The Libertarian Argument Against Open Immigration

I personally support much more open immigration, as do many other libertarians.  When I get push-back from my libertarian friends, it generally is on two fronts:

  • You can't combine open immigration with a welfare state -- this leads to financial implosion
  • Open immigration allows illiberal, anti-democratic people to take power through the democratic process (a phrase I stole from here, though it is not actually about immigration).  In the name of liberty, we let people come in and vote for authoritarian illiberal measures.**

I agree that both of these are real problems.  The key for me is to disassociate legal presence in this country from citizenship.  It should certainly be possible to have multiple flavors of legal presence in this country.   At level 1, anyone can legally be present, seek employment, buy property, and have access to certain services (e.g. emergency services).  At level 2, history of working and paying payroll and income taxes gets more access to welfare-state sort of programs.  Over time, this may or may not lead to full citizenship and voting rights, but there is no reason we can't still be careful with handing out full citizenship while being relatively free with allowing legal work and habitation.


** I have observed a US internal version of this.  People run away from California to places like Arizona and Texas to escape California's dis-functionality   But as soon as they arrive in their new home, they start voting for the exact same crap that sank California.


  1. Loyal Reader:

    How would you classify the children of non-citizen immigrants? As guest workers or as citizens from birth? Would you permit children of immigrants to collect welfare, (which is always for practical reasons paid to their parents)? Apart from welfare in the sense of subsidies to the poor, would you require American government schools or government education voucher schemes to admit/subsidize children of immigrants?

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    That depends on where they were those children were born. Automatic citizen ship for all children born in the US is established by the 14th amendment and would therefore require a constitutional amendment to change. One way of handling welfare payments to citizen children of non-citizen immigrants is to place the funds under the control of a third party US citizen appointed to act as a fiduciary on the child's behalf.

  3. Incunabulum:

    Or, we could drastically cut back on entitlement spending - reduce welfare payments for an increase in the minimum rate for example. Then with immigrants being even less of a drain on the economy than they are now - most are paying (withholding) taxes yet are finding it hard to claim benefits when you share a SSN with a hundred other people.

  4. obloodyhell:

    }}} But as soon as they arrive in their new home, they start voting for the exact same crap that sank California.

    Exactly right. Because, as I have noted many times before in comments here and elsewhere, one of the key defining properties of postmodern leftists is an almost absolute lack of the ability to learn from experience. This is why they continually support marxist principles despite all the examples that show they are almost uniformly soul-destroying and totalitarianism inducing.

    If there was such a test for a "Wisdom Quotient" to match the IQ test, then almost all self-identifying liberal-left people would rank in the bottom 1/3rd of the bell curve that resulted.

  5. obloodyhell:

    Clearly, the simplest solution is to connect franchise inversely with a Pauper's Oath, and require that Oath to collect any kind of social welfare that isn't backed by substantial recipient input (i.e., Unemployment as-it-used-to-be, Social-Security with a more serious backing).

    This prevents the grasshoppers from outvoting the ants, one of the key underlying flaws of Democracy -- aka "Bread and Circuses"

  6. obloodyhell:

    FYI, Matthew, the term you're looking for is "guardian ad litem", and I can see this, though you have to be careful to watch that it is not the subject of scandal.

  7. Eric Hammer:

    Brian Caplan gave a good speech/lecture on this topic. Essentially his point was that even if immigrants were not allowed to vote, collect welfare or just about anything else, even over multiple generations (so say 3rd gens would be auto-citizens, but not before) if the choice was between that and staying wherever they currently are, they would probably still decide to come here.

  8. MingoV:

    Your Level 1 closely matches the guest worker proposals that failed to gain traction in Congress over the past three decades. This type of immigration program is supported by many libertarians. My version is that guest workers would have to show adequate employment, would not be eligible for federal benefits, would not have FICA or Medicaid payroll deductions, and would not be subject to minimum wage.

    The biggest opposition to such proposals comes from unions. Unions, despite their declining memberships, remain politically powerful. Therefore, this type of program will not get through today's Congress.

