Bryan Caplan  

One Day at ICE: A Dialogue on the Philosophy of Immigration

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Have a Nice Day... Have a Nice Day, Mario Draghi...
My lecture "Immigration Restrictions: A Solution in Search of a Problem" begins with the following hypothetical:
Moved by the plight of Haitian earthquake victims, you go to Haiti to aid in the relief efforts.  After two weeks, you're ready to go home.  But when you arrive at the airport, your airline tells you that you don't have legal permission to travel to the United States.  You head over to the U.S. embassy, but they stonewall you.  "Why can't I go?"  "The United States government does not have to explain itself to you."
Here's how I imagine the full conversation.

You: Why are you denying me permission to travel to the U.S.?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] Agent: You just can't go.  End of story.

You: Why not?  There's got to be a reason.

ICE Agent:
Sir, I don't have to give you a reason.

You: This is going to ruin my life!  Have you looked outside the embassy window?  People here are literally eating dirt.

ICE Agent:
It doesn't matter.  You can't come, and I refuse to tell you why.

You:
Well, it would have to be a pretty good reason to do something so awful to me...

ICE Agent:
No comment.

You: Look, I'm not a criminal.  I'm not a parasite.  I'm not asking for charity.  I've got a job and an apartment.

ICE Agent: Unfortunately, you don't have legal permission to work at that job or live in that apartment.

You:
Pleeeease just tell me the reason I can't go home!

ICE Agent: Home, you say?

You:
Uh... yea.

ICE Agent: Wait a second.  You were born in the United States?

You:
Yes.

ICE Agent: Oooooooooooooooooooooh!  In that case, we do need to give you a good reason why you can't come to the United States.

You:
Great.  So what's your "good reason"?

ICE Agent: We don't have one.  [Briefly types on his computer.]  Have a good trip home. 

You:
Wait a second.  I was born in Miami.  You're telling me that if I was born 712 miles to the southeast here in Haiti, you would have forced me to spend the rest of my life here, eating dirt?!  

ICE Agent: U.S. policy, sir.

You:
Even though you don't have any good reason to do so?

ICE Agent: Correct.

You: Even though I'm not asking for charity?  Even though I've got an employer happy employ me and a landlord happy to house me?

ICE Agent:
Exactly.

You: [Feels brief shock of moral horror, then shrugs.]  Lucky for me I was born in Miami.

ICE Agent: Yep.  Enjoy your flight.  [Looks up at a long line of hungry Haitians.]  Next!



COMMENTS (42 to date)
Nathan Smith writes:

Bravo. On a related note, I just gave a presentation today based on my book Principles of a Free Society to the faculty at Fresno Pacific. The reaction was remarkably favorable considering how radical the book is. None of the angry fulminations you run into in online forums on the topic. A tone of warm interest and friendly congratulation prevailed, which was a bit discombobulating. But then, Fresno Pacific is a Christian school, that might explain it. Here are the slides: http://www.amazon.com/Principles-Free-Society-ebook/dp/B004J8HV0Q/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1320977410&sr=8-2

Patrick writes:

People seem to have a mental model for the economy as a big plate of food that gets divided between everyone.

I've tried arguing that's only one side: "How'd we make the food? Work. Wouldn't having more hands help make more food?"

Didn't even make a dent.

Maybe ditch the Logik for a bit and work on creating viral transports for these memes? Or some other tack?

ziel writes:

You: Officer, I want to go into Professor Caplan's home and enjoy a nice meal and sleep in a warm bed.

Officer: I'm sorry young fella, you can't go in.

You: But can you give me a reason why I can't go in?

Officer: No, you just can't.

You: But I'm Bryan Caplan's son.

Officer: Oh, well then go right in, young man, have a nice evening.

You: Wait - you mean if I didn't happen to be born with the name Caplan, I couldn't just walk into this house?

Officer: Correct. Have a nice evening sir (as he looks up at a line of homeless non-Caplan children on the street).

rapscallion writes:

ziel,

A country is bigger than a house. Requiring that only your family enter a small space entails an understandable, reasonable amount of in-group preference. Requiring that millions who don't meet an arbitrary criterion be excluded from anywhere within thousands of miles of you, thereby making them much poorer, is entirely unreasonable.

You must admit that the scale makes an important moral difference, or else think that one would be as justified in shooting everyone on the street as one would be in shooting an intruder in one's own home.

Ari T writes:

A bit preachy but good read. Thanks.

Scam writes:


Ziel,

That makes sense if you don't believe in private property rights.

