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Libertarians and Open Borders

Updated on December 15, 2012

Immigration Is Not A Right

Why Libertarians Advocate Open Borders, And Why They Are Wrong.

Libertarians believe we should have open borders, so that people from other countries can enter the United States freely. They believe it is a human right.

There are some good arguments for open borders. The first and most basic one for libertarians is that as free people, believing that all humans are by right (God-given or by Natural Right) free to use their minds, bodies and talents in freedom, and without coercion from others, no one has the right to STOP anyone from moving wherever they please.

All people are equal, and no one should abuse another's rights. This includes at borders to countries. When a government stops someone from crossing a border, it is violating that person's right to travel freely, and to exist in peace without coercion.

But libertarians also believe in private property. Ask a libertarian if we as individuals have the right to stop strangers from entering our homes uninvited. To a man, we will reply yes. There are long and convoluted arguments over the justice of private property, not worth going into here. It is sufficient when arguing the immigration question with libertarians to get them to agree that private property can be defended by its owners, and outsiders can be justly excluded.

Where libertarians fail in the immigration argument is in not considering the government as having any private property rights. Libertarians willingly give themselves rights in private property, but seem to consider the government as an alien of sorts, imposed upon us by Martians. But, how did the US government get here? It was founded by a compact of the original settlers to the US, and their descendents.

After stealing the land from the Native Americans, the early settlers staked out landholdings and drew up contracts with each other, giving themselves ownership of parcels of land. (For the moment let's ignore land grants by colonizing European governments.) They spread out, and new settlers came over from the old countries, and the White Man spread across the land, pushing out the Indians and carving out more and more owned land. It was these original owners and their children who conspired to create first the local governments, and later the States and then the Federal government.

We know where our government came from and how it came to be. It was the result of agreement among the people alive at the time, and repeated acts of agreement by later generations. For all the spitting and clawing over elections, and even a civil war, in general most Americans are and have been in agreement with the basic outlines of our government. We admire its better attributes, and work within the existing system of constitutional law to change those things we don't like.

Only true anarchists and straight up outlaws disagree. People who oppose the US government by violence in order to impose a different government, are outside of the question I am discussing here. (I'd say the Indians also have a right to be unhappy with the situation!)

In other words, the citizens gave up certain private property rights to the government, in order to gain the advantages they saw of having a central state.

Let me give an example in small, then expand it to national scope. Suppose a dozen families move onto a virgin tract of forest, cut down trees to build homes and make fields for crops. All is well. Everyone knows everyone else, so there isn't much need for a government. Private property rights are ingrained in the early settlers by tradition. But the village grows, strangers move in nearby and soon there are too many people to keep everyone straight. The original settlers decide they need a mayor and a sheriff, maybe a schoolteacher. They agree to pay a stipend for the upkeep of these few officials.

But, who are these officials in power over? So the citizens mark out the outlines of the village and voluntarily agree that the mayor and sheriff have certain limited powers within these bounds. Many early Americans were literate, and they didn't like being pushed around, so they wrote up contracts, outlining exactly what powers they were giving over to their new government. We do not have the situation in the US of alien warlords forcing a government on us. We are the alien warlords.

The original settlers owned ALL THE LAND. They made the streets themselves, cutting through private land, and along the borders between farms. They gave up some for streets, a city hall, a school. Public land, owned by the government, came from private land, and the rights to it were given up voluntarily. There was no force, no violence involved. The only injustice was done to the Indians, who were not asked their opinion. In time this whole process became habit, tradition, and the process of forming new towns almost automatic. As people moved west, they just assumed they would build up governing structures similar to what they knew.

The central government also purchased huge expanses of land from foreign powers (again ignoring the native inhabitants). This was bought with money supplied by citizens, operating under the rules they had agreed to, under the governing system they had entered voluntarily. Nothing changes just because the government bought that land. It is still private land, owned by the government. (Some portions of the Southwest were stolen outright from Mexico, but I don't care because the Mexicans were invaders too. They had no legal right to the land better than our claims.)

The US is so enormous, and its government so complex, that hardly anyone, libertarian, liberal or conservative, understands any more that it is in essence private. It is a government of, by and for the people. You may recall that phrase from somewhere!

Sure, it has grown to ridiculous size, but in essence it remains a government owned by the citizens.

Back to the immigration argument. The government is OWNED by the citizens of the United States. All public land is thus owned by the citizens. We each have a single stick of the bundle of rights all landowners have in their own property. The government merely manages it on our behalf, and since there are so many of us, and so many competing views on how the land should be used, we are forced to use such inefficient methods as voting for representatives who make laws controlling its use.

One of the most basic rights of a property owner is controlling who we let into our house, or walk across our land. You can argue that in an emergency we should allow people to cross our land, or even in extreme circumstances to break into a house, if a life is at stake.

But the basic point stands. A landowner can control who he lets onto his property. The government owns all the public land, and we own the government. We, through laws passed by our elected leaders, can justly prevent non-citizens from entering the USA. It's our land. We own it. We can tell them to stay out, or make non-citizens get out if they get in.

When we were at peace, after the cold war ended, I was a lot more in favor of open borders, or at least fairly easy entry. Now, like it or not, we are at war again, with an enemy even more alien to American values than the communists were. They have lots of money, and they have just as much raw brainpower, man for man, as we do. Too many are rich, smart, and dedicated to the destruction of the US. They are trying to make or buy nuclear weapons. Our private property rights allow us to exclude others from our homes. Our government has the same right.

Comments On Open Borders:

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    • profile image

      thomasdorsey 

      8 years ago

      But there is one fundamental flaw: nothing can ever be specifically something. The political party I most closely associate with are the Libertarians, because of their policies on individual rights and less nation building. I, in no way, shape, or form would ever under any circumstances be an advocate of open borders. It's really quite hard to assert anything in any one way...It's tricky.

    • tmbridgeland profile imageAUTHOR

      tmbridgeland 

      8 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      It is not 100% open. A 100% open border would see ten or twenty million people every year coming in from every country on earth.

    • againsttheodds profile image

      againsttheodds 

      8 years ago

      You really think the border is not already open?

    • tmbridgeland profile imageAUTHOR

      tmbridgeland 

      8 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      J Elaine, some forms of mistreatment have been ongoing, a lot more recently than a hundred years ago. The BIA has systematically ripped off the Indian Nations. There are a few things we could do to correct this, but there is a lot of money and power at stake, so I doubt anything will be corrected. I am planning a Hub on this now. Thanks for the comment!

    • J Elaine profile image

      J Elaine 

      8 years ago from Northern Minnesota

      Well, done. You can't protect life liberty and property with open borders. There are too many criminals roaming around.

      The Indians did get a raw deal, but that was a century ago and can't be undone. In the context of world history, their situation is not unique and everyone should move on. They should be citizens of the US just like everyone else with no special treatment.

    • tmbridgeland profile imageAUTHOR

      tmbridgeland 

      8 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Thanks for the kind comment, SubRon. Freedom to travel across borders is a pretty basic plank of the libertarian platform. Looked at from one angle, of basic human rights, it makes sense. In a better world I would be all for it. I am a libertarian, but that doesn't mean I can't criticize what I think are errors.

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 

      8 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Outstanding hub, Tmbridgeland. I know I've led a sheltered life, but I didn't know that about libertarians, that they want "open" (God help us) borders. No, NO, NO! I also appreciate how you kept mentioning the plight of the Indians. Thank you!

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