  9. LarryGross:

    it would be super easy to have a guest-worker program (like Canada has) if employers of illegals were ripped and would lose their businesses as a penalty. The word would get around quick. Don't touch anyone who does not have the proper documentation or you risk losing your business.

    end of problem.

    but the real issue here is that GOP business folks depend on hiring illegals and they oppose such draconian measures. They'd much rather let the demagogues do their thing and people fight over the border and illegals as long as they don't focus on the businesses that hire illegals (for cheap).

    the blather about immigrants coming here to get goodies is just that - pure 100% blather. Hispanics are among the hardest working workers in the US - bar none. Many have terrible educations but they will work hard - for instance, harvesting crops (work that many would never do)... 10-12, 14 hours a day to get the crop in - living in owner-provided (so-called housing) so they can be close to the crops.

    so the anti-immigrant, "they only want free goodies" folks are doing the bidding of the businesses that are just fine with hiring cheap illegals. works for them!

  10. Mark Liveringhouse:

    Automatic citizenship IS NOT automatically established by the 14th amendment citizenship clause. Jus Soli is clearly established for those alien residents that have permanent residency. But, for illegal immigrants it simply has not been tested. I believe that the "jurisdiction" sub-clause of the citizenship clause clearly means that children born of illegal immigrants are not U.S citizens by virtue of their birth on United States soil. An illegal immigrant clearly is not under the jurisdiction of laws of our country. And that is one aspect of the guest worker system that is very valuable. A guest worked would not be a permanent resident of the United States. They would still be considered to be under the jurisdiction of their own home country, and thus, children of these workers born in the United States would not be US citizens.

    We could look at many kinds of process to citizenship for all of these expanding categories of aliens. We can look at what welfare benefits each category would get. But, until we classify them as guest workers with a guest worker visa of finite time validity, they live in an extra-legal world.

  11. SamWah:

    They exhibit severe cognitive dissonance. It's the same on the east coast, I hear.

  12. Bob:

    Why is colonization necessary? Colonization screws the people who get colonized. Always did. That's why it's a dirty word. That's why you're not using it. Use it, though. Be honest. "Colonization". You're pro-colonization. You want your countrymen colonized, for the benefit of people from someplace else. Kinda like inviting the neighbor's kids over to beat up your wife, because it makes you feel "fair" or something.

    Why do you need to colonize my neighborhood with people who don't speak our language, don't have much use for our culture, our customs, our laws, or much of anything else we value? It is tediously well established that in multicultural neighborhoods, trust plummets. People don't trust each other because they don't understand each other. They stop talking to each other. They keep to themselves. Crime goes up.

    Multicultural societies always end up settling into competing racial power blocs. Democracies can't function that way. Period. The only multicultural societies that have lasted were ruled top-down by force, like Singapore and the old Ottoman Empire.

    Why do you want to force the lower classes to live that way? What do you gain by it? Do you just want to punish them for having less money than you? Don't laugh this off. It's a legitimate question: You favor policies that hurt millions of people. If you simply don't think they have any rights an Ivy man is bound to respect, say so. "They're subhuman. Screw 'em. I have the right to play games with their lives because I am better than them". OK, I don't see it that way myself, but fair enough. But don't scream abuse at them when they object. They may not have the same rights as you in this country, but you can't sanely blame them for not liking that fact. Even an animal has the right to bellow when you cut its throat.

    What happens if the descendants of all these wonderful immigrants eventually outnumber the descendants of the former natives, and turn out to be racists? I mean, it would be in character, since nearly the entire human race has preferred people like themselves since the dawn of time (see racial power blocs, above). The only exception is modern well-educated white people, and the ones I happen to know will always instantly discard their principles when their own personal interests are directly affected. How many of them send their kids to public schools full of immigrants? And I don't mean the kids of the highly-educated immigrants I work with in the software industry. I mean the kids of the unskilled masses who've been raised to hate the "white oppressor" and all that kind of silly nonsense.

    So, please explain. Don't put the burden on people who oppose colonization. You're the one who thinks an idea with a success rate the same as communism will SURELY work THIS time if you just ram it down people's throats hard enough. Why is this guaranteed catastrophe so desirable that it MUST be rammed down our throats whether we like it or not? What's in it for us? Not you personally. The people who'll pay the price. What's in it for them?

