Immigration Policy Is Unjust

Like you and every other person, I have no just right to prescribe for another person where he may come and go, with whom he may contract as employer or employee, and with whom he may buy, sell, and otherwise associate, so long as he does not violate anyone’s justly acquired private property rights or otherwise infringe on anyone’s natural rights. I don’t own other people; nor do you; nor does anyone else.

As everyone from John Locke to the Founders of the United States to the general run of political philosophers has recognized, the people are, in justice, the political sovereigns, and the government possesses no rights of its own, but only powers delegated to it by the sovereign people, who make this delegation solely to defend their natural rights more effectively.

In light of the foregoing considerations, the government may not justly carry out what is now called immigration policy. This policy violates migrants’ and would-be migrants’ natural right to move about peacefully so long as they do not trespass on anyone’s private property or trench on anyone’s other natural rights, and it violates the rights of residents to harbor, aid, do business, and associate freely with migrants and would-be migrants. If migrants wish to enter this country to visit or do business with me or to pursue any other peaceful purpose, no one may justly interfere with their doing so; and because none of us has a just right to interfere, neither may the government interfere, because no one may delegate to the government the defense of a right he does not possess and, to repeat, the government as such has no just rights of its own.

As for so-called public property, which the government purports to own, the situation is different: the ownership of such property justly resides in no particular person(s); it is therefore common property, and any person whatsoever, including a migrant, has as much right as any other person to gain access to and use it. No government functionary can justly claim to represent anyone else in controlling the use of and exclusion of others from such property, because such functionaries have not entered into legitimate explicit, individual, voluntary contracts with the individuals on whose behalf they purport to act. They can defend the “public property” only in the same way that a common thief might defend his stolen loot—effectively perhaps, but certainly not legitimately in the service of justice.

The government’s immigration policies of threatening, restricting, kidnapping, confining, punishing, and deporting peaceful migrants are unjust. For what it is worth, these actions also happen to be unconstitutional by virtue of never having been enumerated as government powers in the Constitution—not that they would be any more just if they had been enumerated. The whole apparatus serves only the ends of usurpation, violence, and disorder, contravenes the just rights (including the private property rights) of all private parties (both residents and migrants), and compounds the government’s intrinsic injustice.

The claim that in the service of “national security” a government must “secure the borders” not only against invaders or others clearly intent on causing harm in this country, but against would-be migrants in general is without merit. The claim also flies in the face of historical evidence. The U.S. government managed to survive and grow, and the people to prosper abundantly, during the century in which the government had no immigration policy except forbidding the entry of people with certain contagious diseases and those likely to become a public charge (the latter restriction being honored mainly in the breach). If government officials were to prevent the entry of persons they have good reasons to believe intend to commit terroristic or other criminal acts, their exclusion of such persons might be justified on other grounds, as protection of the current resident’s natural rights to life and private property, but such exclusions, unlike general immigration controls, would affect only a tiny group of specific persons, not all would-be migrants whatsoever, regardless of their transparent peacefulness. It is unjust to violate preemptively the natural rights of entire groups of people on the grounds that a member of such a group might later commit a crime. On this basis, the government could with equal justice violate everyone’s natural rights and throw all of us in prison—after all, it is certain that some members of all large groups, including native-born residents, will commit crimes at some point in the indefinite future. The governments of genuinely free countries, however, do not punish people or otherwise violate their natural rights on the basis of vague suspicions and prevailing prejudices; nor do they administer justice on the basis of group membership, but only on the basis of individual actions. Only by so acting do they guarantee “equality under the law.” Far from meeting this standard, however, the U.S. government’s current immigration policies represent only an arbitrary and capricious mass of unjust coercion.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
Beacon Posts by Robert Higgs | Full Biography and Publications
  • Catalyst