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

If Prof. Caplan indeed asserts the right to exclude non-Caplans from his home, then he implicitly agrees with me that it is not immoral to exclude "them" while allowing "us" into "our domicile." Now we get to argue over what collections of people and space (and perhaps how big) qualify to be the in group and domicile without failing his moral standards.

Prof. Caplan's position seems to be that it is self-evidently immoral for the nation state to be that group and domicile. If he offers an argument as to why exactly, I missed it.

Rapscallion's defense of this position is telling. Upon one objection cleverly put, the response is to apply a test of reasonableness. I say that statements of universal moral truth are not the proper subjects of reasonableness tests. Opponents of slavery and sex trafficking are not reasonable. We are absolutists, and properly so.

The crux of rapscallion's position seems to be the belief that the nation state is an arbitrary construct. The opposite is true, national borders having generally created at great cost in blood and treasure by people who believed that their sacrifices were worthwhile.

I believe that the nation state expresses a fundamental element of human nature, namely to feel a terraced sense of obligations to others that ranges over a scale from great (toward one's child) to minimal (toward strangers in strange lands). What I've not seen in this blog is an argument why acting on this belief system is immoral. Well, there is argument by assertion, but I was hoping for more.

Ken

ziel, is a Californian wanting to enter Arizona like a Haitian trying to enter Caplan's house? If not, why not? Please, no circular arguments.

Robert writes:

How many Texas are allowed to vote for the California Governor?

How many American's are allowed to vote in Haiti?

What is the appropriate amount of dilution of one's inherited voting rights?

To say that foreigners would vote in the same way as the rest of population and not expect special favors ignores people's irrational voting habits and economic ignorance. How much of the decreasing of underwriting standards by mortgage originators was to pander to the enthnic groups of the new wave of immigrants? By ignoring these costs, aren't we biasing our analysis based on the free movement of labor dogma?

Also, Haiti is a terrible example because of the political class has made Haiti worse with the way aid has been provided. Jamacia would have been a better example. Also, what kind of property rights and rule of law can American's expect there? Shouldn't American's expect the same treatment?

The whole thing sounds nice, but it seems that it is very shallow analysis.

rpl writes:

ziel,

As I'm reading what you write, you seem to be asserting the same property right to the country as a whole that Bryan has to his living room. Do you really believe that? Read Bryan's hypothetical carefully. The would-be immigrant has an apartment, rented to him voluntarily by its owner, and a job, given to him voluntarily by his employer. You are asserting the right to veto those transactions for no reason at all, other than the non-reason that he was born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border. I think any reasonable person would be justified in asking for a better reason than that, and I think that any such reason should come with an explanation as to why it doesn't apply equally to people who were born here.

Ken,

Same response. The entire country is not "[your] domicile"; you have no property rights over it. So, any analogy to property is specious.

I'd also note to both you and ziel that the burden imposed on you by someone moving to your country is far less than the burden imposed by someone moving into your house. Surely you know this, and it is disingenuous for you to pretend otherwise.

As to Bryan's argument that immigration restrictions are "self-evidently immoral," I don't think he's making that argument at all. Rather, he's saying that you need some reason for making that restriction, and that place of birth is insufficient reason. Moreover, he's questioning what sort of reason you can come up with that would not be equally valid for refusing entry to an American citizen temporarily in Haiti.

So, to boil Bryan's question down to its essence: There are two people in Haiti, both desperate to move to the US, both with jobs waiting for them, and both of whom have arranged to rent a place to live. The first has a piece of paper that says he was born in Miami; the second has a paper that says he was born in Port-au-Prince. What is the justification for letting the first one in and keeping the second one out?

Note that all the stuff about eating dirt and whatnot is just window dressing. The real question is why we should treat these two people differently.

Daublin writes:

Ken, I think Bryan's point was to talk about reasonableness. We're talking about a policy that, in the case of Haiti, is literally making the difference between whether people are going to get to eat.

I would think, as the protagonist in the story thinks, that there should be a darned good reason.

ziel writes:

@rapscallion - A country is bigger than a house. Requiring that only your family enter a small space entails an understandable, reasonable amount of in-group preference. Requiring that millions who don't meet an arbitrary criterion be excluded from anywhere within thousands of miles of you, thereby making them much poorer, is entirely unreasonable.

Who says it's a small space? The Caplan children are uniquely entitled to their own room (or maybe only two-per room)? How is such luxury "reasonable" under international - or Haitian - standards? And no one is making anyone "poorer" - any more than The Caplan's insistence on owning their own home* is making homeless people poorer. And so what if a nation is bigger - a mansion is bigger than a 3-bedroom apartment - are mansions therefore illegitimate dwellings?

