All posts by Ryan P. Long

Ryan is a software consultant originally from Utah. His interest in immigration is the natural result of its ubiquity in his life, but his embrace of the open borders paradigm is the result of the many conversations he has had over the years with friends about their pre-immigration lives.

See our blog post introducing Ryan, or all blog posts by Ryan.

Deport All Troublemakers

Bryan Caplan frequently draws parallels between open borders and natalism. The comparison is intuitive: If we accept the argument that more people are a boon to society, then it follows that we can enjoy that boon whether newcomers are infants or immigrants.

Critics of immigration, however, frequently cite sundry “differences” between locals and foreigners as reasons why immigrants qua newcomers might be less of a boon – and indeed, more of a bane – than babies qua newcomers.

One of the reasons that I, personally, find the critics’ reasoning unpersuasive is that any trait that might convince me to deny an immigrant entry into the country is a difference that likewise ought to convince me to deport any native who held the same trait. In other words, I believe that differences between populations ought to count as much as differences across populations.

Why so?

The first reason is a simple matter of prejudice: If you believe a low-IQ “Ruritanian” is more destructive to American life than a low-IQ American, then it’s hard to avoid allegations of overt racism. Perhaps “there is more to it than that,” but if so, then the real problem isn’t actually the person’s low IQ, but rather whatever “more” there might be “to it.” Low IQ becomes a red herring, and the real issue becomes a prejudice against “Ruritarians.” If the issue is IQ – or any other particular difference – then the issue must apply equally to natives and immigrants alike. If it doesn’t, that is strong evidence of prejudice.

Another reason is a matter of empirics: Before we can even consider designing immigration policy around the differences that exist between human beings, we must first establish the following:

  1. That the differences between people really do translate into a reduced quality of life.

  2. That locals are inarguably more different from foreigners than they are from other locals.

  3. That the government really is capable of testing for these proven differences in a way that does not threaten the rule of law for locals and immigrants alike.

Point #1 is often taken on assumption, but it ought not be. For one thing, it calls into question why any immigrant would choose to emigrate from his/her fellow natives in the first place, since the differences s/he will encounter abroad supposedly make life worse for him/her, not better. For another thing, while it’s easy to merely allege that “the immigrants” caused crime to increase in your neighborhood or property values to decrease, it is substantially more difficult to prove it. I leave the burden of proof for Point #1 on immigration’s critics.

Moreover, that proof of Point #1 must necessarily account for Point #2. We must not only prove that, say, “religious differences” adversely impact local life, but also that I am more religiously different from a Russian immigrant than I am from my neighbor. A proof for Point #1 must also account for the many positive attributes brought to a community by outsiders, including (but not limited to) cultural benefits like food, music, and literature; friendship; genetic diversity, which as a matter of pure biology strengthens the population of any species; comparative economic advantages; and so on.

Proving or substantiating Points #1 and #2 should be extremely difficult considering the high degree of cosmopolitanism in countries that are attractive to immigrants. Today, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Spain, Singapore, etc. are more cosmopolitan than at any other time in human history. The extent to which we are different from our neighbors has never been greater than it is today. This suggests that differences have more positive effects than negative effects, and that the residents of immigrant-friendly nations don’t seem to let their differences get in the way of a high standard of living.

Point #3 is an extremely high hurdle to clear for practical reasons. It involves first proving Points #1 and #2, and then demonstrating that we can indeed detect these differences reliably and empirically. Once we’ve managed to clear this hurdle, we must wrestle with the problem that any power transferred to the state for legitimate reasons is power that can potentially be abused.

This brings me to my third and final reason why differences within a population must matter as much as differences among different populations. If, as some have suggested, social contract theory entitles a nation’s government to sculpt the cultural make-up of its citizens, then deporting native cultural chaff is no less logical a method of doing so than refusing to import foreigners who hold the same traits. Assuming we manage to prove that differences are problematic, and that we can reliably test for them, doesn’t this imply that we can take action against our fellow natives just as easily as we can against potential immigrants? Why not deport all troublemakers?

If this suggestion makes you uneasy, I can understand why. Historical examples, such as Stalinist purges and various acts of genocide seen throughout history, give us reason to think twice. I’m obviously not suggesting that we really deport people who don’t mesh well with the rest of us; I’m suggesting that if doing so is ridiculous, so, too, must it be to deny an immigrant entry under the same rationale. That, too, leaving aside the even more practical considerations of how “we” might go about determining what “our” culture is, and who gets to decide which of “our” attributes are worthy of inclusion. In terms of actual policy, outside the ambiguity of social contract theory, designing policy guidelines that result in a cultural homogeneity that even the locals would prefer over the status quo seems impractical to the point of the absurd. As Paul Crider writes:

Who decides which aspects of “traditional” society are worth preserving (at the cost of more focused and observable individual freedoms, let’s not forget) and which aspects are merely parts of inevitable cultural evolution? …Should a committee of bureaucrats be set up to decide which foreign influences are acceptable cultural adaptations, the way the French have circled their wagons around the integrity of their language? Even if such a committee were popularly elected, it’s difficult to see how that democratic mechanism would achieve any greater legitimacy than uncoordinated individual actions…. There are other influences that will impact culture, influences that cultural preservationists are less willing to stifle by coercion…. Culture, including language, social values, artistic (literary, musical, etc) expression, and political values can and do all change as a result of younger generations challenging the ideas and practices of their forebears. This process of change over generations may be exacerbated by outside influences, but it would be hard to deny that at its core it is a natural phenomenon at work even in closed societies.

