Bryan Caplan  

Is There a Right to Immigrate?

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Tyler Hits a Home Run... The Book Mike Huemer Should Wr...
That's the title question of philosopher Michael Huemer's latest essay.  Like his earlier piece, "Is There a Right to Own a Gun?,"  this is a masterpiece of applied ethics.  It begins with an explanation of the general concept of prima facie rights:
A prima facie rights violation is an action of a sort that normally--that is, barring any special circumstances--violates someone's rights. For example, killing a human being is a prima facie rights violation: in normal circumstances, to kill someone is to violate his rights. But there are special circumstances that may alter this verdict: euthanasia and self-defense killings do not violate rights, for instance...

[...]

The claim that an action is a prima facie rights violation, then, is not a very strong claim... But nor is the claim entirely without force: to accept that an action is a prima facie rights violation has the effect of shifting a normative presumption. It becomes the burden of those who advocate the act in question to identify the special exculpatory or justificatory circumstances that make what tends to be a wrongful rights violation either not a rights violation in this case, or a justified rights violation. 
Huemer then argues that immigration restrictions are a prima facie rights violation:
First, the laws are coercive. That is, immigration restrictions are implemented through threats of physical force. Borders are patrolled by armed guards, and armed officers forcibly remove those who are discovered residing in the country illegally.

Second, the laws are highly restrictive.  That is, they significantly interfere with individuals' ability to control their own destinies. They prevent individuals from living where they wish to live... Few decisions are so important as the choice of what society to live in...

Third, the laws are extremely harmful to most of the individuals who are thus restricted. Few Americans would have any doubt that, if someone were to force them to live in the Third World for the rest of their lives, whoever did this would thereby visit a great harm upon them. The harm to potential immigrants from the Third World who are denied entry to the United States, or to illegal immigrants who are forcibly expelled, is of the same kind and approximate magnitude.
After making a pre-emptive strike against immigration opponents'  attempt to hide behind the "killing/letting die" distinction (see here for my take), Huemer calmly reviews the main arguments in favor of restricting immigration.  He finds them absurdly short of their burden of proof.  Just one example:
Marvin is in danger of starvation. Fortunately, he can walk to a market and buy bread there, which will preserve his life... My daughter, however, also plans to go to the market, slightly later in the day, to buy some of this same bread. This bread is often in short supply, so that the vendor may run out after Marvin's purchase. My daughter could buy more expensive bread, but she would prefer not to. Knowing all this, I fear that if Marvin is allowed to go to the market, my daughter will be forced to pay a slightly higher
price for bread than she would like. To prevent this from happening, I accost Marvin on the road and physically restrain him from traveling to the market. Is my action permissible?

Suppose I claim that my harmful coercion of Marvin does not violate his rights, because it is necessary to protect my daughter from economic disadvantage. Certainly this defense falls flat. A person's right to be free from harmful coercion is not so easily swept aside. Likewise for the suggestion that my action, though a rights violation, is justified because my daughter's interest in saving money outweighs Marvin's rights. No one would accept such feeble justifications.

Yet this seems analogous to the common economic argument for immigration restriction. The claim seems to be that we are justified in forcibly preventing individuals--many of whom are seeking escape from dire economic distress--from entering the American labor market, because American workers would suffer economic disadvantage through price competition. No one claims that American workers would be disadvantaged to anything like the degree that potential immigrants are disadvantaged by being forced to live in the Third World. Nevertheless, the prospect of a modest lowering of American wages and narrowing of employment opportunities is taken to either suspend or outweigh the rights of Third World inhabitants.
In the past, I've criticized the philosophy profession.  Michael Huemer does philosophy the way it ought to be done: He focuses on important questions, begins with plausible assumptions, reasons carefully from those assumptions, writes elegantly, and reaches answers.  I guess that's why Mike is my favorite living philosopher.  Why not read him yourself and see if you agree?


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COMMENTS (58 to date)
Craig writes:

He was very unimpressive when he debated Ghate from ARI. The idea that ethics can be based on "common sense" moral intuitions is risible. When Ghate pointed out that before the 19th most people's moral intuitions allowed for the ownership of other human beings, Huenser had no answer (apart from denying falsely that slavery had ever been widely accepted).

Lord writes:

I think most would agree in the right to emigrate to anywhere that would have them. A right to immigrate, not so much, for the reason immigration involves the right to participate in the political process, or worse, the denial of that right. That is a political act, not merely an economic one, and therefore must be subject to political will. You may argue this may or may not make economic sense, but you cannot argue this should supersede the political rights that already exist even if they do so for the most irrational or trivial reason. You can only argue and attempt to persuade others this is unnecessary and allow them to change it.

Ed Hanson writes:

I must be missing something, Substitute the restriction of others from private property, which I consider fundamental, for 'immigration restrictions' within the line "Huemer then argues that immigration restrictions are a prima facie rights violation:"

I see nothing different in the arguments of coercive, restrictive, or harmful to most of the individuals, who are restricted from private property.

Sorry, I consider citizenship of a country similar enough to ownership of property, that this philosophical argument fails by being too broad.

MikeP writes:

This prima facie reasoning does seem to be a bit arbitrary and off the mark.

What is wrong with good old natural rights? Someone once noted that individual rights are primary and precede any government authority: That is all it takes to prove the right of free migration.

An individual's right to travel, reside, and labor where he can find people willing to associate with him precedes the state's authority to prevent his crossing a line on a map. The burden is on the state to prove that a specific individual's entry constitutes a compelling threat to the public weal the state believes it is protecting. Economic migrants pose no such threat.

Kurbla writes:

Immigration can be harmful for host country - immigrants could be aggressive, uneducated etc. Of course, that's why people do not like immigration. Also immigration usually depletes source country of young, the most ambitious, well educated people. This is aspect people tend to ignore.

And what about helping poor people? Yes, why not, but very likely those who try to immigrate are not really those who need most of help. It is better to invest resources directly to those who are currently in the worst situation in the world and to help them in their own countries.

Sometimes, really, allowing immigration is the best way to help some groups of people - for example political asylum. But it is not general case.

RL writes:

BC,

Many thanks. Although I hadn't really studied his work before, I have just read several of his articles, including the two you reference, from his website, to which you directed me. Very good stuff.Fortunately, I don't consider it a great stain on his ability to argue that he did not impress the ARI crowd.

James writes:

Kurbla,

Members of any group have the potential to be harmful by being aggressive or uneducated. So what?

Lord writes:

More simply, what right of political coercion does Marvin have over us? Surely none other than what we grant him. Immigration is tantamount to granting him that and not something any right to emigrate should supersede.

tim writes:

When you include federal, state, local, and SS taxes, I pay close to 45% of my income in taxes. Is that a "prima facie rights violation"? Does that shift the normative presumption that immigrants need to be net tax payers?

Marvin is in danger of starvation. Fortunately, he can walk to a market and buy bread there, which will preserve his life...

Marvin, doesn't seem very smart, I mean I would go to the market long before I was close to starvation, but that would make this silly example less dramatic. It also lets us pretend that most potential immigrants can pay their own way and have anything to offer besides unskilled labor. The problem isn't what to do with 1 Marvin, its what to do with ~6 billion of them. There isn't a good answer, but I think "Farewell to Alms" is a better statement of the problem.

MikeP writes:

Exactly what political coercion do you imagine Marvin might exercise?

Perhaps you are confusing travel, residence, and labor with citizenship?

The former most definitely are rights: they are freedoms that can be and are exercised without abrogating anyone else's rights; they precede and therefore supersede any government authority over them.

Citizenship, however, is a construct of government and is therefore not a right. It can be granted or withheld by the state on the basis of all sorts of different criteria, usually pragmatic.

We can debate how broadly citizenship should be granted, but citizenship simply does not have the same standing as unalienable rights and recognizing the right to migrate does not mean one must recognize any title to citizenship.

ericyu3 writes:

You could see the government as a private entity (person) that has the rights normal people have. In that case, since normal people do have the right to physically restrain someone from going on their property, the government should be able to do that too for whatever reason, no matter how stupid. (In other words: "The government shouldn't be made to let people on its property because we shouldn't make you let people on your own property.") Obviously, this argument depends on whether the government is considered a person and whether they actually own their jurisdiction.

MikeP writes:

Obviously, this argument depends on whether the government is considered a person and whether they actually own their jurisdiction.

And of course they don't own their jurisdiction.

The government is an organization that claims exclusive dominion over a territory. They do not "own" the dominion in any way that is strictly analogous to the fundamental individual right of property. Therefore the state's claim over its dominion does not supersede the fundamental rights of travel, residence, or labor that constitute free migration.

To be sure, the state does indeed own government buildings and strictly defined government lands. But it does not "own" everything, or even everything that is otherwise unowned, including commons and rights of way.

Jason Malloy writes:

The moral justification for borders is equal to the moral justification for private property more generally.

Citizens have a collective property right over their territory. They have a right and duty to govern that territory in their own best interests and according to their own wishes.

Is this harmful to others? Is it harmful for you to not share the food in your house with anyone that's hungry? A) it doesn't matter, and B) the answer is not clear. Those who can take food from your house have no incentive to stock their own pantries.

I believe people without refuge will have a greater incentive to mend their own dysfunctional polities. Hopefully by respecting and mimicking the nations they wish to flee to.

hacs writes:

If someone believes that citizenship is like ownership of property; ok, it is right. In the other hand, an immigrant is not disputing that "property" owned by someone, but a new abstract "property". So, it is not a zero sum game as "if for an immigrant is granted US citizenship, necessarily some US citizen will lose his/her".

ThomasL writes:

I'm not addressing the central question of immigration as natural right, but I did want to address a practical problem.

In Dr Huemer's form, I'll propose a scenario:

Part 1. Couples John & Jane, Mike & Sheila, and Bob & Felicia each have two children. They form an agreement to provide an equal amount of money each to employ a tutor to teach their children to play the piano.