    What use is libertarianism to me if it denies people the right to make any decisions for themselves? What's the point of libertarian policies? To maximize quality of life for the citizens? Seriously. If we pay taxes to the government, we -- insanely, at this point in history -- expect them to act in our collective interests. If politicians instead want to act in Mexicans' interests at the expense of ours, they can go run for office in Mexico! That's the Mexican government's job, and they do it very well. Maybe they could use some more help, I dunno. I sure as hell don't need any more of that here.

  13. populus:

    Sorry Mark, but that's just false. Of course illegal immigrants are under the jurisdiction of the laws of our country when they're within our borders. Are you seriously arguing that if a Mexican illegally crosses the Tijuana border and shoots a 7-11 clerk while robbing the place, he's "not under the jurisdiction of the laws of our country" and thus can't/won't be tried for armed burglary and attempted murder?

  14. john mcginnis:

    Open Borders is a cowards take. I make that comment, not from the perspective of the native but of the immigrant. Generally people leave their native land because things got too tough for whatever reason (religious, food, politics). The problem is since the postwar period we have been selective of who we will let thru the front door legally. They generally have to possess either a skill we lack or find in short supply, eg. programmers via H-1B.

    But what about the country they just left? What would have happened to India if Ghandi decided `to hell with this! I am moving to Tennessee!`. Or if Lech Walesa had left Poland. Would not these countries be poorer for the loss? Is it not better to develop programs that foster economic development right where these people already live?

    We have had a domestic version of what I describe right here in the US.With the end of institutional segregation in this country those blacks who had or over time developed the skills to escape the blight of the cities moved to the suburbs. These skilled individuals left the urban cores as well. So it was not just `White Flight` that doomed many American cities.

    No Sir. Immigration is not the solution and Open Borders just makes things worse -- for both the host country and the ex-immigrant country.

  15. LorenzofromOz:

    Robert Fogel argues persuasively that the US's open borders during the C19th helped lead to the Civil War. I take your point about creating a more sensible "ladder" for legal residence, but the politics of immigration is very much based on immigration having very different effects and implications for different groups. (As I post about here

  16. john mcginnis:

    Hate to tell you, but current us immigration law already has these provisions. I know, I am a sponsor of an immigrant. I have had to show that I had 130% of the minimum income to cover the cost of the immigrant. I also had to sign a document that the government would come after me should the immigrant file for state support. Its just not enforced.

  17. nnu-16121:

    But that is a legal immigrant. Those that that have a visa that doesn't require sponsorship, or those on temporary visas are (it seems) actively encouraged by the social-services bureaucracy to go on the dole.

  18. randian:

    The problem is much, much worse that that. Open immigration is an invitation to losing your country entirely. This has several components:

    1) demographic replacement (the real smoking gun; it ain't America unless its residents hew to American values, which most immigrants today don't)
    2) vote fraud (if you think illegals aren't voting in elections…; places like San Francisco publicly hoot about not preventing non-citizens from voting)
    3) chain migration (rev on the red line)
    4) birthright citizenship (smoking gun II, used to prevent the righteous deportation of illegals)
    5) outright force (see no-go zones in Europe and massive immigrant crime against Europeans)

    In the long run, open immigration means that the future United States will be such in name only, because the people who created and upheld its values are long gone, squeezed out by a government seeking to elect a new people.

  19. Pino:

    I have observed a US internal version of this. People run away from
    California to places like Arizona and Texas to escape California's
    dis-functionality But as soon as they arrive in their new home, they
    start voting for the exact same crap that sank California.

    I see this in real life.

    My wife is from Brooklyn and her mother rents an apartment in a brownstone from a woman with adult children. Every time we visit, the landlady asks me how the family is and then, "Is it REALLY that cheap to live in North Carolina? I think that I may have my kids move there to avoid the high cost of living here."

    Die hard liberals all.

  20. mesaeconoguy:

    And you are not the immigrant in question.

    Your burden of proof is far greater, precisely because of you sponsor role.

    You would be far better off abandoning your sponsoree.