@Jayson Virissimo - ziel, is a Californian wanting to enter Arizona like a Haitian trying to enter Caplan's house? If not, why not? Please, no circular arguments.

As Robert points out above, individual states do indeed have residency requirements for exercising certain privileges (just as the Caplan household might have certain rules about entering or occupying each other's bedrooms).The individual states in the USA have mutually agreed to a compact that allows free movement, but that agreement does not extend to states that are not part of the compact, just as the free-movement within the Caplan home does not imply that the right to enter the home (or even free-movement within) extends to non-family members. And of course you're whole argument is circular - border restrictions are not legitimate because - well, they're just not legitimate.

@rpl - As I'm reading what you write, you seem to be asserting the same property right to the country as a whole that Bryan has to his living room. Do you really believe that?

Each nation has the right to control its land - it is not strictly speaking a "property" right, but it is analogous, and it's recognized throughout the world, everywhere, except in that strange little land called Libertarianville. It is called "sovereignty". You people (you - you Libertarians, you!) don't respect this right - just as socialists don't respect property rights. But most people respect both sovereignty AND property rights.

@Daublin - Ken, I think Bryan's point was to talk about reasonableness. We're talking about a policy that, in the case of Haiti, is literally making the difference between whether people are going to get to eat.

If you're making a special argument for Haiti - that the people there are in especially dire straights and it's only reasonable that we liberalize immigration restrictions from that stricken country - well that's a different argument. We allowed a million Irish in for that reason 160 years ago. I personally prefer we didn't - and instead encouraged birth control and took other steps to alleviate suffering - but I don't know much about what's going on there.

* I of course have no idea what the actual domicile of the Caplan family is like - I'm making the assumption they live like a typical middle-class family.

Jeff writes:

Would Bryan be okay with the U.S. simply annexing Haiti and making it a new state or territory, along the lines Puerto Rico? If coming to the U.S. is such a welfare-improving opportunity for Haitians, which it clearly is, what's wrong with the converse to that, which is to bring the U.S. to Haiti? Furthermore, which is an easier sell to the public: mass Haitian immigration or territorial expansion?

Seems like you're beating the wrong drum, BC.

Ian Brown writes:

So going by the living room analogy, your reason for not letting Haitians into the US is that they are like a line of smelly homeless people wanting to live on our "collective domicile".

I think a better house analogy would be this:

Assume you and me live in the same apartment building. I want to have a Hatian friend move in with me. You see this and tell me you dont want my Hatian friend to move in. I tell you to shove it because it's my apartment. You go to the condo board and bribe and/or threaten them. Now my Hatian friend is only allowed to visit for a week or two, and only if he has a phd. You proceed to tell me that it's for my own good somehow and that we all have sovereignty over each other in the apartment. You oddly also remind me what happened the last time we lifted restrictions on who could move into the building- we ended up with way too many damn Irish!

rpl writes:

ziel, you wrote:

Each nation has the right to control its land...
So what? Even if we stipulate that a nation has that right, we can demand that proponents of exercising that right in a certain way articulate a good reason for doing so. So far, I haven't seen one. All I've seen is a specious analogy to someone moving into Bryan's house and a screed against libertarians.
And of course you're [sic] whole argument is circular - border restrictions are not legitimate because - well, they're just not legitimate.
Now you're trying to shift the burden of proof. People have a basic right to go about their peaceable business. If you want to propose (or propose to maintain) a curtailment of that most fundamental right, then it's incumbent on you to provide some argument to justify that proposal.

In particular, I think you will find it hard to concoct such an argument that could not equally be applied to the American aid worker in Bryan's story. Consider your own argument. If we accept the analogy between the country as a whole and my living room, well, then I no more want a random aid worker (however virtuous a person he might be) taking over my living room than I want a Haitian refugee doing the same. So, why should we keep one out of our "national living room" and admit the other?

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

a specious analogy

It seems pretty clear that the citizens of a country do indeed have a kind of property interest in and hence property rights to their own country.

I have never seen libertarians provide any actual reasons as to why this is not so. And the answer cannot be something like "I prefer not to think of it that way."

People have a basic right to go about their peaceable business.

But here you've already assumed that the citizens of a country have no property rights to that country. You are not entitled to that assumption. People have no right to go onto other people's property.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

The entire country is not "[your] domicile"; you have no property rights over it.

I own shares in Apple, yet I'm not allowed to wander at will over the Apple campus. But I really do have a kind of property right to that campus and would not want a bunch of homeless people to set up camp there.