Part 2. After a few weeks, another family which lives in the same building hears of the lessons and sends their children to attend as well. As the studio only has three pianos, it had been planned for the children to take turns in sets of three. Extra time must now be taken to allow the new children a turn, increasing the overall lesson time and cost by approximately 40%.

Should the parents from part (1) be required to pay for the increase? Their agreement did not explicitly make provision against other attendees, but was made with the understanding of specific attendees.

I think this scenario may be applied to the claims of illegal immigrants on government services, most particularly against schools and medical services.

I believe that an effective argument can be made (but which I won't actually bother to make) that almost all of the services which the goverment provides were approved by the people with the understanding that they would be enjoyed by legal visitors and residents (roads, parks, museums) or by legal residents (schools and entitlement programs).

Extending these services to persons, or even a single person, outside that initial understanding would be a violation of the rights of the original parties to the agreement.

(There are other scenarios which are fun, though not pertinent. What if one of the original families sent a third child? What if the marginal cost of the children in part (2) was effectively zero? They are entirely unrelated to the point however.)

Dr. T writes:

I agree with Jason Malloy. The argument that immigration is a right can easily be transformed into an argument that trespass is a right.

I believe the United States should allow much more immigration, but I won't use Michael Huemer's weak arguments and questionable philosophies to support that belief.

MikeP writes:

ThomasL,

If you are trying to demonstrate that government should not be in the business of providing services -- especially services detached from user fees for them -- you are doing an excellent job.

If you are trying to say that immigrants don't have a right to taxpayer funded government services, that's easy: Immigrants don't have a right to taxpayer funded government services. In fact, no one does. As with citizenship, the state is free to grant or withhold government services on whatever bases it wishes.

Lord writes:

A right to emigrate does not imply a right to immigrate. Among other rights of people is the right of social contract to establish a government, law, and justice, and to resolve issues through them. Now there are ample reasons for them to control immigration, some good, some bad, but living under one means ceding some powers to it. Immigration is not a right that can be exercised without interference. At a minimum it requires entering into relations with participants that have made agreements with each other on what is permissible and how disagreements are resolved. One persons economic advantage simply can't trump that no matter how much you wish it could. People who argue it should are free to persuade and free to emigrate. They aren't free to ignore it.

MikeP writes:

Among other rights of people is the right of social contract to establish a government, law, and justice, and to resolve issues through them.

If social contract is my right, then surely I have the right not to be bound by someone else's social contract. Indeed, since I never signed such an instrument, I presume that I am not bound to any social contract.

Similarly, any immigrant should be allowed to live freely without exercising this presumed right of social contract.

Those who have signed on to this social contract are free to organize themselves however they wish. But they are not free -- except in a might-makes-right sense -- to violate the preexisting rights of others.

Kurbla writes:

Not only that state is like collective ownership of the citizens, but it is formal result of the medieval concept that all land is owned by king who gives SOME of the property rights to other people, but always keeping one level of the property rights, usually called sovereignty for himself. Even today, The Crown is "ultimate owner of all land in England," while other people only have "estate in land". The sovereignty is nationalized in democracies, and that's where are we now. Libertarians can challenge state rights, but with little chance to prove that their private property is more legitimate than state property.

    If social contract is my right, then surely I have the right not to be bound by someone else's social contract. Indeed, since I never signed such an instrument, I presume that I am not bound to any social contract.

It doesn't work that way for property rights. Specifically, you want that I respect your property rights although I never signed any contract with you.

MikeP writes:

Some appear to believe that the dominion of a state is rightfully equivalent to the property of an individual.

Because of the forum, I will take it for granted that those taking that position believe that, say, an individual can permit one person access to his property and deny another person access to his property for essentially arbitrary reasons. For example, a factory owner could employ only white people.

Do you believe that the state has the right -- the inalienable right -- to allow only white people to use the roads?

If one believes the individual employer has the right to hire only those he wants, but that the state does not have the right to allow passage only to those it wants, one must conclude that a state's dominion simply is not its property in any meaningful sense of the word 'property'.

Vercingetorix writes:

Professor, I thought you tried to keep your intellect active even when something engaged your emotions. I don't see that today. The arguments you cite as so persuasive are really childish, at the level of sophomore libertarian bull-session rhetoric.

Libertarians love reductive analysis. "A democratically-organized gang of robbers is no less immoral than a single robber-- taxation is theft." Shall we apply that method to Huemer's claptrap? Ask yourself, "would Huemer's argument seem reasonable if we were talking about the co-op building/condominium complex my family lives in?"

"First, the (immigration) laws are coercive. That is, [trespass] restrictions are implemented through threats of physical force. Borders are patrolled by armed guards, and armed officers forcibly remove those who are discovered residing in the [co-op building] illegally."

Using force for defensive purposes is not the kind of "coercion" which intelligent people consider immoral.

"Second, the laws are highly restrictive. That is, they significantly interfere with individuals' ability to control their own destinies. They prevent individuals from living where they wish to live... Few decisions are so important as the choice of what [co-op buiding] to live in..."

I'd like to live in the Dakota building in Manhattan, but I'm afraid the board might not let me in. After all, the board rejected Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas in 2004, even though they were willing to work, I mean, pay. Indeed, they had found a resident willing to sell them his apartment.

"Third, the laws are extremely harmful to most of the individuals who are thus restricted. Few Americans would have any doubt that, if someone were to force them to live in the Third World for the rest of their lives, whoever did this would thereby visit a great harm upon them. The harm to potential immigrants from the Third World who are denied entry to the United States, or to illegal immigrants who are forcibly expelled, is of the same kind and approximate magnitude."

So all those co-op owners in Manhattan who won't let poor folks from New Jersey squat in the hallways and staircases, where they would be much closer to lucrative Wall Street jobs, are "forcing" those straphangers to endure great harm?

I call "horseshit!"

That last argument belongs to socialists, not libertarians: suppose you own a grocery store in New York. There are 200 children starving in Ethiopia because a drought has precipitated a famine. There is enough food in your grocery store to feed them all until next year's harvest season. If you do not immediately send all the edibles in your grocery store to Ethiopia you a murderer 200 times over, right?

(Bonus question for professors of advanced socialist morality: Suppose a grocery store owner refuses to feed the starving out of his stock. He offers the excuse that he can only pay his wholesalers by selling his stock, and that his own family will starve if he fails to pay his wholesalers (and so on, back up the chain to the farmers who raise the food which ends up in the grocery store). Should the grocery store owner be executed, or merely sent to a re-education camp? What if the grocery store owner hires security guards to forcibly prevent people entering his store to eat his stock without paying for it? What should be done with the farmers, who insist on selling the food they raise rather than giving it to starving Ethiopians?)

And as for "Marvin," what about "Alberto?" Alberto is an "itinerant worker." Whenever Alberto spends more than four days squatting outside Home Depot with other day laborers, passing cigarettes back and forth, without any patron picking him up for a day of yard work, Alberto runs out of cash. When that happens, Alberto wanders through peoples' back yards on weekdays looking for houses with open windows. When he finds one, Alberto climbs in and looks around for cash-- many people keep cash in bureau or kitchen-cabinet drawers. Alberto has only once awakened a sleeping homeowner. Alberto knocked her down and ran out of her house before she could call the cops. Of course, Alberto is much more violent when he's drunk, but he only gets drunk after he finds a big wad of cash. Then he scuffles with people outside the cantina, not with homeowners. Alberto hasn't killed anyone yet but he is getting older, so he has decided to get a big knife so the younger men won't mess with him.

Suppose you decide to intercept Alberto on his journey from his home country to yours, and use force to prevent him from taking up residence in your neighborhood. Suppose you claim your coercion of Alberto, though it superficially appears to violate his rights, is really an act of self- and community defense. You assert that your right to self-preservation outweighs Alberto's right to burglarize you and your neighbors whenever his money clip is empty. Don't you suppose everyone would accept such a justification?

A clever, though evasive, answer might be that Marvin should be left alone while Alberto is excluded. Of course, that policy would be "judgemental," which some fools think is incompatible with libertarian morality. Still, as physicists know, and economists are supposed to know, the world doesn't run on single examples, it runs on statistics. Based on empirical observation, statistically your poor starving would-be immigrants are destructive and dangerous. They consume, not just more tax money than they pay, but more tax money than they earn in any fashion. The value of unskilled immigrants' labor in the USA is literally tens of thousands of dollars less, per capita, than the cost taxpayers incur to feed, police, doctor, and school them.

An exceedingly clever debater might say "okay, Alberto is a bad man, but we should wait until he does something criminal then put him in jail."

Leaving aside the coercive character of jails, the answer is, again, that we live in a statistical world. First, Alberto may do irreparable harm before we catch and jail him. He might murder someone. Even if he doesn't, it is hard to catch burglars. On the average, Alberto will commit many crimes before we catch him and the cost of those crimes will not be limited to Alberto's cash proceeds, but will swell as citizens forgo productive uses of capital to spend money instead on window bars, alarms, guards, courts, and jails. Statistically, the only effective way to prevent the harm any "Alberto" will do is to exclude all people similar to Alberto, before we find out the hard way exactly who in that group is, individually, a criminal.

These arguments don't depend on the exact proportion of unskilled immigrants who are criminals. The USA already has plenty of unskilled workers (proof: wages for unskilled labor are very low). Unskilled immigrant laborers cost more than they're worth even before we account for the costs imposed by the criminals among them. Since the USA has no duty to admit any immigrants* the USA certainly does foreigners no harm by declining to let them immigrate. Foreigners who remain in their own countries will never encounter any coercion by US border guards. US citizens have no duty to impoverish or endanger themselves to succor foreigners, no matter how pathetic their stories.

(Would-be employers of would-be unskilled immigrants are schnorrers-- they openly plan to pay their unskilled laborers less than subsistence wages and ask taxpayers to make up the difference with EITC refundable tax credits, free emergency-room-clogging medical care, free public schools, Food Stamps, welfare payments, uninsured-motorist insurance premiums, higher (but perpetually insufficient) spending on police, courts, and prisons, and so-on and so-forth.)

