There perhaps isn’t a more controversial subject being discussed today than Immigration in the United States. From totally open borders to “Build that Wall!”, Immigration is definitely a ‘hot-button-issue’. Unfortunately, it appears that most people on both sides of those arguments (or lack-thereof) are using emotional rhetoric instead of basing their position on firm and consistent principles. Many people on ‘the Right’ oppose the current Immigration policy of the U.S. because it provides welfare incentives (Education, Health services, etc.) for people from around the world with different values, cultures, and language; which can lead to difficulty in establishing community norms. Many people on ‘the Left’ oppose any immigration restrictions based on ethnicity, religion, education, skill-set levels, or any other trait they say promotes ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’. Again, unfortunately, many on ‘the Right’ use fear in promoting their positions and anyone who disagrees hates America while many on ‘the Left’ claim Immigration is a human right and anyone who disagrees should be publicly shamed and their lives destroyed. What most people don’t consider (or have an adequate understanding of) when thinking about Immigration, however, is the concept of human freedom and individual property rights.
When discussing important issues, especially in today’s bizarre world, it’s important to define key words and concepts; the most important here being ‘human freedom’. Human freedom simply means, ‘freedom from oppression’ or more specifically, ‘freedom from the initiation of force’. Luckily there is an entire school of thought dedicated to the concept, promotion, and protection of universal human freedom: proponents of Natural law. Those committed to human freedom must defend the natural law theory which is the only consistent theory of ethics and justice.
“(T)he philosophy of natural law defends the rational dignity of the human individual and his right and duty to criticize by word and deed any existent institution or social structure in terms of those universal moral principles which can be apprehended by the individual intellect alone.” – John Wild, Plato’s Modern Enemies and the Theory of Natural Law (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953),p. 176
The universal moral principles mentioned by Wild are man’s ability to use reason and logic before conscious action and individual self-ownership. Self-ownership simply means each individual, as a human being, owns and controls their own body. This also means individuals have the right to use their mind and body (labor) to sustain their life and acquire goods and services through voluntary interaction with others. This is how people legitimately acquire property. Also, briefly, property rights are just an extension of individual self-ownership. As soon as an interaction becomes involuntary there has been an act of aggression and can be considered unjust, immoral, and, in a society that claims to defend human freedom, a crime.
Murray Rothbard, Libertarian Philosopher and Austrian Economist, on Natural Self-Ownership:
“The individual man, in introspecting the fact of his own consciousness, also discovers the primordial natural fact of his freedom: his freedom to choose, his freedom to use or not use his reason about any given subject. In short, the natural fact of his “free will.” He also discovers the natural fact of his mind’s command over his body and its actions; that is, of his natural ownership over his self.” – Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty: A Crusoe Social Philosophy(New York University Press, 1998), p. 31
Rothbard states elsewhere:
“(t)he nature of man is such that each individual person must, in order to act, choose his own ends and employ his own means in order to attain them. Possessing no automatic instincts, each man must learn about himself and the world, use his mind to select values, learn about cause and effect, and act purposively to maintain himself and advance his life.” – Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty: Property and Exchange( Ludwig von Mises Institute,1973) p.33
From here we can make several key points and observations through deductive reasoning.
Private vs. Public
If property can only be acquired legitimately (justly) through voluntary transactions then the concept of ‘public property’ becomes distorted and, in fact, all “government-owned” property becomes exposed as illegitimate. Private property provides clear distinction in who is responsible its control. Public property is inherently dysfunctional because there is no clear owner(s) in control. The private property owner has complete decision-making power over the property but on public property there may be disagreement in “appropriate” management and no ideal compromise since all have some claim to decision-making because their tax-dollars have been used in its financing. Private property promotes boundaries of order and public property is inherently dysfunctional.
