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Radical Open Immigration and the National Interest

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By Walter Donway

January 31, 2018

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Immigrants in Search of America (Part II):

 

Many people familiar with the theory of natural human rights find it difficult to apply to the controversy over immigration, laws regulating it, and treatment of illegal entrants.

Many people familiar with the theory of natural human rights find it difficult to apply to the controversy over immigration, laws regulating it, and treatment of illegal entrants. I find myself among them, even though I have written an article (see Part I here) expressing my best understanding of those issues.

The confusion and disagreement seem to be, in part, over the deductions from the propositions that all human beings have a right to life, liberty, and property—to their own person, actions, and the results or products of those actions—and that legitimately constituted governments have no business interfering at any point (providing that an individual refrains from the initiation of physical force—or the equivalent of force in the form of fraud—to violate the rights of others).

From this is drawn the implication that if one Mexican or 10 million Mexicans (estimates of illegal entrants into the United States, today, are as high as 30 million) walk across America’s southern border, and, without forcing anyone, get a job and settle down, it is no one’s business but theirs. How are they violating anyone’s rights? No individuals, and no number of individuals, arriving from anywhere, who respect the rights of those here, should be hindered.

The advocates of what I will call “open borders,” or “radical open immigration,” since the position is rooted in fundamental philosophical principles, assert the ethical position of the potential entrant into a country—and only that.

The advocates of what I will call “open borders,” or “radical open immigration,” since the position is rooted in fundamental philosophical principles, assert the ethical position of the potential entrant into a country—and only that. Prima facie that seems defensible in a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Pause, however, to marvel at the confidence of the utopian radical who derives all conclusions from philosophical premises. No nation in history, as far as I know, has taken a policy position of radical open immigration, as I have tried to characterize it above—not one. In the whole experience of mankind, no nation has simply opened its borders for any and all, any time, in any numbers, to enter. Ayn Rand emphatically was not a conservative, but, for all her utopian radicalism, she had a way of looking at reality and reaching the simplest, most obvious conclusions that nevertheless startled her followers. “What? We believe that?”

Are there any claims of any other constituency that modify the claim to radical open immigration? Ayn Rand, when discussing American foreign policy, asserted the concept of the “national interest.”

Are there any claims of any other constituency that modify the claim to radical open immigration? Ayn Rand, when discussing American foreign policy, asserted the concept of the “national interest.” Why, she asked, did not our government adhere to that principle? Why squander billions of the earnings of Americans in altruistic schemes abroad? She asked: How is going to war to “stop” communism in Vietnam in America’s national interest when stopping communism in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary…was not? She asked how the Peace Corps was in America’s national interest.

The most consistent advocate of man’s rights, and the role of government as protector of rights, also defined the necessity, nature, and role of a nation’s government. Facing outward, to the world, that role included asserting America’s national interest: the common, shared rational interests of Americans. In a world of nation-states, a concept she never challenged, there were legitimate, identifiable national interests.

(As an aside, here, when it came to America’s own citizens Rand rejected the notion of “national interest,” as it was asserted in contrast to the interests of individuals. The “national interest” is the sum of ALL the rational interest of all citizens, not some interests against others.)

What was the American national in relationship to other nations? It was to preserve and protect America as a nation founded on man’s rights, politically and economically free, under the rule of law, and thus laissez faire capitalist. America must ally itself with, sanction, support, and aid nations sharing its principles at least to some degree and standing with America against statist governments. Taiwan against communist China, Israel against Middle Eastern tribalism. Should America refuse to involve itself in such issues, takes no position on Taiwan versus communist China?

If government may assert the national interest, what are the limits? Just taking positions vis-a-vis other nations? For example, supplying Israel with weapons during the Seven-Day War? Should our government be barred, in principle, from asserting a national interest by means of regulating entry into the country?

It is easy to invent cases that make that position seem untenable. America, with her vast size, great heterogeneity, and relative lack of crowding tends to obscure the need for nations to control immigration. If necessary, America can absorb all entrants legal and illegal who have arrived here. But what about Bermuda, a desirable destination, with fewer than 70,000 people? Requirements for entry are strict. Is that in principle wrong? Is there no legitimate basis for Bermuda to refuse to take a half-million immigrants each year? Don’t rights-respecting people have a right to move to Bermuda? That is the reductio ad absurdum of the radical open immigration argument.

Israel, in a decision assailed as “racist,” has declared itself a “Jewish state.” And yet, that identity has been implied from the first conception of a Jewish homeland in the late Nineteenth Century. That has been the goal and rationale of the effort on a heroic scale to create a developed modern nation in Middle East deserts and to defend it in three brutal wars. Is it inconsistent with human rights to regulate immigration, and citizenship, to preserve Israel’s identity?

Israel, in a decision assailed as “racist,” has declared itself a “Jewish state.” And yet, that identity has been implied from the first conception of a Jewish homeland in the late Nineteenth Century. That has been the goal and rationale of the effort on a heroic scale to create a developed modern nation in Middle East deserts and to defend it in three brutal wars. Is it inconsistent with human rights to regulate immigration, and citizenship, to preserve Israel’s identity? Especially because the pressure for immigration comes from Palestinians whose leadership opposes the existence of Israel? Is a nation legitimate if it, in principle, upholds the human rights of its citizens but regulates entry, residence, and citizenship in the national interest? That interest, for Israel, is to sustain the character of the single nation in the world that is a Jewish homeland.