Michael Huemer doesn't plan to put up bonds for any unskilled immigrants. He's privatizing the profits-- earning kudos by advertising what a schmaltzig "caring" fellow he is-- and socializing the costs-- asking taxpayers to pay for his immigrants and suffer the damage they do. Why should you carry water for Heumer? His arguments are demonstrably inane and you look silly endorsing them.

(*The USA may be obliged to grant political asylum to certain refugees.)

Eric H writes:

From where does the right to immigrate originate?

In the immigrant's native country or in his destination?

The former is the generally agreed upon locus of the immigration "right". There have been few societies in history one could not leave, whether legally or extra-legally. Even the Soviet Union let people leave it. Not without great duress of course, but they did. North Korea is a notorious example to the contrary, and look where they've ended up.

If the immigrant's right to immigrate is located within the destination country, how does this bode for the rights enjoyed by its native-born and naturalized citizens? Those rights are defined in part by the borders of the destination country, in part by the legislative actions of its citizens. If they were not, then they would be recognized globally. We know this not to be true. Britain does not have a bill of rights. Habeus corpus is almost non-existent outside of a few modern, western democracies. Trial by jury isn't so popular either.

One could argue that immigrants come to the U.S. because they find the bundle of rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens more attractive than that provided by their native country. Besides, if the right to immigrate originated in the host country, wouldn't the immigrant already be a citizen of that country? Why should he have to move to exercise his rights?

Within this forum, I think we can take as a given that the supposedly economic arguments against immigration are wrong. Relatively cheap labor is good, just like cheap socks and cheap food are good. The economic problems associated with a ready source of cheap labor are minor and short term, and are only magnified by the power of labor constituencies and special interest groups.

What is rarely addressed in the immigration debate is the resultant dilution of the rights of the citizens of a host country once immigration proceeds unfettered. If citizenship (i.e. access to a specific bundle of in-demand rights) is conferred merely by where one hangs one's hat, why bother maintaining that bundle of rights? Similarly, if one's rights were determined simply by where one wants to live, why bother allowing immigration at all? Potential immigrants would already be enjoying habeus corpus, freedom of speech and trial by jury and their physical locations outside of our borders would be immaterial. That argument, taken to an absurd length, could be the basis for never-ending preemptive war by the U.S. against all nations that do not share our conception of freedom. (Not that that hasn't happened, to a degree.)

The problem seems to be how to effectively align the values native-born and naturalized U.S. citizens place on their rights with the values immigrants place on them. Once this is done, we can have as many immigrants as we "need", while immigrants can have as much immigration as they "want".

Vercingetorix: The argument that unskilled laborers cost more than they are worth is a straw man.


Eric H writes:

Continuing:

Vercingetorix, unskilled immigrant labor is supplying some value to our economy, value that labor restrictions and minimum wage laws would have us do without.

If we have enough unskilled native born labor, why is unemployment among certain demographic groups, such as black teenagers, so high? Our use of unskilled immigrant labor is illicit precisely because we have priced out of the labor market those Americans most in need of jobs. Our reliance on an immigrant labor force is partly the result of our own pernicious labor laws favoring those with college educations and skilled jobs.

We may have no duty to immigrants to allow them in. But we have a duty to ourselves as Americans to allow them in, to let them enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed by being fortunate enough to be born here. As I said before, the issue is not whether we should or should not allow immigrants--our charter as a nation was based on immigration, mind you; it was based on being free from oppression, which essentially means having the freedom to move and to differentiate oneself from an oppressive system. The issue is how do we preserve the unique, specific bundle of American rights while making them durable and valuable enough for immigrants to enjoy them. How do we keep that bundle of rights from being devalued by Heumer's Marvin and your Alberto?

Vercingetorix writes:

Eric, friend, the fact that unemployment is high among unskilled natives while wages remain low proves we don't need unskilled immigrants.

Also, a "straw man" argument is one easy to burn down and oblique to the real question. You can't burn down the argument that "unskilled laborers cost more than they're worth" unless you bring in facts and figures. Sadly for you, the facts and figures (not exactly secret) show that indeed, taxpayers pay rather more for unskilled laborers than employers do (even if you count the "employer's share" of social-security taxes). What do you think EITC is? It's a direct cash subsidy to enable employers to pay some workers less than subsistence!

(Supposed I offered to sell you socks for $0.50/pair. Cheap, eh? Good deal? What if I then tell you that the socks come from a knitting mill which gets a government subsidy amounting to
$5/pair? Are the socks still cheap, for society as a whole? Sure, you get "cheap" socks, but is the overall deal good for taxpayers?

I'll tell you what. After we repeal all tax-funded subsidies for low-wage-earners and their families, then we can reconsider open immigration.

(Actually, it would still be a bad idea. If we let the immigrants vote they would shortly vote the subsidies back into existence, and the second time around there would be even more claimants for those subsidies.)

As for whether the real cost of immigration is irrelevant to the question of removing all immigration controls, well, do you really think so?

(I take it that you agree that the USA doesn't have to accept unlimited immigration just because that would make immigrants better off-- for a while-- until wages and living conditions in the USA equalized (downward; way, way downward) to the world average.)

johnleemk writes:

I wonder what empirical work has been done in this area. If I recall correctly, for a few decades (until the '50s or '60s, if I am not mistaken), Britain had an open border policy with the Commonwealth, which is why today so many prominent Britons are of African or Caribbean descent. This doesn't seem to have wrecked Britain, although you can make the argument that they cut off immigration just in the nick of time. If anything, Britain seems much better off for having people like Lewis Hamilton and Leona Lewis.

ericyu3 writes:

MikeP: yes (but "inalienable right" seems a bit extreme)

Sam writes:

Forget about rights. There's no such thing.

We have "rights" because those with more power than us let us have those rights because the cost of denying us those rights is less than the benefit they receive from the denial.

That's it, end of story.

Forget about morals. The lion eats the antelope it can catch, the rest run free.

The real question is: can the government really maintain a policy it cannot truly enforce that also results in a negative impact on it? yes, but for how long?

Human history is the story of migration and the conflicts that arise as a result. No nation has ever been able to successfully prevent it forever.

The whole immigration debate is between those who want to fight the inevitable and those who embrace it. Sure, there are details to be worked out in the middle amongst reasonable people. But let's face it, you can't expect to win these sorts of battles in the long run.

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

I think it's a bit unrealistic and even a little reckless to say that anyone who wants in should get in.

1. We are focusing primarily upon the impact that unlimited immigration will have upon our financial resources, but not upon our natural resources. For example, there are states in the Southwest that are having difficulty providing sufficient water to the current population. What impact will unchecked immigration have on those resources in the future?

2. The rate of decline of tuberculosis is slowing, with most of the cases resulting from individuals who are foreign born.

http://tuberculosis.emedtv.com/tuberculosis/tuberculosis-statistics-in-the-united-states.html

3. I realize that there are those purists who believe that we should live in a world without borders, but the reality is that it would be prudent to know who is within our borders.

I am not saying that I am against immigration, but I do believe it would be more fair to accept "X" number of people from all different nationalities. There are people from many countries who have a great deal to offer, but the idea that we should for the most part limit immigration to primarily unskilled workers from third world countries is not in our best interest.

Evan writes:

Where to start addressing all of these comments? I'm new at commenting even though I've been an avid reader for a few months, so bear with me.

Vercingetorix, I looked at that study you provided a link to on your April 20th, 9:51 post. It isn't a study of illegal immigrants, it's a study of low-skilled Americans. The study mentions immigrants at the end by suggesting that low-skilled immigrants might have similar effects to low-skilled Americans, but that's about it. Would you suggest deporting low-skilled Americans?

Your coop apartment argument falls apart because you partially own the apartment, you don't own the U.S.A. The fact that you can participate in the political process here doesn't mean you own the country. A while ago I voted for which of the two new Dorito flavors Frito-Lay would make, but I don't own Frito-Lay.

Eric H, you asked "From where does the right to immigrate originate? " The answer is, from being human. You seem to have become confused because the phrase "to have a right" can mean two different things. It can mean that you have a natural, universal human right to something, or it can mean that your government recognizes such a right and doesn't violate it. The first sense describes what a government should do, the second what it does do. Imagine a world where the Bill of Rights didn't exist. You would still have a right to freedom of speech, gun ownership, etc in the first sense, but not in the second sense. But the first sense is what's important for this discussion because we're arguing about what the government should do in regards to immigration. You were born with the right to immigrate, the same way you were born with the right to property and free speech.

Vergingetorix, in your April 20th, 10:49 post you argue that immigration had a net negative economic effect, and statistics prove it. I have already disproven that earlier study you referenced, unless you were linking to an earlier study and the site has since changed. I can also provide myriads of statistics showing immigrants, including illegal ones, have a positive impact on the economy:
This list of myths from the Urban Institute is a good start.

Here's an article from the Free Trade Bulletin with similar statistics.

Here's an article from the Reason foundation showing illegal immigrants pay taxes but don't use a considerable lot of services.

Now it is true that illegals mooching off the welfare system used to be a slightly bigger problem in the past, but welfare reform has pretty much reduced that problem into statistical insignificance.

Also you're assuming that these immigrants will stay low-skilled workers forever. A lot of them won't. They or their children will probably move up, the same way immigrants have in the past.

Your continual reference to immigrants committing crimes is, in my view, exploiting the human tendency to weight rare, memorable events more than they should. In any case immigrant communities in the past, be they Irish, Jewish, Italian, or Chinese, have had a lot of crime when they first established, and mellowed out later.

To anyone whose referenced IQ, those same communities have also, in the past, been studied by scientists who "proved" that their I.Q.s were too low for them ever to be more than low-skilled workers. Now, of course, the Chinese and Jews are supposed to have higher average I.Q.s than Caucasians. Go figure. I have to admit modern I.Q. studies seem less biased and more scientific than they have in the past, but they've been wrong so often it probably is still a bad idea to base policy on them. Thomas Sowell has shown that lots of I.Q. differences may be caused by bad culture, rather than bad genes.