Butler Shaffer, Professor Emeritus at Southwestern University of Law, on Boundaries:
“Social conflict arises out of a sense that one’s interests have been trespassed by another. As we have seen, the extent of our ownership interests is defined by the boundaries of what we claim. Since it is not an expression of our liberty to transgress the boundaries of others, our decision-making authority necessarily ends at our boundary lines. If each of us confined our actions to what is ours to own and control, conflict with others would cease. This is why peace and liberty are compatible only when considered within the self-limiting context of property ownership. Can we imagine a violent act that is not a trespass to some property interest? Can we imagine a peaceful act that is a trespass? Only when each of us enjoys an absolute authority to determine what we will and will not do with what is ours – insisting upon the boundary line that assures both our inviolability by others and confining the reach of our own actions – will we enjoy what political systems deny: a community of mutually self-respecting men and women.” – Butler Schaffer, Boundaries of Order: Private Property as a Social System (Ludwig von Mises Institute,2009) p. 131-132 (emphasis my own)
With this understanding of private vs. public property, the immigration debate loses its controversy. First, in a totally private-property society (where all land is privately owned) there would be no “Immigration policy”. Property owners would establish the rules and contracts for any visiting person or for any potential ‘immigrant’ i.e. a visitation code. There would be no central authority determining the rules set for all land-owners. “Immigrants” and/or visitors would only be allowed onto property by agreeing to the stipulations set by the property owner(s). In this situation there can be no controversy over Immigration because all “Immigrants” are coming onto property by invitation only. There is no initiation of violence, and hence, no violation of any human rights. While this should be rather non-controversial, many believe that human beings have “freedom of migration” or the “right to travel”.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Anarcho-Capitalist Theorist and Austrian Economist, refutes this claim:
“First and foremost, in a natural order, there is no such thing as “freedom of migration.” People cannot move about as they please. Wherever a person moves, he moves on private property; and private ownership implies the owner’s right to include as well as to exclude others from his property. Essentially, a person can move only if he is invited by a recipient property owner, and this recipient-owner can revoke his invitation and expel his invitees whenever he deems their continued presence on his property undesirable (in violation of his visitation code).” Hans-Hermann Hoppe. The Great Fiction (2): Natural Order, State, and Immigration. (Laissez Faire Books, 2012) Page-101-102
A Transition Towards Order
Now, in the current situation in the United States, where there is “public property” and Federal control over Immigration policy, the Immigration issue becomes confused. To revisit the concept of legitimate ownership, all public property should be considered legitimately owned by the tax-payers. But since public property is inherently dysfunctional and decision-making power is unclear the proper and just way to re-privatize land ownership would be to assign tradable property shares to tax-payers. In this situation the tax-payers would be awarded partial title to land they have been forced to finance. All illegitimate property control (public property) would be made legitimate (private property) and decision-making authority would become clear.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe elaborates:
“Who owns what share of provincial or communal property? In principle, each owns according to his (compulsory) contribution to this property! In the case in which private property was expropriated by local government for purposes of “eminent domain,” the property is simply returned to its original owner. As for the rest (and most) of public property, tradable property shares should be distributed among community members in accordance with their individual tax-payments. Every public road, park, school, etc., was funded by taxpayers; hence, local taxpayers, in accordance with their tax payments, should be awarded local public property. This has a twofold implication. First, some residents have paid more taxes than others, so it is only natural and just that the former should be awarded more shares than the latter. Second and more specifically, some residents will be excluded altogether from receiving public property shares. For one, welfare recipients should be excluded. Presumably, they have paid no taxes but lived instead on taxes paid by others. Hence, they cannot claim any ownership share in public property. Likewise, all government officials and civil servants must be excluded from receiving ownership shares in public property, for their net (after tax) salary has been paid out of taxes paid by others. Just like welfare recipients, civil servants have not been tax-payers but tax-consumers. Hence, they too have no claim to communal property.”
“With the central state withered away and the privatization of public property complete, the right to exclusion inherent in private property and essential for personal security and protection is returned into the hands of a multitude of independent private decision-making units. Immigration once again becomes a micro-phenomenon and disappears as a social “problem”. – Hans-Herman Hoppe. The Great Fiction: Natural Order, State, and Immigration. (Laissez Faire Books, 2012) Page 116-117
Unfortunately, since this is unlikely in the immediate future, how else can we look at the immigration issue?