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

I agree that the leap from housing unit to national borders leaves a few dots untouched. However if there is an agreement that the nation state, which requires regulation of borders, should be subject to a reasonableness test, then I'm a happy camper. My time is short but I'll try to offer ideas to fill in some dots and address reasonableness.

1. Nation states defend national cultures.
2. Culture is the institution whereby the benefits of learning are passed down to generations. These learnings are often very expensive. Europeans don't have to fight religious wars anymore, because they remember when they did. Americans don't have to fight their civil war.
3. Medicine, science, law, etc. all amount to inheritances delivered via culture.
4. National cultures are not all alike. Some are fabulously successful, others dismal failures. I've read that the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is visible from the air because DR side consists of a robust forest while the Haitian side is a deforested wasteland. Forget the US, shall the people of the DR be denied the right to protect whatever cultural elements they enjoy that makes their country so much better a place to live?
5. If you break the nation state you disenherit vast numbers of people from successful cultural legacies. Think about rule of law, which is fundamental to Western democracies and far from universal.
6. The very fact that respect for sovereignty is nearly universal, and paid for in blood and treasure many times over for hundreds of years, is itself a strong argument that the burden of proof lies with its critics.

Ken

Thomas DeMeo writes:

To distill the points made by Kenneth Regas, the primary reason to have immigration restrictions is to allow the inhabitants of a place to retain democratic control over their lives. Unrestricted immigration fundamentally changes democracy. In some situations (Israel, for example) the result could be the end of a particular way of life.

The only democratic protections in the example- that the aid worker has a place to live and an employer- ignores the reality of such situations. These types of distinctions would become the new battleground, with each side attempting to game them to achieve the desired result.

rpl writes:

Ken,

If the point of immigration restrictions is to defend our national culture, then I'm not sure it's been clearly established that our national culture is threatened by immigration. In particular, it's hard to believe that a guest worker program would imperil our culture. Note that allowing people to immigrate doesn't preclude enforcing our laws, nor ejecting people who refuse to abide by them. Those requirements might imply some restrictions, in order to make enforcing those requirements practical, but it seems pretty clear that current legal immigration levels are way below that what we could support and still maintain law and order.

For what it's worth, I had heard the same story about Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but looking at the terrain in Google Earth, the difference isn't so obvious.

dave smith writes:

As many have said, I'll say again:

Citizens of a nation do not own their nation in the same way I own my house.

Matt writes:
Would Bryan be okay with the U.S. simply annexing Haiti and making it a new state or territory, along the lines Puerto Rico? If coming to the U.S. is such a welfare-improving opportunity for Haitians, which it clearly is, what's wrong with the converse to that, which is to bring the U.S. to Haiti? Furthermore, which is an easier sell to the public: mass Haitian immigration or territorial expansion?

I wonder this too. Why not just have the US conquer the entire third world and administer US policies to them? I mean, what are all these ridiculous countries for if everyone wants to flee them? Better to just turn them into provinces that can be exploited for wealth. Mass immigration is equivalent to having all the costs of empire without any of the benefits.

Evan writes:

@ziel

You: Officer, I want to go into Professor Caplan's home and enjoy a nice meal and sleep in a warm bed.
Officer: I'm sorry young fella, you can't go in......
...Who says it's a small space? The Caplan children are uniquely entitled to their own room (or maybe only two-per room)? How is such luxury "reasonable" under international - or Haitian - standards?

There is a simple distinction between private property and national border control: Economists and historians have amassed a large body of evidence that enforcing private property rights tends to be beneficial and maximizes utility and that not enforcing them is harmful (see Cambodia, USSR, etc as examples). They have not found similar evidence for national border control, on the contrary, they have found that immigration restrictions cause misery and poverty.

Furthermore, even if you did have a right to control your borders, that does not mean that it's not morally wrong. All that it means is that it would be even more morally wrong to use violence to punish you for your misdeeds. You have the right to cheat on your significant other, in the sense that the government won't arrest you for it, but that doesn't make it right.

@Kenneth A.Regas

1. Nation states defend national cultures.
2. Culture is the institution whereby the benefits of learning are passed down to generations. These learnings are often very expensive. Europeans don't have to fight religious wars anymore, because they remember when they did. Americans don't have to fight their civil war.