Also, this immigration argument is about immigration from everywhere, not just Mexico. Even if the current science is right and Mexicans really have genes for low I.Q., it's quite possible all the high-I.Q. immigrants from China and India will cancel them out.

To Vercingetorix again, you also say If we let the immigrants vote they would shortly vote the subsidies back into existence, and the second time around there would be even more claimants for those subsidies. Have you ever met a low-skilled worker?! They're the demographic least likely to vote and most apathetic about it. The wealthy and middle class are the voters. Welfare policies were pushed on us by liberal elites with out-of-control Hansonian altruistic signalling, not the poor themselves. The only way immigrants would become a major voting block is if they elevated themselves into the middle class, which would torpedo their reasons for voting for those subsidies in the first place.

And even if all those arguments about the immigrants using all our social services and money were true (and they aren't), are you honestly naive enough to believe that if immigrants stopped using those services, the government would give the money they saved back to you? The government would just spend it on something else equally stupid.

Which brings up another point. You act like when people use those social services the money is magically teleported from you to them. It isn't, the government takes it from you. Why don't you get mad at the government for taking your money, instead of at the people it gives it to? The government is the enemy, not the people it serves. If we were in their place, we'd probably exploit those services too. You should get mad at the government for creating bad incentives, not at ordinary people for responding to them. Fortunately, as I said before, immigrants don't use up excessive amounts of social services. But even if they did, your anger is misplaced.

And Vercingetorix, if you want to ban behaviors that cost the taxpayers money, are you also supportive of bans on fatty foods that make people more likely to become obese and use hospitals? Are you going to ban being a housewife or househusband, since those people receive education from the state, but don't work to pay it back? Using an injustice caused by paternalism to justify even more paternalism is just plain wrong.

The Cupboard is Bare, you write that I realize that there are those purists who believe that we should live in a world without borders, but the reality is that it would be prudent to know who is within our borders. Would you also endorse monitoring of native citizens, National IDs, surviellance, etc.?

I should lastly say that I am, ideologically, an anarcho-capitalist like Bryan, and am therefore opposed to all borders in theory. In practice I am willing to admit that anarcho-capitalism might prove impractical and humanity may have to settle for some half-measure like Mencius Moldbug's "patches" idea. In that case, open immigration is an essential way to keep governments honest by allowing people to leave a tyrannical or ineffective government. That may prove true today. To all the anti-immigrant commenters, consider the idea that maybe the best way to reduce immigration is to let in immigrants, so that their native governments are forced to become more like the U.S. before they lose all their taxpayers.

Eric H writes:

Evan--

I'm not confused about where rights come from, but I did word my initial statement poorly. I should have focused more on the degree to which human rights are realized within the borders of nation states. American citizens benefit from the fullest realization, and arguably the best maintenance, of human rights on the globe. Other nations have different priorities regarding those inalienable human rights. Those priorities are a reflection of the value placed on them by their citizens and governments.

Our borders, as "arbitrary" as some libertarians and anarcho-capitalists claim them to be, represent a crude distinction between where our realization of human rights and our willingness to maintain them ends and Mexico's, say, begins. Borders can only be as arbitrary and meaningless as some libertarians claim them to be if the countries on either side of them have identical conceptions of human rights. Then the argument for unrestricted immigration would be moot; there would already be a de facto "one world government" giving protection to human rights.

Your distinction between entitlement to rights and exercising them is noted, but it's kind of strange to me. The immediate thing that comes to mind is: If there are no humans around to appreciate their inalienable rights, do those rights actually exist? Or rather, can those rights exist if there is no socio-political entity available to enshrine and protect them?

It is my belief that immigration occurs because immigrants seek out those nations or areas that value, or at the least leave unmolested, the rights they value. The political situation in the United States, through wealth transfers and labor laws, has made it more difficult for immigrants and native born citizens to identify and value human rights.


guthrie writes:

Evan,

Kudos on this line, it bears repeating:

"You act like when people use those social services the money is magically teleported from you to them. It isn't, the government takes it from you. Why don't you get mad at the government for taking your money, instead of at the people it gives it to? The government is the enemy, not the people it serves. If we were in their place, we'd probably exploit those services too. You should get mad at the government for creating bad incentives, not at ordinary people for responding to them. Fortunately, as I said before, immigrants don't use up excessive amounts of social services. But even if they did, your anger is misplaced."

Again, great line!

I'll echo and amplify something tim wrote above. In a much-cited post early this year, Mr. Kling pointed out that even if the multiplier effect of government spending exists, at some point such spending begins to do more harm than good. The same is true of immigration: even if some unrestricted immigration is beneficial, there's a level at which it must begin to damage the host society. That fact alone calls into question Mr. Huemer's thesis. He's arguing in effect that the US has the moral duty to damage and eventually to destroy itself. I know some people share Mr. Huemer's (unstated? unacknowledged?) view, but it's extreme, and Mr. Huemer has failed either to state it clearly or to defend it convincingly.

8 writes:

"It isn't, the government takes it from you. Why don't you get mad at the government for taking your money, instead of at the people it gives it to?"

Restrictionist rebuttal:
Government is the people. You want me to let in MORE people who will make me angry with their vote. This does not compute.

dcpi writes:

It seems Huemer is missing an entire and very important body of thought from the get go. His very first example of a right is the right not to be killed. He then provides exceptions from that rule -- euthanasia and self-defense killings are the two listed -- but he overlooks the most basic exception; it is legal for a state to kill an enemy in war.

He also forgets, or overlooks, that it is not a "guard" that traditionally defends the border, but the army itself (the U.S. and many other modern states are exceptions to this).

I bring these points up because they go to the essense of citizenship and immigration. Nation states are not merely an economic unit, they are also a defensive unit. To take the point to its extreme, no one would argue that the U.S. should acknowlege a "right" of the Mexican army to defect en masse to Texas as one body.

Cannot it not also be argued that in a time of national crisis, or war, that a country and the collective citizenship of a country should have the right to restrict immigration into its lands? That it should be able to restrict the crossing of its frontier if only to preserve itself during the crisis?

Even in times of peace, it seems commonsensical that a nation has foreign enemies and those that wish it harm. It is within its rights then, to ask any visitors to identify themselves upon crossing the frontier so it can determine who is friendly and who is not.

On the economic side of the equation, the citizenry may very well have the right to trade and employ those they desire to trade with and employ, as long as those they do commerce with are not an enemy of the nation and their fellow citizenry.

However, the right to trade and employ foreign nationals does not necessarily mean that those trading partners should be offered citizenship. One important point is that national loyalty often trumps economic loyalty. The right to self-defense would seemingly give the existing citizenry the right to withhold new citizenship from those who have not proven their loyalty.

Obviously, we assume that "natural" citizens will have loyalty to this nation by default while also providing for cases in which that natural loyalty fails. Treason, for example, is delineated in the Constitution itself. (Art 3, Sec 3: Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.")

The common libertarian argument (and yes, I am a libertarian) wishfully overlooks millennia of documented human behavior to organize as groups or nations to control other groups and nations. Border security and representative diplomatic relations at the nation-state level is the millennia old solution to this issue.

Now, I do believe that we should encourage legal immigration at a far high level than we currently do. We should also simplify the granting of citizenship to those fellow men and women who show their loyalty to this nation through their actions, which include living under our laws, be willing to serve in our military, identifying their true identity and renouncing their loyalties to all other nations (no dual citizens).

Mike Huemer writes:

Wow, so many comments in just two days. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts. Here are responses to several posts by different people:

Lord writes:
"I think most would agree in the right to emigrate to anywhere that would have them. A right to immigrate, not so much, for the reason immigration involves the right to participate in the political process, or worse, the denial of that right. [...]"

There is an important difference between refusing to grant citizenship, and excluding someone from the territory. It is the latter that I am saying is harmful and a rights violation. There are many people who have legal resident status, but not citizenship. I'm not sure what you think is bad about that.

MikeP writes:
"This prima facie reasoning does seem to be a bit arbitrary and off the mark. What is wrong with good old natural rights?"

First, "prima facie" contrasts with "absolute", not "natural" ("natural" contrasts with "conventional" or "legal"). The prima facie rights *are* natural rights. Second, if you mean "what is wrong with *absolute* rights?", the answer to that is best explained by chapter 41, "Problems", in David Friedman's _The Machinery of Freedom_. As Friedman explains there, if you take a very strict and absolutist view of rights, then everything becomes absolutely impermissible. For instance, driving becomes impermissible, because there's a chance you might injure an innocent person.

Kurbla writes:
"And what about helping poor people? Yes, why not, but very likely those who try to immigrate are not really those who need most of help. It is better to invest resources directly to those who are currently in the worst situation in the world and to help them in their own countries."

I agree with you, except that it's a false dichotomy. We can donate to charity (privately, of course) *and* also let more immigrants in. Open borders won't help everyone, and it won't help the very worst off, but it will still help a lot of people.

tim writes:
"When you include federal, state, local, and SS taxes, I pay close to 45% of my income in taxes. Is that a "prima facie rights violation"? Does that shift the normative presumption that immigrants need to be net tax payers? [...]
"It also lets us pretend that most potential immigrants can pay their own way and have anything to offer besides unskilled labor. The problem isn't what to do with 1 Marvin, its what to do with ~6 billion of them."

Yes, taxation is a prima facie rights violation. I don't understand your second question. If you think taxation is wrong, then it's wrong to impose it on anyone, whether immigrant or native-born. If you think taxation is just, then it is just to impose it on immigrants as well as the native-born.
About your other point: I was not in any way implying that most potential immigrants are skilled. Most are unskilled. But they can still earn more in America than they could in their home countries, and they can earn enough to support themselves. That's all that I'm "pretending".
I don't know why you are mentioning the world population of 6 billion. My paper addresses one question: what to do about immigration. To address this question, we do not need to first figure out how to solve all problems for everyone. 6 billion people are not trying to immigrate to the United States, so we don't have to figure out what to do with 6 billion people, when we're just talking about immigration policy.

ericyu3 writes:
"You could see the government as a private entity (person) that has the rights normal people have. In that case, since normal people do have the right to physically restrain someone from going on their property, the government should be able to do that too for whatever reason, no matter how stupid. [...] Obviously, this argument depends on whether the government is considered a person and whether they actually own their jurisdiction."