Every application of a principle has a context. Is it rational to consider that our welfare state and public services support all comers at taxpayer expense? And that states mandate a minimum wage that must be paid to every worker, whatever his degree of productivity? (Some federal welfare programs do exclude illegal entrants; most state and local programs do not.) Many who would advocate radical open immigration in a laissez faire economy, nevertheless argue that when every entrant becomes a liability of the taxpayer responsible for education, health care, and food stamps, such immigration creates a clash of interests.

Is it rational to consider that we are not embracing immigrants from the world—mostly just those who can sneak across our southern border? Rational to consider that many leaders of Mexican and Latin American entrants demand that their own culture and language take root in America, sparing them any obligation to master English or otherwise assimilate?

If we are not restricted to what can be derived from philosophical principles, we may admit experience, the problem of the welfare state, selective bias in favor of illegal immigrants, and “multiculturalist” defiance of assimilation as a matter for policy. They should guide legislation and regulation on immigration in the national interest.

Immigration is open, in principle, to anyone who applies, but there are limits and waiting periods. Around the world, people respect those procedures. But it is relevant that we have a 2,000-mile border of mostly desert and barrens, and below it nations that have failed politically, legally, economically, and socially. Millions who sneak across the border must avoid contact with law enforcement.

They agitate for “amnesty,” for forgiveness of their deliberate violation of our laws. Entering illegally is the first step toward citizenship. The next is to use American residence to expedite entry of extended families and relatives. In today’s headlines, screaming in righteous anger, storming the offices of Congressmen, spitting out obscenities, demanding amnesty, they embody open immigration theory.

And yet, the reason that they flock to America is that America is a nation of laws. It is economically prosperous and politically relatively free. And that rests on particular ideas—a culture rooted in the English and French Enlightenments and English common law. Does government have any role in preventing that culture from being overwhelmed by waves of entrants from very different cultures—as seems to be in danger of occurring, for example, in Western Europe with the influx of Muslim entrants?

The indignant retort of open immigration advocates on the right might be: Are you kidding me? Can the philosophical mindset of entrants from south of our border be more at odds with so-called “American culture” than that of Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi? Are theirs the ideas we must not let immigrant cultures overwhelm? The ideas of quintessential Americans like Teddy Kennedy, George McGovern, the editorialists of the New York Times opinion page, Hillary Clinton, and NFL players “taking the knee”? Exactly what great American philosophical premises and values are we protecting, here?

I can reply only that those are not representative of the distinctive American philosophical-political tradition that does undergird reason, rights, individualism, and capitalism. Today, that implicit philosophy, which Rand called a “sense of life,” is all that stands between us and loss of our residual freedoms to the inexorable rise of postmodernist philosophy, collectivism, and statism.

Let partisans of radical open immigration persuade the electorate. Let them refute the argument for a national interest in regulating immigration. If they succeed, they will usher in a national regime that never has existed in the history of the world. Deductive conclusions from philosophy, for the first time, in this field, will have trumped all historical experience.

Tactically, opponents of radical open immigration are driven back on upholding the law. There, we are on solid ground. By due process, a still-free country has enacted laws that regulate standards for visitors, immigrants, and citizens. Where free speech, debate, and elections can challenge and change laws, there is no justification for disobeying them. Certainly, scoffing the law at the level of millions cannot be tolerated.

Let partisans of radical open immigration persuade the electorate. Let them refute the argument for a national interest in regulating immigration. If they succeed, they will usher in a national regime that never has existed in the history of the world. Deductive conclusions from philosophy, for the first time, in this field, will have trumped all historical experience.

A brave new world will be born.

 

See also: Immigrants in Search of America Part I

 

And: Must a Moral Nation have Limitless Immigration?

 

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  • Russ

    Virtually all the problems mentioned in regard to immigration were and are largely caused by federal government interference in areas not under the feds’ constitutional purview: education, welfare, immigration. And his answer is _more_ government interference?!? Incredible.

    As for the rule of law: anti-immigration laws are unconstitutional. No delegated authority/enumerated powers beyond limiting the slave trade and setting the standards for naturalization are granted to Congress. Funny how so many critics hide behind that term while ignoring the _foundation_ for our laws, i.e., the U. S. Constitution. Maybe critics should read more Thomas Jefferson re: how unconstitutional laws are null and void.

    Re: welfare for immigrants: one answer is to prohibit any non-citizen from getting government welfare of any kind. Of course, the statists and collectivists will never pass such a law since that would put the lie to their claim that government benefits are a “right.” If they aren’t a right for non-citizens, they are not a right for citizens, either.

    Freedom of association, freedom of contract, freedom of travel: these are rights (among many others, of course) that all humans possess as part of being humans, regardless of where they were born. Maybe more critics should read our Declaration of Independence: all people possess certain rights because they are human beings, and among these — but not limited to these — are the right to life, liberty (including the liberty to associate and travel and contract voluntarily with anyone anywhere), and the pursuit — though not the guaranteed acquisition — of happiness.

    Too bad so many people focus on nonessentials and ignore the fundamental issues at stake. The “answers” in this article are no better than any statist/collectivist who sees a current situation, ignores how it came to be, and seeks more ratcheting of government power to “solve” a problem it will only make worse. The answer to any problem created by government interference (viz “Net ‘Neutrality,'” the Drug War, health care, education, etc. etc) is not to advocate for _more_ government control but to push for removal of the interference that created the problem in the first place.

    There were no significant immigration problems before the government stuck its big thumbs into the pie. Migrant workers came to the U.S., they harvested the crops, then they took their money home. How anyone can view the current mess and think that larding _more_ anti-freedom laws will “improve” the situation is baffling.