    Plus, name the last time this week the government hasn't contradicted itself.

  21. mesaeconoguy:


    Eliminate 11 million new Democrats.

    I'm down with that if you are, Larry.

  22. bigmaq1980:

    IIRC, the British had a tiered system. It became an issue when the people of Hong Kong, back in the 80's and 90's, tried to migrate to the U.K. prior to the hand over to the PRC. Their "British" passports did not allow them to stay.

    Perhaps a similar system, where migrants and their children born in the U.S. gain that status, but it does not confer citizenship, nor right to vote is part of the answer to deal with the 11M illegal immigrants already here but who are impossible to deport. Then define a process that allows them to EARN citizenship.

    I think the objections to open borders go much deeper behind/than the two points you mentioned. Open borders cannot work today because the world is "asymmetrical".

    - The wealth disparity is too great - demand would be overwhelming on many levels (welfare, policing/processing, political, infrastructure).
    - The cultural values / way of life difference is too great - bigger numbers of migrants reduces the need/pressure for assimilation (e.g. Would capitalism and democracy be respected? Many in the world still have a very anti-American attitude, would that change once here? Even simply, would everyone obey traffic lights, traffic lanes, sidewalks, waiting their turns in line, etc. - things we take for granted here as proper behavior - this is not the norm in many countries?).
    - The existential threat is too great - potential for coordinated fraud and subversive activity (trojan horse) from unfriendly nations - probably the biggest concern of all.

    At some point in the future, hopefully within this century, most countries will "catch up" to the west in economic terms, and that will be the result of (or be a reinforcing energy for) the principles behind capitalism and democracy. Then it will be more balanced and conducive to open borders.

    Today, there is good potential for open borders with Canada. Next would be ANZ. Thus far numbers are small, and assimilation would be easy. I wonder about the UK, Ireland and the rest of the EU though - "Californization effect".

    All this may be academic if we don't get our fiscal and monetary houses in order.

  23. mesaeconoguy:

    Mark is arguing that the status of the defendant is irrelevant when he broke another law against larceny/homicide.

    Do you take issue with that?

    If so, how?

  24. mesaeconoguy:

    Yes, and no.

    What are “American” values? Free shit?

    Hell yes. Lowest workforce participation rate since 1982.

    Hard work? Define "Hard," but not so much.

    More free shit at the expense of others? Absolutely – there are now more government parasites/employees/dependents than members of productive economic society.

    People respond to incentives, and the incentives they have been given the past decade are do nothing, and enjoy, at productive society’s expense.

  25. mesaeconoguy:


    The Commonwealth Empire.

    While the home office destroys itself.

  26. Matthew Slyfield:

    Yes, I take issue with that.

    Barring the issue of diplomatic immunity all persons physically within the boundaries of the US are under the jurisdiction of the US. If Marks argument had even the tiniest shred of validity then LEGAL immigrants that committed crimes in the US would have to be returned to their home countries for prosecution. If they aren't under US jurisdiction then they can't be prosecuted under US laws. Yet immigrants legal and illegal are prosecuted in the US for crimes committed in the US all the time. By definition they have to be under US jurisdiction for that to happen.

  27. Matthew Slyfield:

    I never claimed it would be problem free. Ultimately we would need to determine whether giving the money directly to non-citizen parents of citizen minors is is more or less problematic than establishing a guardian ad litem. You could end up with scandals giving the money to the non-citizen parents as well.

  28. Matthew Slyfield:

    Mark is also directly wrong on the interpretation of the citizenship clause of the 14th amendment.

  29. mesaeconoguy:

    Your example is faulty, as homicide is outlawed everywhere, and most would probably say morally everywhere, irrespective of jurisdiction.

    Only punishments differ.

    I understand both of your points, so I'll let you two duke it out.

  30. Zachriel:

    Other than provisions for an orderly process, the Libertarian position is open immigration. But that's rarely the case, and many Libertarians seem to only point to social benefits as an excuse to exclude others.

  31. LarryGross:

    depending on which school of "Libertarianism" is being discussed - there are some variants of it that disavow the need for borders and a central govt that claims those borders and sets laws within them.

    in that particular variant of Libertarianism - there really is no such thing as an "illegal" immigrant - just folks who take up residence.