Thank you for actually providing an argument for why national borders might increase utility. That being said I do not think that the current border controls in the USA were created to protect national culture, I believe they were created by rent-seeking unions. I do not think that the current influx of immigrants poses a serious threat to national culture, although there may be some special cases in other places (Israel, for instance) where it does. And even if there was some threshold where a huge enough influx was harmful, I think that that threshold is much, much larger than the current amount of immigrants allowed into the country, or even the current amount here illegally.

rpl writes:
It seems pretty clear that the citizens of a country do indeed have a kind of property interest in and hence property rights to their own country.
This property right you assert doesn't look like any other sort of property right in our society. In particular it doesn't grant exclusive use, can't be sold or otherwise disposed of, and can't even be enforced against other citizens (i.e., it affects only foreigners). To turn an old adage on its head, if it neither looks, walks, nor quacks like a duck, it's kind of silly to call it a duck.

Nobody is disputing that citizens have a right to use the democratic process to make laws, including laws about immigration. However, it is a fallacy to justify those laws by analogy to how you use your personal property because governing a country is different than managing one's property in many ways, a few of which I have just cited.

But here you've already assumed that the citizens of a country have no property rights to that country.
See above. A government's democratic accountability to its people is so different from a property right as to render any analogy between the two specious.
You are not entitled to that assumption.
But I haven't assumed anything. I've only used the word property in its customary way. You are the one who is trying to use the word in a novel way so as to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.
People have no right to go onto other people's property.
But if I choose to rent my house to someone, it is my property, and not yours, is it not? That is true irrespective of where the prospective renter happens to have been born, is it not? Your argument only works if you assert some sort of property right over my house, and you have no such right, or so my title search company assures me.

Before you hasten to add that you only seek to ban the immigrant from common areas like roads and sidewalks, let me remind you that immigration law contains no exception for immigrants that remain entirely on private property.

I own shares in Apple, yet I'm not allowed to wander at will over the Apple campus. But I really do have a kind of property right to that campus...
Who says you have any property rights on Apple's campus? As you have observed, you cannot exercise any of the privileges of ownership over that property, so what exactly does that "property right" mean? In fact, you have no such property right. What you have is ownership of shares of the company's stock (you do have a property right to those), and those, in turn, grant you a set of rights that is much more limited those granted by a "property" right.

This whole enterprise of justifying immigration restriction based on an analogy to property rights is simply misguided. The authority to impose immigration restrictions must reside in democratic governance, not in property rights. That takes us back to my original point: if you want to propose (or propose to continue) a government policy that infringes on people's basic right to go about their peaceful business (and we can add to that, to use their property as they see fit), then you owe it to the rest of us to explain why that law is just.

Note, by the way, that there are many such laws on the books, and many of those are good laws. However, they are based on rationales far less arbitrary than "he was born in the wrong place."

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

Caplan's involuntary-exile == immigration-restrictions hypothetical was analyzed and shown to be utterly bogus last year in this very weblog:

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/09/caplan_on_immig.html

Jeff writes:

What's the recipe for a peaceful, prosperous society, such as the U.S.? There might me any number of different elements, but clearly, effective institutions like property rights and the rule of law are key. Given Haitian's obvious failures in developing such institutions, is it unreasonable to question whether they collectively understand the importance of these institutions? And if it isn't, is it unreasonable to question whether they would respect our institutions, if they immigrated here in large numbers?

For example, Theo Van Gogh and those French magazine publishers might have a thing or two to say about European Muslim immigrants' rather inadequate respect for free speech. Obviously, eating dirt is unpleasant, but so is being nearly decapitated with a knife over a film you made.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

[Please email us at webmaster@econlib.org. Your comment privileges are in limbo because you failed to respond to one of our emails. --Econlib Ed.]

Micha Ghertner writes:

To build on what rpl said above, the convoluted analogy of immigration restrictions to pseudo-property rights that in turn supersede actual property rights reminds me of the convoluted analogy of "social contracts" to actual contracts, where the hypothetical social contract with tacit consent supersedes actual contracts with explicit consent. Both theories attempt to appeal to common intuitions about property or contract, and then use these same intuitions to contradict the very basis on which these theories rest. A self-defeating argument on many levels.

Micha Ghertner writes:

Jeff, it is indeed unreasonable to argue on the basis of "collective understanding", as collectives do not have a single brain with which to understand collectively. Individual Haitians may or may not understand the importance of property rights and the rule of law, but those who do understand may not be able to implement their understanding into policy because of collective action problems. And even if a majority of Haitians do not understand, this is not an argument against keeping out those Haitians who do understand.

And it is certainly unreasonable to violate property rights and the rule of law in a strange effort to promote or protect property rights and the rule of law.

tom writes:

People have missed the deck-stacking in Bryan's fable. The fable is based upon

1. the guy has lived in the US
2. the guy has a place to live here
3. the guy has a job here
4. the guy is not a criminal
5. the guy is not asking for charity.