Again, public property should still be considered legitimately owned by the tax-payers even though decision-making control has been overruled by a central governmental authority. So, how to proceed from here? The ‘Immigration issue’ should be decentralized and addressed at the most local levels as possible. If a truly free society cannot be achieved immediately then the next best scenario is one where decision-making power is at the most local level possible. Federal law should trump international law; state law should trump federal law; county law should trump state law, and so on down to the individual. Each individual is essentially a sovereign country according to natural rights theory.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains in-depth:
“More specifically, the power to admit or exclude should be stripped from the hands of the central government and reassigned to the states, provinces, cities, towns, villages, residential districts, and ultimately to private property owners and their voluntary associations. The means to achieve this goal are decentralization and secession (both inherently undemocratic, and anti-majoritarian). One would be well on the way toward a restoration of the freedom of association and exclusion as is implied in the idea and institution of private property, and much of the social strife currently caused by forced integration would disappear, if only towns and villages could and would do what they did as a matter of course until well into the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States: to post signs regarding entrance requirements to the town, and once in town for entering specific pieces of property (no beggars, bums, or homeless, but also no Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, etc.); to expel as trespassers those who do not fulfill these requirements; and to solve the “naturalization” question somewhat along the Swiss model, where local assemblies, not the central government, determine who can and who cannot become a Swiss citizen.
What should one advocate as the relatively correct immigration policy, however, as long as the democratic central state is still in place and successfully arrogates the power to determine a uniform national immigration policy? The best one may hope for, even if it goes against the “nature” of a democracy and thus is not very likely to happen, is that the democratic rulers act as if they were the personal owners of the country and as if they had to decide who to include and who to exclude from their own personal property (into their very own houses). This means following a policy of the strictest discrimination in favor of the human qualities of skill, character, and cultural compatibility.
More specifically, it means distinguishing strictly between “citizens” (naturalized immigrants) and “resident aliens” and excluding the latter from all welfare entitlements. It means requiring, for resident aliens status as well as for citizenship, the personal sponsorship by a resident citizen and his assumption of liability for all property damage caused by the immigrant. It implies requiring an existing employment contract with a resident citizen; moreover, for both categories by especially that of citizenship; it implies that all immigrants must demonstrate through tests not only English language proficiency, but all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values – with the predictable result of a systematic pro-European immigration bias.” – Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed – On Free Immigration and Forced Integration.(Transaction Publishers, 2007) Page 148-149
Resistance to Forced Integration
Perhaps the United States will continue its relatively open access to immigrants from around the world but that doesn’t mean that states shouldn’t resist and refuse to accept any new immigrants inside their state borders. Perhaps some border states will continue their ‘Sanctuary City’ programs but that doesn’t mean that bordering cities shouldn’t be in control of who is permitted to enter their communities. Immigration isn’t a good thing, per se’; it also isn’t a bad thing, per se’ but in the U.S. specifically, the Federal Government should not be involved in “Immigration Policy”. Communities should form voluntarily through cultural norms and spontaneous order. Interference in this process constitutes forced integration which only leads to resentment, conflict, and disorder.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe on Forced Integration:
“Forced integration is a means of breaking up all intermediate social institutions and hierarchies (in between the state and the individual) such as family, clan, tribe, community, and church and their internal layers and ranks of authority. Through forced integration individuals are isolated (atomized) and their power of resistance vis-a-vis the State is weakened.” – Hans Hermann Hoppe, The Great Fiction: Natural Order, State, and Immigration. (Laissez Faire Books, 2012) Page 110
By Invitation Only
Force should not be used to administer increased immigration nor used to refrain others from hosting and/or sponsoring foreign immigrants. Voluntary human interaction is the only way to a truly peaceful and prosperous society. This means Immigration by invitation only.
In closing, I return to Butler Schaffer:
“Whatever the nature of the social system in which we live, our claims to various “rights” are the products of our relationships to others. If those “others” are political or judicial officials of the state, the power to determine our interests will be centralized in those who enjoy a privilege that we and our neighbors do not, namely, of enforcing their preferences by coercive means. On the other hand, if those “others” are our neighbors, who enjoy no greater power over us than we do over them, then social power has been effectively decentralized into the hands of individuals. The contrast between command economies and the marketplace offers more than just an analogy. It expresses the fundamental choice we must always make between violent and peaceful systems of social behavior.” – Butler Schaffer, Boundaries of Order: Private Property as a Social System (Ludwig von Mises Institute,2009) p. 159
Only a society that outlaws the initiation of violence can solve the ‘Immigration issue’ while being considered a truly free and moral society