  32. MountainHome:

    Open invitation is the death blow to America not to mention it is a felony. Also, it's an invasion which is suppose to be protected by our U.S. Constitution.
    You won't see other empires in history who had this policy & survived for very lone as illegal Mexicans are now wanting California given back to Mexico. They are not here for a better life per se, but to steal back land.
    A TIME TO STAND by Oliver is a book you need to read about taking a stand against federal tyranny. I recommend it cause I MISS MY FREEDOMS!!

  33. SuperMike:

    The notorious John Derbyshire wrote about this years ago

    He's been writing about immigration for years, and he makes a pretty good point that, if we continue to permit mass immigration from places that don't share our values, the democratic process will lead to a government that no longer represents our values.

  34. marque2:

    We do have a guest worker program.

  35. marque2:

    It is interesting that they make you do this, but it is seldom enforced. In CA there is a problem with elderly immigrating from the home country being sponsored, and then ending up in a welfare/SSA assisted old age home, which isn't great, but is free, and much better accommodations than the homeland had.

  36. marque2:

    I think at this point it is too late, leftist thought is taught in all the schools and now college is "required" not so much because it gets you a better job but gives you 4 more years of indoctrination. What will happen is that the country will do a Greece in about 20 years - just in time for me to no longer be able to retire (sigh) and then there is a chance that attitudes will change, or at least folk will have to work - even if they begrudge the rich, because there is nothing else they can do.

  37. LarryGross:

    so why do we have problems with illegals being hired?

  38. jon:

    When AZ was a territory anyone could vote, even people from out of country. Not that that is good. As for the argument that people will start voting a different way than what you agree with. Well, everyone already does, especially if you are a anarcho-capitalist libertarian. So I see no difference. There is a word for emigration. It's called moving. Nothing wrong with that as long as you aren't using the initiation of force.

  39. LarryGross:

    I'm not sure pure libertarianism has much to say about "illegal" immigration so that must mean the folks who do believe there is such a thing must not be real libertarians.

  40. marque2:

    Because they didn't enter through the guest program. If you enter through one of the various guest programs you are not illegal. Duh!

  41. marque2:

    It is kind of interesting that if you are a foriegn national not only do you still have to sign up for the draft, you can be drafted if the USA is at war. Many foreigners living in the USA ended up in 'Nam. I mean that is how far our country can take it. If I went to Germany and they had a war, I could not be drafted in Germany.

  42. LarryGross:

    yes... but who hires illegals and do we enforce the law and if we did would illegals be able to find jobs and if they could not would they still come?

    It's hard to blame illegals when they know they can find work because we essentially do not enforce our own laws about it. Canada has pretty strict enforcement and not an "illegal" problem as a consequence.

  43. jhertzli:

    Most residents haven't adhered to American values since 1932 or so.

  44. jhertzli:

    I suspect they think the high cost of living is due to the presence of Wall Street.

  45. Matthew Slyfield:

    Where did I say anything about homicide? The point about jurisdiction is not just about what laws apply but whose courts get to try the case. If a non-citizen in the US is not under US jurisdiction then they are not under the jurisdiction of the US courts. That means that they can't be tried in US courts for anything from capital crimes all the way down to the lowest level misdemeanor.

  46. Matthew Slyfield:

    "If I went to Germany and they had a war, I could not be drafted in Germany." Do you have a cite for that?

  47. marque2:

    It is always interesting what leftists think about the views of libertarians and Conservative. Most often it is wrong. Libertarians are not a homogeneous group like the leftist demand from themselves. There is still room for free thought, and the weighing of ideas. I bet you didn't even know there is a pro life libertarian movement as well.

  48. marque2:

    The school you are talking about is more properly called anarchists. Again leftists projecting their views on other beliefs.

  49. marque2:

    Are you saying it is not theoretically possible? I am sure that laws can change, and a dictator could force but under current law no. Here is a decent reference.

  50. marque2:

    Here is an even better site - it is actually a sore point with foreign countries with the USA.