First, why is Bryan even mentioning 1 - 3? If you really support free immigration, and Bryan does, the only practical way for most foreigners to get jobs and places to live here is to move here first without them. Bryan says these things to stack the deck. He'd be happy to have an immigrant come here and look for work and a home, and he'd be unwilling to say they must leave if they have jobs and homes but lose them.

Second, the guy is not a criminal. So Bryan supports requiring criminal background checks for immigrants, and supports denying immigration rights to those who cannot demonstrate a clean history? How would that work in Haiti? Bryan doesn't really support excluding people unless they can prove they have no criminal history. He's stacking the deck.

Third, the guy is not asking for charity. That means nothing. He's legally entitled to many different types of government assistance simply by being here. Bryan may support the idea of a state in which immigrants (and others) are not entitled to any government-required 'charity', but we don't live in that America.

Bryan, do items 1-5 on my list really matter to you? If so, and if each is a necessary part of your argument, do you agree that your case is weakened whenever any of those 5 points does not apply (ie, the guy has no home or job or history here, the guy can't show whether he has a criminal history or he does have a criminal history, and the guy is legally entitled to substantial government assistance). If not, could you restate the fable using the 'worst case' of these 5 items? That would be clarifying.

Robert writes:


Micha, psuedo-property rights in this country to do super cede individual property rights. It is illegal to discriminate. One would have to provide special rights and privileges to the new immigrants, and if the new population is large enough they will certainly be able influence the rule of law. In the current political climate where ethnic groups are pitted against each other to obtain power and influence, it is unreasonable to expect that there would not be externalities to completely opening of countries borders. Also is it more morally virtuous to have mass migrations vs. improving lives of the even greater number of people who would not want to migrate?

rpl writes:

tom writes:


... the only practical way for most foreigners to get jobs and places to live here is to move here first without them.

All the debate surrounding immigration seems to suggest that even illegal immigrants have little trouble finding work here when the economy is reasonably good, so presumably legal ones would have an even easier time. In a bad economy it might be harder to find work, but in reality immigration seems to slow proportionately when the economy is bad. That's not surprising because the whole reason people want to come here is to find work. If the jobs aren't here, they won't come. Still, if you want to say that you have to get a job within 3 months (or whatever) or leave the country, I don't have a problem with that. (I can't speak for Bryan, of course.)

So Bryan supports requiring criminal background checks for immigrants, and supports denying immigration rights to those who cannot demonstrate a clean history?
To the extent that background checks are possible, they're not a bad idea, but I would think we'd be going off of our own records. Have we identified this guy as a member of a terrorist organization? Has he been thrown out of the country for breaking the law before? And so on. I don't think it's necessary to require them to "demonstrate a clean history". None of my ancestors could have made such a demonstration (the technology didn't even exist at the time). Could yours? Yet, they were allowed in, and it all worked out ok.

The notion that someone in a desperately poor country will scrape together enough money to travel to the US, spend it all to get here, and then try to steal enough to make up the "investment" before he gets deported is far-fetched. Do you have any evidence to suggest that this is a serious threat? It sounds more like groundless fear of "the other."

He's legally entitled to many different types of government assistance simply by being here.
Like what? Certainly we'll educate his children for free, but considering the possibility that those children will turn around and become productive citizens that seems like it might be a wise investment. I thought we all agreed that education had positive externalities. If he shows up at an emergency room in severe distress he'll probably get treatment, but that's not what's driving our medical costs, and we'd have to accept a lot more immigrants before it came anywhere close. Other than that, I'm not sure what they're supposed to be getting. Nobody's talking about handing out welfare checks when they arrive.

Robert writes:


Micha, psuedo-property rights in this country to do super cede individual property rights. It is illegal to discriminate.

Anti-discrimination laws are not based on any theory of property rights. The government's authority to govern does not derive from a property right over its citizens' property. You may think that that is a hair-splitting distinction, but it is not. We generally grant much more deference to personal whim when evaluating people's choices about how to use their property than we do when considering the exercise of government power. That is precisely why some people here have tried to recast immigration law as a property issue instead of a governance issue. If you want to keep people off your property, you don't have to give a reason. If you want to pass a law to make people do (or not do) something, you have to be persuasive.