Aren't the answers to those questions obvious? (1) The government is not a person; and (2) the government does not own all the land. Individual (real) people own individual parcels of land, and many of them are happy to allow immigrants onto their land.

Jason Malloy writes:
"The moral justification for borders is equal to the moral justification for private property more generally. Citizens have a collective property right over their territory. They have a right and duty to govern that territory in their own best interests and according to their own wishes."

Your first statement is a misstatement. The collective property right that you propose *conflicts* with private property. If I own some land privately, then I have the right to decide who may use it. This collective property right that you are positing means that other people can dictate the use of my property -- so it isn't really mine. Instead, you seem to think that it really belongs to the state.
I don't see any basis for this collective property right, nor do I see how the state winds up owning everything.

ThomasL writes:
"I think this scenario may be applied to the claims of illegal immigrants on government services, most particularly against schools and medical services.
"[...] almost all of the services which the goverment provides were approved by the people with the understanding that they would be enjoyed by legal visitors and residents (roads, parks, museums) or by legal residents (schools and entitlement programs)."

Two points. First, you can't justify harmfully coercing someone on the grounds that if you don't do so, then *you yourself* are going to violate some other people's rights. The state may refuse social services to immigrants. But it cannot give them social services and then complain that the *immigrants* are violating the rights of taxpayers; it's the *government* that would be violating the rights of taxpayers.
Second, my paper advocates free immigration. Since your objection seems to be solely directed against illegal immigration, you should agree with me. We can completely and immediately eliminate all cases of illegal immigrants getting social services: all we have to do is make them all legal. Problem solved.

Dr. T writes:
"I agree with Jason Malloy. The argument that immigration is a right can easily be transformed into an argument that trespass is a right."

Immigrants are not trespassing. They occupy land with the consent of the owners. They buy or rent homes from consenting citizens who own the land initially. So it's exactly the opposite of what you say.

Kurbla writes:
"Not only that state is like collective ownership of the citizens, but it is formal result of the medieval concept that all land is owned by king who gives SOME of the property rights to other people, but always keeping one level of the property rights, usually called sovereignty for himself."

You seem to be saying that the King legitimately owned all the land. But the kings only "owned" the land by virtue of force and violence. So this seems to be purely a "might-makes-right" philosophy.

Eric H writes:
"From where does the right to immigrate originate? [...]
"What is rarely addressed in the immigration debate is the resultant dilution of the rights of the citizens of a host country once immigration proceeds unfettered."

The right I'm talking about is a natural, human right. It doesn't originate in any geographical location. It is simply the right not to be subjected to harmful coercion.
I don't think you should worry about dilution of your rights. There are already 300 million people in the country, so your political power as an individual is already essentially zero. If another 10 million people arrive, it won't make any noticeable difference. And btw, the dilution will happen regardless of whether the new people are new, native-born people, or immigrants.
Also, btw, I distinguish between residency and citizenship. I argue that the state has no right to exclude most people from residency. But I do not claim that the state has to grant them citizenship.

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:
"1. We are focusing primarily upon the impact that unlimited immigration will have upon our financial resources, but not upon our natural resources. For example, there are states in the Southwest that are having difficulty providing sufficient water to the current population. What impact will unchecked immigration have on those resources in the future?
"2. The rate of decline of tuberculosis is slowing, with most of the cases resulting from individuals who are foreign born."

I don't worry about natural resources, because I've been convinced by Julian Simon's book, _The Ultimate Resource_, that natural resources are becoming ever more abundant. The ultimate resource is people. People figure out how to get resources, how to do a job with cheaper resources, and people do the work to make resources available. That's why, as the population increases, we *don't* see increased resource scarcity.
About disease, I think the state would be justified in screening potential immigrants for communicable diseases.

MikeP writes:

Mike Huemer,

First, "prima facie" contrasts with "absolute", not "natural" ("natural" contrasts with "conventional" or "legal"). The prima facie rights *are* natural rights.

Okay. You explain that well. It appears that we agree very much.

My main point was positing a shortcut. If we take it as self-evident that individual rights precede and supersede government authority (who said that, anyway?), then any authority that is given to government must abide by those rights. It is pretty bloody obvious that the rights of travel, residence, and labor are natural rights. Therefore, governments cannot usurp them without specific and individually valid cause.

It is interesting that you cite David Friedman: He had the greatest influence in the formation of my view of rights. I do not see natural rights as absolute. Rather natural rights are useful and generally true heuristics based on long-view economic consequentialist reasoning.

Thus true public goods concerns can trump rights. Governments can stop entry of terrorists, foreign agents, felons, or those carrying contagion "with cause" because the public cost of allowing such an individual in is greater than the private cost to the individual. They cannot prohibit entry on economic grounds because those grounds are bogus. Governments can stop violent felons from exercising their rights to own weapons. Governments can kidnap (arrest and jail) people and steal their wealth (fine them) after proving they really are criminals (with due process).

Of course, there are precious few actual public goods. And they are growing fewer by the year as technology and society advance. So the rights yielded by economic consequentialist reasoning almost always apply.

Your approach appears to formulate a single-path rights argument that sidesteps the private rights versus compelling public interest economic consequentialism behind my view of rights. I will have to look into it more to see if it gives governments less power than my reasoning.

But the way I see it, you have the right to migrate. You had it before any government came along. Government can stop you for reasons of compelling public interest. It is incumbent on government to give a reason. It is incumbent on government to make that reason provably valid. And it is economically provable that "the quota of people like you has been met" is not a valid reason.

ericyu3 writes:

Mike: yes, the government is not a real person, but neither are corporations, and corporations do have property rights. Governments don't literally own their entire territory, but they effectively do because they have control over it (sovereignty).

MikeP writes:

Sovereignty is a positive concept, not a normative one. It is the recognition that a state can do whatever it wants within its dominion and no other state will do anything about it. As a positive notion, sovereignty is a very weak player in a normative debate such as whether government should allow free migration.

I can list all sorts of sovereign states that did all sorts of terrible things. Surely you don't plan to argue that those governments had the right to do those things because of sovereignty.

MikeP writes:

And corporations are voluntary associations of free persons. The persons grant certain of their powers to the corporation. The corporation makes certain claims of its responsibilities and liabilities. It garners no rights greater than those of the individuals who compose it, but neither does it lose its rights simply because it is not a real person.

In particular, any property a corporation owns is acquired through voluntary relations, exactly as though it were a person doing the acquiring.

A government, on the other hand, is in general not a voluntary association. And any claim by the government to all the land within its dominion -- or even to the unowned properties, commons, and rights of way -- is not in any way voluntary.

Jason Malloy writes:

Your first statement is a misstatement. The collective property right that you propose *conflicts* with private property. If I own some land privately, then I have the right to decide who may use it. This collective property right that you are positing means that other people can dictate the use of my property -- so it isn't really mine. Instead, you seem to think that it really belongs to the state.
I don't see any basis for this collective property right, nor do I see how the state winds up owning everything.

A "collective property right" is an analogy, it's not legally isomorphic to a private property right. The collective society decides the laws that encompass your private property. You are not allowed to murder your wife and children on your property. You are nor permitted to harbor an escaped murderer on your private property. If you do, the men with the guns will enter your property and arrest you both. That doesn't mean it's not your property, but it certainly does demonstrate that the society has an important level of authority (and thus a kind of collective ownership) over your property.

We have private property only because We The People decided it best serves the collective good, so We The People decided to allow men with guns to defend that structure. If We The People decided that private property wasn't in the best interest of the collective good, then the men with guns would be taking away your "private property".

Similarly, We The People decide who does and who doesn't legitimately enter the territorial boundaries of our society, based on our idea of what best serves the collective good. If We the People decided it wasn't in the best interest of the collective good, then the men with the guns would be escorting the aliens in, rather than keeping them out.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan:

Perhaps you should try learning some facts about immigration before moralizing so much about it.

Here's a basic question: How many people on Earth live in countries with lower mean per capita incomes than Mexico?

Just post your guess below.

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

@ Evan:

"Would you also endorse monitoring of native citizens, National IDs, surviellance, etc.?"

Why do people go to extremes? I woke up this morning a very happy minarchist, and at day's end find that I am now a total statist. :\

Realistically, there are people who cross borders to avoid arrest for felonious acts. And if they've committed a felony in their country of origin, there's a possibility that they will do so here. I see no harm in trying to establish a person's identity and whether they have a history of priors before admitting them to this country.

"In that case, open immigration is an essential way to keep governments honest by allowing people to leave a tyrannical or ineffective government. That may prove true today. To all the anti-immigrant commenters, consider the idea that maybe the best way to reduce immigration is to let in immigrants, so that their native governments are forced to become more like the U.S. before they lose all their taxpayers."

Please identify which countries have changed their policies due to a mass exodus of their population to the U.S.

@Mike Huemer:

That's why, as the population increases, we *don't* see increased resource scarcity."

I've seen reports about Southwestern states having heated negotiations for water rights. My suggestion would be to ensure that there will be sufficient water in the years to come before we make decisions that will result in an increase in the population.

MikeP writes:

Jason Malloy,

Consider immigration. Let's say William works as a strawberry picker. I hire a strawberry picking immigrant who does the job quicker and cheaper. William gets fired and lives in poverty for years, never quite getting back on his feet. Does this example prove that the strawberry picking immigrant was a harmful immigrant?

Of course not. It was harmful to William, but it was beneficial to millions of other people. It lowered the price of strawberries, and created numerous other jobs (like feeding and housing strawberry immigrants). The strawberry immigrant hurt some people, but ultimately benefited more people.

