government are best determined by which rights people possess as individuals! Thus, if I have a right to do something, then I have a right to ask someone in government to do it on my behalf. But if I do not have a right to do something, then I don’t have a right to ask someone in government to do it for me.

Since I do not have the right to prohibit an immigrant from stepping foot on a government sidewalk, then I have no right to ask a government official to do this dirty work for me. How is it that the advocates of by-invitation-only assume the right to ask government officials to do something that they have no right to do themselves?

It is interesting that this individual liability for government services· has never been applied to tourists, business travelers, or academics at conferences. People assume that tourists, businessmen, and academics bring wealth with them. But this is not assumed of the immigrant.

If we are to be consistent toward all newcomers, would it be realistic to hold tourists, business travelers, and academics to the same standard to which Hoppe would hold immigrants? Imagine Hilton Hotels or Disneyland being told that they must first sign papers guaranteeing full liability for government services and infrastructure that would be used by each of the tourists to whom they rent rooms.

Other manifestations of the by-invitation-only theory suggest that newcomers can only become real, responsible citizens by owning real estate. In this manner it is said that newcomers would have a stake in the policies of the nation. But this also has complications.

Under such a plan, would the nonlandowning majority of Americans lose their citizenship, or would it only apply to newcomers? How much land is necessary? Who decides? Will a square inch be enough? And what if a citizen sells all of his land to a newcomer? Should the seller be deported? Does this mean that bankrupts have no rights as citizens?

This line of argument misses the point. Immigrants have the same rights as all other human beings. They have the right to live their lives in any manner they·choose so long as they respect the same right of others. Merely walking on a government sidewalk does not constitute aggression against the rights of others.

Take away the legal excuses for immigration barriers and there is no doubt that thousands of American employers would contract to hire millions of immigrant workers. The current battery of laws that make it illegal to hire immigrants is sufficient proof of this.

Every one of these laws is a violation of the right of citizens to hire the best and most productive workers. Consider the words of Robert W. Tracinski, a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute:

The irrational premise behind our nation’s immigration laws is that a native-born American has a right to a particular job, not because he has earned it, but because he was born here. To this right, the law sacrifices the employers right to hire the best employees and the immigrants right to take a job that he deserves. To put it succinctly, initiative and productiveness are sacrificed to sloth and inertia.

The American dream is essentially the freedom of each individual to rise as far as his abilities take him. The opponents of immigration, however, want to repudiate that vision by turning America into a privileged preserve for those who want the law to set aside jobs for them, jobs they cannot freely earn through their own efforts…. Any immigrant who wants to come to America in search of a better life should be let in and any employer who wants to hire him should be free to do so.*

The American dream is freedom. The most ardent and consistent champions of that freedom are libertarians. Libertarians, despite the best of intellectual gymnastics, must not collaborate with their government masters to return innocent runaways.

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