In the current political climate where ethnic groups are pitted against each other to obtain power and influence, it is unreasonable to expect that there would not be externalities to completely opening of countries borders.
I can accept the idea that there is some level of immigration so large that it would have negative effects. However, it's pretty clear that we are nowhere near that point with current immigration, even including illegal immigration. I'm less persuaded that we would actually reach that level if we had open borders, since the job market for immigrant labor would likely saturate well before then. Still, I'd be willing to compromise by setting legal immigration limits at current levels (including the immigration that is currently illegal) and increasing it slowly enough that we have time to observe any problems that arise and back off if necessary. Would that sort of policy be acceptable to you?
Nathan Smith writes:

@Kenneth, re: "Prof. Caplan's position seems to be that it is self-evidently immoral for the nation state to be that group and domicile. If he offers an argument as to why exactly, I missed it."

It *IS* self-evidently immoral to exclude people with peaceful intentions from a country's territory merely on the basis of place of birth. In a morally healthy society-- in this respect the 19th century was closer-- no arguments would be needed in support of the claim. Caplan's narrative does a good job of putting to sleep the various sophistries by which we've rationalized this crime and forcing us to confront the absurdity and injustice of the institution as human beings.

If you want arguments, though, read my book, *Principles of a Free Society.* I make the case. Hope I'm not abusing the comment thread by advertising in this way. Trust me, it's very relevant. And I think my book could be a useful way of introducing a little more discipline into the argument. Though I must admit the level here is much higher than most immigration debates I've heard.

Jeff writes:
Jeff, it is indeed unreasonable to argue on the basis of "collective understanding", as collectives do not have a single brain with which to understand collectively. Individual Haitians may or may not understand the importance of property rights and the rule of law, but those who do understand may not be able to implement their understanding into policy because of collective action problems.

Micha, I thought it was pretty clear my use of the term "collective understanding" was referring to a relative frequency, not some hypothetical hive mind. There is no need for semantics.

That aside, lets hear more about this collective action problem. Why is it more severe in Haiti than it is in most other nations? Does the severity of it have anything to do with the character, culture, or inborn traits of Haitians themselves? If the answer to this last question is yes, does that imply something about how Haitian communities, if established in the U.S., might also be plagued by collective action problems? If not, why not?

And even if a majority of Haitians do not understand, this is not an argument against keeping out those Haitians who do understand.

I agree with you. My objection is there isn't any way to reliably tell the latter from the former.

And it is certainly unreasonable to violate property rights and the rule of law in a strange effort to promote or protect property rights and the rule of law.

I think this view is a bit dogmatic and simplistic. As I alluded to earlier, I wager the U.S. could probably do nearly as much good for Haiti if it were to simply annex the country, appoint a governor, and treat it like a colony. Or just like Puerto Rico, if colonialism is too stigmatized for you. In other words, I would like to implement the rule of law in Haiti. Now, doing so may (in fact, it probably will) involve busting a few heads open. You can't always implement or maintain the rule of law by handing out pamphlets quoting Locke!

So if we accept that you may have to violate some folk's natural rights in order to successfully implement the rule of law in Haiti, shouldn't we also accept that we sometimes have to do the same to preserve it, here? And that things like "not allow millions of people from dysfunctional, disordered societies to move here and bring their social pathologies with them" might be one of them?

You can say I'm wrong, and tell me that when Haitians leave Haiti, they all turn into Wayne Brady, and there may be some validity to that (after all, people described the Irish as sub-human in the late 1800's, but by 1960, there was an Irish Catholic in the Oval Office), but I think the appeal to property rights and the rule of law falls flat.

ziel writes:

It *IS* self-evidently immoral to exclude people with peaceful intentions from a country's territory merely on the basis of place of birth.

Ah, we've perhaps come to the crux of the matter - you are 180-degrees wrong. You have no natural right to move to wherever you wish without the consent of those already occupying the place to which you wish to move. The concept of free mobility is a very novel feature of modern democracies. But such a right- while you might strenuously argue for it - flies in the face of thousands of years of human history - indeed, tens of millions of years of terrestrial vertebrate history. Territoriality is the norm.

In fact, no other regime than territoriality has ever worked in the history of land-based animals, for the simple reason that intruders are invariably bad for the current denizens - with the exception of the U.S.A. in the 19th and 20th centuries, due to it's unprecedented growth rate and wide-open country. But it never worked in Europe, and it's no longer working here as our growth rate has slowed to a crawl and our growing populations are now either re-claiming once productive farmland or expanding unsustainably into deserts. The only other exceptions have been cities, which historically have been population sinks requiring new entrants to maintain the population due to the terribly high mortality they imposed on their residents. But our cities are no longer early-death sentences thanks to modern sanitation. And in response, nearly all our metropolises have erected barriers to entry to keep their numbers stable - perhaps not physical walls, but onerous zoning that prices out anyone not willing to live in squalor (or designated crime-ridden ghettos).