Jason Malloy writes:

I had been working on the draft of a response to Huemer earlier this evening, but it was much longer than a blog comment should be, so it was unwise to try to write it in the comment box. Hopefully by tomorrow the incomplete comment I accidentally posted above will be deleted by the moderator. Here is the complete version:

Huemer: Third, the laws are extremely harmful to most of the individuals who are thus restricted. Few Americans would have any doubt that, if someone were to force them to live in the Third World for the rest of their lives, whoever did this would thereby visit a great harm upon them. The harm to potential immigrants from the Third World who are denied entry to the United States, or to illegal immigrants who are forcibly expelled, is of the same kind and approximate magnitude.

Your first two arguments were superfluous, because if a law is harmful or not determines if the coercion or restrictiveness is wrong as well (supposedly you love private property laws, yet the laws that keep me off of private property are just as "coercive" and "restrictive"; the key difference is that you do not consider such laws harmful). So I'll limit discussion to this. I disagree with this argument on two accounts:

1) It is not clear restricted immigration is harmful to more people than unrestricted immigration. In fact, I believe exactly the opposite.

And, 2) Even if restricted immigration is harmful to more people, the more important question is, is it unfair. I don't believe it is. I believe people have a fair sense of ownership over a territory, just as they have a fair sense of ownership over their own bodies, or over private property more generally.

1) Borders are not harmful

People who are restricted from a more developed society are being kept from a higher standard of living. Huemer argues this is harmful to the would-be immigrant, and that the laws are therefore prima facie harmful in an absolute sense. But it's not that simple. Consider technology. Let's say William works as a strawberry picker. I invent a strawberry picking machine that does the job quicker and cheaper. William gets replaced and winds up unemployed for years. Does this example prove that the strawberry picking machine was a harmful invention?

Of course not. It was harmful to William, and probably a lot of people in William's same position, but it was beneficial to millions of other people. It lowered the price of strawberries, benefiting most people, and created numerous other jobs (like building and repairing the strawberry machines). The strawberry machine hurt some people, but ultimately benefited more people.

Do borders also ultimately benefit more people than they hurt? I believe they do. At least in the case of America (I'm sure there are many instances where this would not be true). Just as the invisible benefactors of the strawberry machine are the masses who pay lower prices for strawberries, the invisible victims of immigration are the masses of Latin American societies who must continue under faulty economic governance.

Corrupt or incompetent governments have no incentive to modernize their economic rule, outside of grass-roots agitation from below. But if the incompetent governments can just encourage the economically disenfranchised to migrate to another country, they never have to bother with any reforms. So taking in the disenfranchised classes is partly what creates the poverty to begin with, just as unreasonable amounts of welfare creates poverty rather than cures it.

Of course, Americans are hurt as well. A lot. Mass illegal immigration from Latin America is economically harmful to the poorest people in US society, and harmful to the entire society in an economic, political, and social sense. Ultimately it threatens the economic development of the entire US nation, and to give us perpetual levels of soul-killing third world inequality. (i.e. those with Amerindian admixture have lower average levels of economic human capital for what appear to be genetic reasons. There are good reasons to doubt assimilation anywhere in the next century.)

Expanding open immigration to the rest of the world would have the obvious consequence of flooding the US until the economic character of the nation stabilized at, or well below, the world average. That is until the resident economic opportunities are attractive to no further immigrants, because the conditions are no better here than the economic situation in their home country (a mighty low bar for people in countries where being a pirate is the best career opportunity!).

That would not only destroy the US as a nation, but any residual value the powerful and generative US has for the rest of the world... which is, frankly, almost incalculably enormous: Its scientific, medical, and technological output, its political and military clout, its philanthropy. Transferring the world poor to the rich countries would be worse for both. High IQ people in low IQ countries are simply wasted. The average IQ of a country determines how productive it is, not its absolute number of high IQ individuals. High IQ people in high IQ countries create knowledge and technology which benefits the entire world; high IQ people in low IQ countries are scattered, disorganized, unproductive, or otherwise wasted.

Open borders as a moral right means the relatively small developed regions of the world would be consumed and destroyed by the numerical tsunami of the world poor (literally 5 billion people). This would not benefit the world poor, it would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, and would doom the world to a dark ages without an obvious expiration date.

Evan writes:

@Jason Malloy: I am a reductionist. I simply do not believe in "We the People" or any other sort of "We." I simply reduce "We the People decided" down to "the majority talked the gang of thugs running the country into doing what they want." If you think for just a moment you can think of all sorts of horrible things "We the People" have done. Passing the Fugitive Slave Act, for instance. Bryan Caplan has pointed out in numerous articles and one book that "We the People" are systematically irrational on several key issues, including immigration.

I would also like to remind you that this thread is about immigration from everywhere, not just Hispanic immigration. All the links you provided only referenced immigration from Latin America.

Adressing the links: The Inductivist is a survey indicating that Hispanics and Blacks are soft on crime. Wow, groups that have experienced abuse of power by police think the police should have less power! I wonder why? I have to admit that, after seeing what a joke our criminal justice system is, I have also become softer on crime. I have nothing but contempt for genuine criminals, but the police have a terrible track record of correctly identifying genuine criminals. It's nearly impossible to successfully defend yourself against a criminal accusation without bankrupting yourself these days.

I have trouble taking the Center for Immigration Studies seriously after seeing Penn & Teller take down Krikorian on their show (Krikorian, that's an Eastern European name, isn't it?). Most of the arguments they made centered around using injustices caused by paternalism to justify more paternalism, which I condemned in my last post. The government is what's stealing our money, not immigrants. To put it another way, if there was a mugger stealing people's money and donating some of it to a soup kitchen, who would you get mad at, the mugger, or the people who eat at the soup kitchen? The mugger of course!

In any case, CIS uses flawed methodology. For instance, in one of their studies they found one person in an immigrant household was on Medicaid they counted everyone in the household as being on it. Also, if the head of the household was an immigrant, but the recipient in the household was a native, that was still counted as immigrants receiving Medicaid. You can get the dirty details here. In general immigrant use of the social services has decreased since welfare reform. Of course, don't for a minute think that's money you'll be seeing. The government will no doubt find some nice, juicy earmark to spend it on instead.

Parapundit's post was highly racist, it assumed blacks were more deserving of jobs than Hispanics, when really both are equally deserving. It talked about how necessary jobs were for blacks without considering that they were just as necessary for Hispanics. There are only two things that make a person deserve a job, how well they do it, and how much it costs to pay them. In other words, the content of their character. Furthermore, Parapundit committed both the make-work bias, assuming jobs exist to provide a livelihood for the worker rather than services for the consumer. The post also committed the fixed-pie fallacy, assuming there is a finite amount of jobs. There isn't, and job shortages are caused primarily by the evil minimum wage law, rather than competition with immigrants.

@The Cupboard is Bare. I suppose I can see checks for criminal records at the border on the grounds that since we have the capability to do good in that fashion, we might as well use it, even if we obtained that capability through xenophobic policy. To name an analgous example, I'm sure principled anarcho-capitalists would concede that while using taxes to pay for the police is wrong, the tax-subsidized-police we have should keep doing their jobs until we change the system.

I don't really know offhand of any countries that have changed due to immigration, but there hasn't been a significant amount allowed lately. That part of my comment was mostly theory. Although attempts by totalitarian countries like East Germany and Ancient China to keep their populations from emigrating clearly indicates that they're afraid of something.

As for water problems in the Southwest, once you're in America, you can go anywhere. States don't have border guards. If there come to be so many immigrants in America that they strain the Southwest's water supply, we can simply let in future immigrants with the stipulation that they settle and find a job in some other part of the country. Of course, if water gets really expensive in the Southwest, most immigrants would probably move elsewhere of their own accord, since they probably would have trouble affording it at entry-level wages.

Jason Malloy writes:


2) Borders are fair

More important than harm in ethics is fairness. If someone is dying of kidney failure, it would, without any doubt, be harmful to this person if I did not give them one of my healthy kidneys. There are millions of people like this. Every single day, in fact, a person dies because I did not donate one of my healthy kidneys. Yet I am not considered unethical. I am not judged to be a bad person. This is because people have an intuitive sense of ownership over their body. We believe it is entirely fair for people to deny others the right to their body, even if this results in death.

The same is true for possessions. I could sell all my possessions and save at least one life tomorrow. The life of at least one starving man in Asia. But I won't. And you won't either. Because we both enjoy our possessions and feel a right to have those possessions.

But you don't have those possessions, and the Asian man none, because you "earned" them, while the Asian man didn't. No, you got lucky. You were born with the circumstances and abilities to acquire nice possessions, while the Asian man was born without the circumstances or abilities to even acquire food. It doesn't matter. You didn't "earn" your kidney either. You were born with that too. But most people believe you are entitled to possessions, just as you are entitled to you kidney. You won't sell your possession. The Asian man will die. Yet you are not considered unethical. You are not judged to be a bad person.

The exact same principle is true for territory.

I did not earn my American citizenship, I was born here. And because of this act of fate, I get to enjoy the benefits of liberal government, safety, and high quality jobs, goods, and services. Is it therefore my ethical duty to ensure that any deprived soul in the world can come here and enjoy this bounty as well? Of course it isn't. No more than it's my ethical duty to donate my kidney or sell my possessions to save desperate people.

And just as a little generosity with our bodies and our possessions is informally expected by most decent people (e.g. we do judge the character of people who don't, say, give blood or give money to charity), we consider some amount of self-sacrificial territorial openness a human courtesy (e.g. impoverished refugees). But there is a line. Giving up your life or all your possessions for others is considered an act of selfless sainthood. It is by no means considered an ethical necessity.

Similarly, a territory is a possession of exceeding preciousness. It is a place for ethnic, religious, economic, aesthetic, political, and cultural self-determination. In the entire span of human history, no more blood has been spilled for any other resource than the amount that has been shed for territory.

