Property Rights, Liberty, and Immigration
philosophy is based on the concept of self-ownership. Human beings
own themselves. When we rightfully acquire property, either by making
first claim to that property (homesteading) or through voluntary
transfer with another person or persons, that property becomes part
of our lives, and thus we lay claim to ownership of that property
as we would our own bodies.
One of the
problems that libertarians encounter when discussing various issues
is determining ownership, or, in many cases, articulating the nuances
of applying property rights to the issue. These problems are compounded
when government is thrown into the equation since the same rules
about property and ownership that apply to private individuals do
not apply to coercive government. The hot-button issue of immigration
is a great example, illustrating the complexities involved in applying
property rights to an issue.
that one not only possess something, but one also controls the thing.
In other words, if you truly own something, you must be free to
use the thing as you wish so long as doing so does not violate the
property of others. You must also be free to transfer the thing
to another person so long as the transaction is voluntary and consensual.
When it comes to land, property rights, i.e. control over that land,
include controlling who enters into the boundaries of the land.
with the topic of immigration, that is, the movement of individuals
across political designations, this is where things get confusing.
The State claims not only to be able to control who crosses the
land that it owns, but also to control who enters land owned by
private individuals. It also claims the authority to prohibit certain
individuals from living within its borders, even if these individuals
acquired their land rightfully (using the criteria above) by homesteading
or through voluntary exchange. Those of us who believe that private
property is the basis of a free society must ask: how was this authority
If we continue
along this line of thinking, the logical conclusion must be that
the State owned all the land within its borders a priori since it
is the government which sets the conditions for how that land may
be used, and to whom it may be transferred in the future. The State continues to retain a high degree of control since the
government has the ultimate authority to make the rules for all
property, even property now in private hands.*
To the libertarian,
or anyone who believes in the sanctity of property rights, these
conclusions are quite troubling. When it comes to land ownership
in America, property rights are not at all secure; they are not
really rights at all, but government granted privileges.
While our system
of property rights is already imperfect, the current immigration
policy leads to even greater infringements on these rights. For example, if one owns property on or near the border, the government
may claim the authority to build a fence or a wall on one’s property,
and government agents may come and go as they please without the
property owner’s permission.
remain even if we move away from the border. For example,
if the government suspects that I am employing undocumented workers,
it claims the authority to raid my business – to enter my property
without my permission – with armed agents.
If one truly
owns one’s property, how is it that the government can control who
is allowed on this property in opposition to the wishes of the property
owner? In other words, why should my friend from Mexico beg
for permission to enter the country in order to have dinner with
me? Shouldn’t free people be able to associate or not associate
with whomever they wish so long as those interactions are voluntary,
consensual, and do not harm a third party?
The same is
true of economic activities. So long as commercial activities
are voluntary, consensual, and do not encroach upon other individuals
or their property, what is the justification for the government
prohibiting these activities or associations?
In the contemporary
world of immigration politics, property rights and the freedom of
association are trumped by the omnipotent State. Is the State
some sort of god before whom we must plead to recognize us as "official"
persons? After all, that is the crux of the immigration question
– must the individuals coming to America have the sanction
of the State? As the State continues to lose legitimacy in
the eyes of so many in the liberty movement, one wonders why many
of these same folks still demand that individuals who peacefully
come to this country seek the State’s approval above all else. After all, it is the State that determines who is "legal"
Now one may
argue that despite all this, illegal immigration is a crime and
as such must be punished. The question is, who is the victim
of this crime? So long as the immigrant has not harmed another
individual or violated another individual’s property, who has suffered
injury? Just like so many other "crimes," this activity
is a crime against the State, and should fall into the category
of victimless crime. While such activity may violate State
edicts, it can hardly be considered a crime in the sense that no
individual was harmed by the activity.
with laws restricting the movement of human beings, we should keep
in mind Thomas Paine’s prophetic observation: "he that would
make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression;
for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will
reach to himself." Demanding that the government "do
something" about illegal immigration will result in bigger,
more intrusive government and less freedom for all of us.
ostensibly aimed at illegal immigration undermine the ability of
Americans to travel freely in our own country. In the Southwest,
the Border Patrol has built permanent checkpoints well inside the
United States, located along major travel routes like I-35. All travelers must exit the freeway and be processed by ICE agents,
including questioning and possible searches. Since federal
agents operating in this geographic area are not constrained by
the probable cause standard of the Fourth Amendment, there is no
protection against arbitrary searches and seizures even for American
citizens. This fact has prompted the ACLU to declare the areas
within 100 miles of America’s borders as "Constitution
in some of the airports in this area including Laredo, TX and Tucson,
AZ, travelers are subject not only to the indignities of TSA searches
but also questioning by ICE agents about their citizenship.
that a government program targeting a specific group of people will
not affect everyone in general is naïve and contrary to history. If nothing else, the government faces the problem of determining
if an individual belongs to the target group. No one, not
even a government agent, has the magical ability to determine one’s
nationality simply by looking at him. For example, during
the 1950s an aunt of mine, a third generation American, was denied
service at a restaurant in New Mexico because she was dark complected
and, despite her French and German ancestry, it was assumed that
she was a Mexican. If someone has dark skin and Hispanic features,
are we automatically to assume that he is an illegal alien? Likewise, what about light-skinned folks who may be here illegally? Will they simply fall through the cracks?
For these reasons,
the government will demand to know the legal status of everyone. In other words, it will not be up to the government to prove that
one is here illegally. It will be up to you to prove otherwise. That is why Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are proposing
a biometric national ID card for all Americans.
the government has a compelling need to know who you are, to put
your information into another database, and to determine if you
are "eligible" to work here. De facto work permits
for Americans in America?! Nice. I’m sure it would never
cross the mind of any politician to turn off the work permits of
his political enemies.
to the immigration debate is the same as it is to all other issues
– more freedom, not more government. Instead of asking
the government to crack down on immigration, we should recognize
that it is government programs and interventions that are the problem
and demand that the government cease these activities.
while recognizing the problems that government causes in so many
other areas, many folks, especially conservatives, apply a double-standard
when it comes to immigration. For example, while conservatives
rightly blasted ObamaCare pointing out that it will result in the
nationalization of the health care system, these same people lament
how immigrants are destroying "our" hospitals. They
are not "our" hospitals; they are, or at least should
be, private businesses which should be able to exclude anyone from
receiving their services, but are restricted from doing so by government
edict. Likewise, we hear that immigrants are overwhelming
the public education system, yet conservative icon Ronald Reagan
advocated disbanding the Department of Education and, at a federal
level anyway, getting the government out of the education business.
have social welfare. It is the existence of government welfare
programs that are much of the problem, attracting people to this
country who wish to live off the labor of others. Eliminate
these programs and you eliminate this problem.
When you empower
the government to do something, the government often ends up using
these powers in ways that you do not foresee or intend. And
it may end up using these powers against you. In the preface
to her novel Anthem
Ayn Rand lambasted socialists for not recognizing or taking responsibility
for the consequences of the policies that they advocated, ‘they
expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and
concentration camps to escape the moral responsibility by wailing:
"But I didn’t mean this!"’
As the United
States continues its war on immigration, the government is building
the infrastructure for a police state – internal checkpoints, national
ID cards, work permits. When we wake up in that police state,
will the anti-immigration crowd cry: "But I didn’t mean this!"
there is much truth to these statements since land titles in the
United States are based on a relic of the feudal system, fee
, meaning that while one can have an "interest"
in one’s land, the land is actually owned by the government, i.e.
the government has dominium eminens
or supreme lordship.
© 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
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