Libertarians generally struggle with justifications of immigration restrictions. As proponents of a free society and the non-aggression principle, Libertarians typically support lax immigration policies and opening borders. The argument lies in the NAP: implementing forceful or coercive state procedures to prevent otherwise peaceful people from moving into another nation violates principles of free, voluntary association. If an immigrant desires to move to America and become a part of society, then he or she should have liberty to do so. If these conditions are met, then an immigrant likely serves as a potential productive addition to the host nation. However, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of immigration policy today.
How can one be a Libertarian, a freedom fighter, a voluntarist, and support limitation of immigration? Can strict border regulations be reconciled with Libertarian philosophy? It can. Immigration, thanks to Donald Trump and the European Migrant Crisis, is probably the most important philosophical issue currently. To more clearly understand immigration today, a brief synopsis of immigration of the past is necessary. Historically, immigration today differs radically from immigration in the past. Nostalgia and a lack of understanding of past political conditions of America lead Libertarians to see the benefits of 19th century open border policies without weighing the negatives of such policies in modern times. The reality is that not only the political environment, but the immigrants themselves, starkly contrast with the current immigration debate.
In the 19th century, immigrants from Europe poured across the ocean into the United States. At this time in American history, a large redistributive national welfare state did not exist. Social welfare aid to the poor largely came from private charity organizations and local governing bodies. Immigrants who emigrated to America came for the opportunity America offered: a promise to exercise individual autonomy through employing one’s own skills. Immigrants came to work, to produce value and contribute to American culture. Ample private institutions however, existed to tend to those in legitimate need. This time in American history brings to mind the concept of the “melting pot.” Immigrants and other cultures are welcome, even encouraged so long as they value foundational American concepts: property rights, free speech, freedom of religion, hard work, rule of law to name a few.
Multiculturalism is not what America was founded on. As said before, immigrants are welcome; America readily accepts individuals passionate about liberty from any culture. These immigrants assimilate well into the host culture and in many cases advance our understanding of a free society. The overwhelming majority of immigrants to America in the 19th century came from European nations. Since the Magna Carta, Western nations already developed at least 500 years of history placing checks on state power, leading to a radical individualism skeptical of coercive government authority. Given the lack of a powerful welfare state and a deep, rich cultural past unique in human history, European immigrants came to America to become Americans.
Immigration of the past perfectly coincides with Libertarian philosophy. Absent a coercive state authority compelling individuals to choose an outcome, the rights of the host culture, as well as the newly arriving immigrants, are respected and within a generation or two, an immigrant population becomes indistinguishable from the native population. Today, immigration is much more complex. Further more, fewer and fewer immigrants from cultures with a history and respect of liberty compose new arrivals. Since the 1960s immigration from European societies waned while immigration from Hispanic societies increased dramatically. This poses a huge problem for America, a nation founded upon Western ideals.
Needless to say an immigrant from Mexico may come to a Western nation, America specifically, and bring with them a genuine thirst for liberty (economic freedom, rule of law, strong property rights, free association): entirely possible. The reality is however that Hispanic immigrants strongly favor the Democratic Party and consume welfare programs more than twice that of the native population and European immigrants. Why? Seventy-five percent of Hispanics and 81% of Latinos support a larger role for the government and and expansion of state power. This difference in thinking comes from stark cultural contrasts, differing from the direction of the US and Canada. America, tracing its primary roots back to Britain, at the time of colonization already enjoyed a centuries-long cultural history of rebellious determination to remove state-imposed shackles, contrary to the Spanish speaking nations primarily settled by Spain. Spain, as well as the colonies they settled, suffered from a strong degree of centralization and micromanagement of a bureaucratic state. A cultural history of state domination of society perpetuated itself into the development of the Hispanic/Latino world today. Property rights were weak and state bureaucrats exercised enormous authority, greatly hindering opportunities for cultivation of individual autonomy.
What does all this mean? Contrary to the claim of cultural Marxists, we are not all the same. Culture matters. History matters. America, along with other Western nations, stand alone in human history with progression over a millennium towards greater liberty. Libertarians, and other proponents of open borders, must examine the facts. What will happen to this nation when millions of immigrants largely unfamiliar–and in some cases hostile to–with a strong cultural background of individualistic liberty? The modern welfare state compounds the differences. The data is clear: immigrants overwhelmingly support the Left and consume welfare at a much greater rate than the native population. Rather than assimilating under the melting pot model, the welfare state traps immigrants in pernicious poverty and simultaneously hinders them from fully integrating into society. Arguably one of the greatest threats to human flourishing, property rights, and liberty in general, the modern welfare state cannot be scaled back if a large incoming group of people support it. Our society becomes less free, with less opportunity for the future under such circumstance. There is no perfect solution, however, Western nations should begin by at least acknowledging the potential dangers of a large immigrant demographic supportive of stronger centralized and coercive authority. In the interest of preserving the freedoms pioneers of the past suffered unconscionable torment for, the West must more carefully choose who enters.