We're all entitled to our own opinions, of course, so if you believe that moving to wherever the hell you feel like is a natural right I can only say I disagree - and point out the lack of a historical basis for such a claim.

tom writes:

Rpl,

My point: Bryan should either drop the 'sweeteners' from his immigration fable, or say if he thinks they're relevant.

If immigration to the US was unlimited, then wouldn't almost every single Haitian come here despite a bad US economy? Please explain how they wouldn't. Same with every single person in every single war zone who can get transportation here. And it's comical to say they'd have to go back after 3 months. It would never work practically--it doesn't work now when we try. And in any case your premise is that people have a right to come here and we don't really have a right to stop them; is there any fairness is creating such a strange limit on their right?

On criminal history, your real answer has to be that we can't know the real criminal history of anyone from a third world country because it's the third world, so we have to assume they are ok. And who are you to decide which crimes would justify revoking someone's right to come here? What about the man who stole bread because his family was starving? It's sickening to forbid that man from coming here--he's exactly who should be getting the benefit of the US. So I don't think you really expect that we'd ever have a workable open immigration policy subject only to criminal background checks.

On welfare programs, do you really believe that illegal immigrants have no rights to programs? First, anchor babies are a HUGE right. Second, US hospitals must treat people--they cannot turn people away. Third, I think many areas provide housing for illegal immigrants. I expect there's more. (And does your argument depend on a study showing positive externalities for the US from educating Haitians who come here? Please cite the study, but I don't believe it.)


I think Bryan is including a bunch of fake sweeteners in his story and that for the sake of honesty he should take them out. He's naively or dishonestly assuming a libertarian America and a naturally limited type of immigration.

Or Bryan could just go all way and give the guy a dying child, and accuse immigration opponents of wanting to kill the kid.

Nathanael Snow writes:

To short circuit some of the false analogies between one's house and a nation state, the current situation makes it illegal for me to invite my neighbor into my house.
That is, there is no way for me to volunteer to house or otherwise provide for or sponsor a migrant's move into the USG borders. Once the quota is hit, no more shall pass.
This is among the most heinous elements of the current policy. It limits the rights of Americans to use their own property in ways that might help migrants.
I for one have stated publicly that I will provide refuge for illegal immigrants facing deportation, though I be taken to jail for it.

ziel writes:

Nathaniel - you're just not getting the analogy. You're rights as property owner of your house is analogous to the rights of the American people as the sovereign entity of the USA. So the sovereign (the American people, through their constitutionally mandated institutions) may indeed invite anyone into the country they wish.

Now your children - or any other occupants of your house - have no such rights. They cannot just invite in anyone they wish - they need your permission first (tacit or explicit, depending on how you run your house). That is what you would be doing if you harbored illegal immigrants - breaking the rules of the house. You personally do not exert sovereign rights over the USA - and have no right to violate the rules on who can enter (or any other rules, for that matter) that have been established by the American people.

MPerry writes:

So government is the parent and we are all children.

ziel writes:

So government is the parent and we are all children.

You guys are really having trouble with the "analogy" thing aren't you? Try an employer/employee relationship. Or better yet, a private club and its members. Though the members have an ownership interest, only the members as a whole can decide who can join and even set rules on who can visit and how they must behave on the grounds.

It's really not a hard concept - it's called "sovereignty." It exists all over the globe, and sovereigns everywhere exert very tight control over who is allowed to live in their country. The USA is unusually liberal in this regard, but even our lax immigration rules is treated in this forum as if it were some bizarre, medieval ritual uniquely practiced by American customs agents.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@ziel:

No, we don't have trouble understanding the analogy. It's just a bad analogy.

"It's really not a hard concept - it's called "sovereignty." It exists all over the globe, and sovereigns everywhere exert very tight control over who is allowed to live in their country."

Sovereigns are entities that claim a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence within the scope of their sovereignty. So who is the sovereign here? What is that entity that claims to have a legitimate authority to use violence against American citizens who merely wish to exercise their property rights by inviting immigrants into their houses? Who is that entity that claims to in effect have property rights over the entirety of the United States of America?

PrometheeFeu writes:

@ziel:

I'm not sure I've ever met "The American People". I've only ever met a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats who claim to speak for the mythical "The American People". Real individuals have rights. Theoretical constructs such as "The American People" have no rights and especially they do not have the right to violate the rights of individuals.

Individuals are not like children who must bow to the authority of the pater familias-government who has property rights over the entirety of the United States. They are not like employees who may be dismissed at will by an employer. Those analogies are frankly insulting and betray a certain love of fascism which won't get you very far with anyone here.

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