Open borders are harmful to me, even more harmful to other American citizens with less education than myself, and even more harmful to my hypothetical decedents who would inherit a squalid, ruined, and violent homeland that otherwise would have been a paradise.

And while I don't believe border restriction is harmful to those who are restricted (as I argued above), it would be no different if the truth was otherwise. There is no more ethical obligation to let them all in, than there is an ethical obligation to donate my kidney. It is my territory, and it is my kidney. My decision may harm or help, but I am not ethically implicated in the case of harm.

Jason Malloy writes:

I would appreciate it if people did not respond to the comment I accidentally posted at 11:55, as it is a rough, incomplete draft. The real comment got held in the moderation cure, and will probably be posted tomorrow morning. It will hopefully appear above the comment posted at 2:11 AM, since I posted them together.


Of course not. It was harmful to William, but it was beneficial to millions of other people. It lowered the price of strawberries, and created numerous other jobs (like feeding and housing strawberry immigrants).

The re-worded comment is just as consistent with my beliefs as the original one. A lot of immigration certainly is, or certainly can be, mutually beneficial. The devil is in the externality details. Low-skill immigration would likely be beneficial for America if three conditions were otherwise met:

1) We didn't have an unusually vulnerable, mostly African-American and Hispanic, underclass. Going by Borjas' estimates of the wage effects of immigration, there would actually be a slight wage benefit if we didn't have so many high school drop-outs. Holding back on immigration might be considered a form of welfare or affirmative action in this respect. Either way society is going to be paying for unemployed black drop-outs. I think most Americans would prefer it be in the form of border control rather than prison expansion.

2) The immigration is temporary. That means no perpetually underclass, politically ruinous, low-skill descendants left in America. A well-managed, strictly enforced 5 year guest worker program very well could produce economic benefits for America. Unfortunately there is too much corruption and taboo for such a program to exist as such, so I wouldn't support it.

3) The low-skill immigrants would not otherwise be eligible for public services. The strawberry example simply doesn't work for illegal, low skill immigrants. There is no way the economic contribution of illegals could possibly make up for the enormous economic burden such immigration transfers to the American tax payer:

Based on research by the National Academy of Sciences, the lifetime net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus services used) on public coffers created by the average adult Mexican immigrant is estimated to be more than $55,000. While employers may want increased access to unskilled Mexican labor, this cheap labor comes with a very high cost.
Of course, none of these conditions will be met anywhere in the near future. Thus mass, low-skill immigration to America has been, and will continue to be, a net economic harm to the country.

[Jason's accidentally unfinished comment got posted last night at 11:55 p.m. It has since been deleted by his request, but it unfortunately may not have been deleted quickly enough to escape notice. Nothing in this thread is currently being held in moderation at 7:30 a.m., EST, Apr. 22, 2009 .--Econlib Ed.]

Eric H writes:

Mike Huemer,

Thanks for the personalized response-- watching this debate unfold has been a real treat.

I basically agree with you when you say:

"There are already 300 million people in the country, so your political power as an individual is already essentially zero."

How does this apply to the rights to free speech, trial by jury and habeus corpus? It seems to me that those rights can be "diluted" (I'm willing to admit that that is a rather poor, and kind of xenophobic sounding, choice of words, but it's all I had at the moment)by our willingness to hand them out without any preconditions, or god forbid, "prices" like a high-school level test on the basics of our Constitution and criminal background check. Native born Americans are "coerced" into learning about the Constitution and our tripartite mode of government and passing a test proving we've done so; we're also "coerced" into knowing about and obeying most of our laws. So why can't immigrants be made, or asked, to do the same? Legal immigrants must do these things; why shouldn't their adoptive government honor their efforts and find ways to make illegals do them too?

The negative rights, I would argue, can never be diluted. They might be worn down, or dismembered, but not diluted. The positive rights, however, and the ones to which I believe you are referring, such as "one man one vote," can be. So many hogs have been invited or enticed to feed at the government trough that elbowing one's way in for their share is next to impossible, even if that share is something good, like trying to convince your congressman to vote against pernicious or goofy laws.

I don't understand this distinction:

"Also, btw, I distinguish between residency and citizenship. I argue that the state has no right to exclude most people from residency. But I do not claim that the state has to grant them citizenship."

Is there, or has there ever been, a state that cannot exclude certain people from residency? If a state cannot exclude people from entering its borders, how is it a "state"? Are you distinguishing between the force a state uses to maintain itself, granted it through agreement with its citizens, and the ability of the state to confer upon immigrants the right to enter into contracts with it as well as to enjoy the benefits of some of that aforementioned force?

Perhaps I am digging too deeply. The 2nd to last thing I want as an American citizen is no immigration. The last thing I want is immigration that results, not in cultural changes (those are good, and enlightening and fruitful) but in fundamental socio-political changes that erode what keeps our political environment amenable to freedom and productivity. I believe there is a way to maintain that environment and still give as many people as possible the chance to live here. I just don't know what it is yet...

Eric H writes:

Pardon me; in my previous post I should have said:

"How does this apply to the rights to free speech, trial by jury and habeus corpus? It seems to me that those rights can only be "diluted"...by our willingness to hand them out without any preconditions...

And further:

"The negative rights, I would argue, can never be diluted other than by freely awarding them, like "positive" rights are.

I hope this makes a minimum of sense to those minds brighter and sharper than mine at this hour!

Eric H writes:

If I may further amend my previous statements:

I'm well aware that the U.S. government doesn't dispense rights; human rights are inborn. Our government isn't handing out negative rights, it's agreeing with us to protect them. That protection is suffering right now because our government is more concerned with doling out positive rights.

However, if all it takes to enjoy the fullest realization of your inborn rights to free speech and habeus corpus is to show up within the "arbitrary" borders of someone else's nation-state, then why bother having a state at all?

MikeP writes:

Is there, or has there ever been, a state that cannot exclude certain people from residency? If a state cannot exclude people from entering its borders, how is it a "state"?

Is there, or has there ever been, an individual who cannot assault and rob people he meets on the street? If an individual cannot assault and rob people he meets on the street, how is he an "individual"?

Note that those people have the right not to be assaulted and robbed. They have that right even though another individual can indeed assault and rob them. They have that right even when another individual does assault and rob them. That right was simply violated.

Similarly, just because a state can do something does not mean a state should do something. The precedent is well established that states can and will do whatever they want to, from abrogating the right of migration to killing millions of their residents. But this is a discussion of rights. The question is what should a state do.

ThomasL writes:

Dr Huemer,

I wanted to thank you for reading and responding to the comments.

I most specifically appreciate you reading and responding to my comment. :)

I did want to mention though, that my comment was directed at a practical consequence to the rights of existing citizens more than at the nature of the rights of the illegal immigrant. To borrow more of your terminology, I think that treats them both as prima facie rights, and therefore subject to the weighing process.

Or, from my first line:
"I'm not addressing the central question of immigration as natural right, but I did want to address a practical problem."

You were correct I was only addressing illegal immigration. It doesn't solve the issue to simply make all immigration legal, however. In fact, it doesn’t answer the scenario from my comment at all. Can the children be introduced into the other lessons without the consent of the original parties? Is it OK simply because the tutor says that they can [legally]? I posed as a question before about whether the initial parents should pay for the other children. What if they don’t need to and the parents of the new children pay their way? Is it OK then? The classes are still longer, which may impact their schedule. Each child is given less individual attention, which may impact their learning. At the core, you simply have four parties to the original agreement (three couples, and the tutor) and the forcible introduction of a fifth. Whatever the costs or benefits the new members provide, forcing their introduction deprives the original parties of their ability to enter into and maintain agreements which affect them.

I do agree that in real life the government (aka, the tutor), which does force payment primarily from the initial group of parents, is the primary issue. However, the very definition of who would receive services was part of the law at the time the laws were made. Simply redefining “X” to mean “Y” ex post doesn’t remove the objection or practical consequence from people who thought they were paying for “X” and are now paying for “Y”. (As an aside, the non-controversial estimates in my own state show tax revenues of $20m associated with illegal immigration compared to state services costs $200m. The figures may not tell the whole tale, but it is hard to make an argument that the $180m paid for by other taxpayers (aka, the parents) was something they agreed to do, even if they gained in some other externality.)

To propose a new scenario:
1) Fred owns a car dealership which he would like to close. Fred has brand new cars of the 2007, 2008, and 2009 model years as well as some used and older cars. Joe is opening a car dealership in another state and makes an agreement with Fred to purchase all his new car inventory. In the agreement Joe defines "new" as cars never having been purchased, leased, or lent, and which are less than 2y old.

I'll propose two follow ups, neither exactly fitting the original expectation:

2) Fred delivers all the 2007, 2008, and 2009 model year never-sold cars. This is not exactly what Joe expected, as Joe considered the 2007 as "2y or older" (many were manufactured in 2006), rather than as "less than 2y." The difference is roughly 15% in dollars, and 20% in number of cars.

3) Fred delivers almost his entire inventory, redefining the term "new" to include cars returned from corporate fleets (less than 2y old) and cars with greater than 90% remaining warranty. This is roughly a 300% increase in dollars and a 375% increase in the number of cars.

Almost all of the current social programs, the current school structure, entitlement programs, were made after various immigration constraints were fairly firm (particularly post 1910) and they were made in that environment. To alter the immigration restrictions, for example to boost legal immigration from a modest 1m or so a year to a higher figure, eg 2m a year, I think is fair to say is close to scenario (2). An agreement was made, it wasn't extremely strict in its terms, and certain modifications are reasonable which can be made with the consent of both parties.

Redefining legal immigration such that it means everyone who arrives here is a legal immigrant is more like scenario (3), where the definition has been entirely shifted beneath the original agreement such that the terms are voided for all practical purposes. I wouldn’t resist this if the terms were reset with the consent of the parties, as then they’d be doing so with full knowledge of the implications. However, I don’t believe most contexts of “make it all legal” actually involve this, rather (as in the scenario) unilaterally redefining terms.

One scenario is a modification while the other is nullification.

Back to the real world, there seems to be a related implication that the government is entirely sovereign and can choose to dispense, or refrain from dispensing, its services to its chosen recipients as it sees fit. That is not the structure of our government at all. The government, at least theoretically, is bound by laws to provide certain services (defined by law) to certain people (defined by law), agreed to by the people and funded through taxes approve by the people for those purposes. For the government to change the nature of the services or the recipients of the services without the consent of the people that agreed to them is, I believe, a violation of the rights of those people. One might argue the right to live where one chooses to be more weighty, but I don’t think the violation can be dismissed as if it didn’t exist at all.

Ella writes:

You write About disease, I think the state would be justified in screening potential immigrants for communicable diseases.

Why? If they have the right to services and the right to be here, how do we have the right to prevent them from coming?

How about this: let's say someone commits a grisly murder in another country and it's widely known, but because of his political connections they don't want to extradite him back for trial. Does he have the right to stay here?

If someone is a high-ranking lieutenant in al-Qaida want to come here to study physics, does he have the right to come here?

I think, obviously, the answer is no. Yet, if "free immigration" is a fundamental human right," you can't really answer no. How do their human rights not count?

Here in Oklahoma, there is a big debate about illegal immigration (as there is everywhere). The pro-illegal immigration group acknowledges that the illegals contribute about $21 million per year to our economy and cost us over $200 million in services. And there are a couple of hundred thousand illegals here. As a whole, the illegals here are negatively and severely affecting our economy and resources. Some of that is drains in schools and medical care (hospitals and emergency rooms have been shut down here), but there are also drains in increased gang violence (MS13 and Latino Kings and others), property damage, drugs, and crime. Is that insignificant? More important, all of those people should be rewarded by being granted citizenship or residency?

Bollocks, I say!

Any debate about "free immigration" comes down to cheap labor and massive Mexican immigration, like cheap labor for business is the REAL prima facie right. Because, you know, businesses like cheap, tax-free workers, and Mexicans are there! Win-win!

My question is why? Why do Mexicans have a right to move here because they're close by? There are tens of millions of people who want to move here, from all over the world. I work almost exclusively with immigrants who are highly-educated and highly-productive and yet they have to jump through hoops to stay. Thousands of people from Europe and Britain (and Japan and Korea and Australias and other people who share our cultural values) want to come here.

Are we supposed to let 100 million people come in this year, no limits? And then however many more want to come, year after year, without bothering to check who they are or process them at all? (That's where my criminal and terrorist points come in.)

And if there are limits, how are they set? How many is too many and how is "too many" even a valid argument if free immigration is a human right like free speech? How do we decide who is worthy to come in? Or is it only for people who live near by, that we can afford to endlessly support with our endlessly increasing resources?

America can be choosy about who we let in, and we should be. We have the opportunity to poach the absolute best of the world. Claiming that we need day laborers to come in for menial work - at the very real effect of excluding talented and high-achieving people who had the misfortune of being born on another continent - is wrong-headed.

There are no jobs Americans won't do. I do a lot of them myself. Others, I can pay for this magic group called "teenagers" to do.

Migration may be a basic human right. Immigration is not. Not unless you don't believe in personal property. Can anyone decide to move into my house without my permission? If not, then there is at least one corner of the world immigrants cannot live and immigration is not free. We collectively (through birth and through immigration) belong to and possess this country. We have the right to decide who comes in.

Unless, to steal from Atlas Shrugged, the rights of the "looters" trump all rights of the "producers," and it's the producers job to continually produce for the looters without a say in how their spoils are divided.

In this case, we have produced a country other people want to come to. That is not a commodity to trade cheaply. Are we supposed to continue building this country regardless of who comes in?

I accept that there are many places in the world that I could not move to without much effort and waiting, and I would still have to prove my value to that community. It is right of those countries to behave responsibly. It is, in fact, a responsiblity that the government owes its citizens.

There are 20 million people here who have already committed Social Security fraud, tax fraud, and possibly bank fraud if they have loans or credit cards. And that's assuming they don't do anything else, like go on welfare, use emergency rooms for primary medical care, or commit a crime. Let's not forget Obama's aunt, who's been getting welfare and housing subsidies for over a decade while being illegal, and she's not alone. (And, yes, I'm against government subsidies for anyone, illegal, resident, or citizen, but that's not the point.) The point is that these people are already not honoring the social contract that all of the legal immigrants and citizens do (or face penalties if they don't). Almost all of these illegals come from Socialist or Communist countries and that's the mindset they bring with them. I don't somehow, think that they're here illegally in a beautiful expression of the human spirit. They're here to get whatever they can from someone else without the burden of having to contribute back by honoring the law of the land. The ones who come here legally - who jump through the hoops, who fill out the paperwork, who wait, who prove their worth - are the ones who show they appreciate and respect our country and its rules and culture.

We are not a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of laws.

/rant

Ella writes:

Oh, and, despite my earlier rant, I am always glad to see a serious paper on this topic (even from the "Dark Side"). I'll re-read it and look forward to savoring your arguments more than I can on a short break at work.

So, thanks for that, Mike (writer) and Bryan (purveyor).

I also appreciate the idealism of totally open borders. I don't agree, but I respect the ideal, because I think you're ultimately trying to define freedom of choice and of self-determination, and those are important structural beliefs.

Evan writes:

@Jason Malloy: You said:
Open borders are harmful to me, even more harmful to other American citizens with less education than myself, and even more harmful to my hypothetical decedents who would inherit a squalid, ruined, and violent homeland that otherwise would have been a paradise.
Allow me to rephrase that so that it reflects my beliefs about about immigration:
Open borders are helpful to me, even more helpful to other American citizens with less education than myself, and even more helpful to my hypothetical descendants who would inherit a vibrant, productive, and wealthy homeland that otherwise would have been mediocre
Open borders help me because cheap labor makes products cheaper for me. They help the less educated and the poor for the same reason. The arguments you make that hispanic immigrants would form a permanent underclass that would forever be violent and poor are the same arguments made about the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, and every other immigrant group in history. Every time those immigrants have gone through a poor, high-crime phase, and then become normal, contributing members of the population. I see no reason why they won't again.

Nativism reminds me strongly of cryptozoology, just as cryptozoologists keep maintaining that this time it's different, this time they'll really find Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, even though they've been wrong all those other times, nativists argue that this time it's different this immigrant group is different from all the others, it will ruin America even though all the other groups they said would ruin America in the past have become an integral, contributing part of our society. Yeah, and I bet this latest photo of Nessie isn't a hoax too.

Also, you argue that if too many immigrants become citizens, we will have a permanent poor class, and that they'll make our country more socialist. But as I've already pointed out, the poor are not very politically active. In order for immigrants to become a political threat, they'd have to become middle class, eliminating all the other reasons you think they'd be a problem.

Referring to your statistics regarding how many social services immigrants use, I've already argued that the site you cite is probably flawed and biased. In any case, I've produced statistics saying the opposite, which indicates the issue is probably not as clear cut as it seems to either of us, since all these conflicting studies keep coming out. But as I've said before even if you are right, restricting immigration would not save the taxpayers' money. The government would not give the money it didn't spend on social services back, it would just spend it on earmarks, bridges to nowhere, and other nonsense.

@Ella. No one has the right to any services. They just have the right to not be stopped from coming here if they aren't directly harming anyone's rights.

You again claim that illegal immigrants use more services than they pay in taxes. I claim that it is the opposite. Obviously, one of us is wrong, or more likely, the issue is much more complex. But in any case, as I've said before, if the government doesn't waste your tax money on illegals, it will just waste it on something else.

Like you, I acknowledge the right to property. As such, I acknowledge someone's right to invite someone from Mexico to come work and live on their property without asking anyone's permission. If everyone else doesn't like it, tough, it's not their property.

We do not collectively own this country. We do not have a right to supersede other people's property rights by forbidding them from hiring people from other countries. Trying to do so would be immoral. There is no such thing as "We". "We" reduces down to "the government and the majority."

You ask: Why do Mexicans have a right to move here because they're close by? There are tens of millions of people who want to move here, from all over the world. I work almost exclusively with immigrants who are highly-educated and highly-productive and yet they have to jump through hoops to stay. The answer is, those people shouldn't have to jump through hoops either. Anyone in the world should be allowed to come here if they can find someone who is willing to sell or rent them a place to stay. The fact that it is easier for Mexicans would be unfair if it was caused by human actions, but it is not. It is simply caused by continental drift, Mexico is close to the USA, so the cost of coming is cheaper.

You also ask: Are we supposed to let 100 million people come in this year, no limits? And then however many more want to come, year after year, without bothering to check who they are or process them at all? 100 million is nearly the entire population of Mexico. There are only 110 million people in that whole country. For that reason it seems unlikely to me that that many people would come.

As for your question about processing, I have to ask you this: If processing people at the border is such a great idea, why don't we do it at the state border too? Why not at the county or city borders? Why don't you have to get a visa to travel from Rhode Island to Vermont, or from L.A. to San Francisco? What if a criminal tries to move from Washington to Oregon? The answer is: Because the Framers were smart and knew that open borders and open trade is good, so they made sure the federal government had the power to stop states from "securing their borders."

Also, as far as I know, terrorists have never come to America illegally, they always take legal routes.

Nichlemn writes:

If the "state borders as equivalent to private property" analogy does not hold, can anything the state does be justified? If the state isn't allowed to control who enters, how could it be allowed to exert any control over those already inside? In that case, the "right to immigration" is irrelevant since if states are illegitimate, it's just a matter of individual property rights.

MikeP writes:

A state is illegitimate to the extent that it behaves illegitimately, and it is legitimate to the extent that it behaves legitimately.

The sole legitimate role of the state is to secure the individual rights of those within its dominion. When a state abrogates those rights rather than protecting them, it is behaving illegitimately.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

A state's borders have nothing to do with whether it behaves legitimately or illegitimately -- whether, in Jefferson's words, it is exercising its "just powers." The borders simply delineate where another state will generally not interfere. That is all sovereignty is.

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