Many critics of immigration base their case against open borders on the differences between groups of human beings. I have attempted to show why this problem is not unique to immigrants, that we are in fact different from other natives, too. Eliminating differences in a community of peaceful people presents prejudicial, empirical, and practical problems that most would find unsettling. Those critics who point to “differences” as a justification for restricting immigration thus have a steep burden of proof assigned to them. Until they meet it, I remain unconvinced.

On Two-Steps And Fallacies

Readers of this blog know that there are many moral and practical reasons to favor open borders. Indeed, many open borders advocates, like myself, support open borders for a multiplicity of reasons. There are a lot of reasons to agree with any good idea.

There are so many good reasons for open borders that it can prove challenging for all sides of the debate to carry one particular case all the way through to the end of a single conversation. Nonetheless, staying on point is necessary to avoid miscommunication.

Take the economic side of the issue for example. Open borders advocates treat the issue like a classic import quota on labor: buyers of labor are forced to over-pay for something that is under-supplied, sellers of labor are forced to experience lower levels of employment, and thus society as a whole suffers a deadweight loss. Immigration restrictionists answer that increasing the supply of labor will drive down wages.

What should happen next is that the two parties debate the comparative merits of increased employment at lower wages on the one hand, and lower levels of production at higher wage rates on the other. Unfortunately, the debate all too often moves on to other issues. Open borders advocates might respond by saying that there is a moral case for allowing poor workers to compete for our comparatively higher-paying jobs, because the immigrants’ situation is desperate. Immigration restrictionists might respond by suggesting that immigrants change the social dynamic in their new communities in a way that the immigration restrictionists don’t like.

Either way, as soon as someone mentions a Topic B, we are no longer discussing Topic A. This doesn’t mean that either topic isn’t relevant or interesting. Instead, it means that the parties to the debate aren’t very good at staying on point.

The Open Borders Two-Step

We should keep this in mind when the likes of “The Crimson Reach” state that open borders advocates are “two-stepping.” Here he is in his own words:

I’m noticing a slippery dynamic when it comes to open-borders advocacy. Broadly, in plain English there are two different things one might mean by ‘open borders’ and in advocating for ‘open borders’:

1. The government has no right to restrict border crossing. (More immigration being, presumably, a result.)

2. More immigration should be allowed by the government; we should make the decision to allow it because it’s neat/good/etc.

Obviously #1 is the stronger claim (and seems to include #2, kind of) but it is also harder to establish. The most popular attempt involves invoking free association in the form of the immigration = employment fallacy, or similar.

But here’s the slippery part: when you take them seriously and therefore try to argue against #1 in good faith, you often get a retreat in response: hey, we’re just saying #2! We just think the government should, like, allow more immigration!

True, open borders advocates often make both of the above claims. But are these two claims mutually exclusive from a rhetorical standpoint? No: the first is an ideological claim, while the second is a political one. It stands to reason that #1 could function as a justification for #2. Likewise, #2 could be a pragmatic means of achieving #1. To make both claims simultaneously certainly presents no direct contradiction.

To see this easily, apply the same reasoning to the freedom of speech. Would it be a “two-step” to first assert that governments have no right to restrict speech and then to subsequently assert that existing restrictions on speech ought to be removed? Obviously not.

There is another important difference between these two statements. The first one is a deontological ethical appeal to natural rights. The second one is a consequentialist ethical appeal to social utility. If “The Crimson Reach” is correct that all good-faith efforts to engage open borders advocates on a point about natural rights results in change-of-subject to social utility, then he has made a fair criticism. The truth is, though, that there are many examples of open borders advocates directly addressing natural rights arguments. The majority of my last piece on this blog was devoted to the natural (property) rights case for immigration. Readers can also find a wealth of information on the natural rights cases for immigration on this blog’s Moral Case page and the links contained therein.

Morality seldom reduces to a single ethical theory. Freedom of migration is as much about personal autonomy and free trade as it is about economic gain. There is no need to choose between moral theories in the real world, and few of us do so.

As you can see, if there is any two-stepping going on, it is not something open borders advocates are perpetuating. As this website handedly demonstrates, many of us have gone to painstaking lengths to make the case for open borders on a variety of moral and practical levels. If immigration restrictionists feel there is more to debate, it is incumbent upon them to first become aware of our responses, and to then respond to them accordingly. While anyone in a passionate debate sometimes fails to stay on point, it would be wrong to categorically suggest that open borders advocates are unwilling to follow a single point to its conclusion. That is in fact what OpenBorders.info is all about.

Do All Immigrants Have Job Offers, And Does This Matter?

I would like to dispense with the “fallacy” to which “The Crimson Reach” so often refers on his blog. Because he seems to think our intellectual honesty is on the line, let me begin by stating outright: Not every would-be immigrant has a job offer. Not every legal citizen has a job offer. Some immigrants have jobs, but no pending offers; some have offers but no current jobs; and the same is true of domestic citizens. (But, in point of fact, Pew Research estimates that the labor force participation rate for illegal immigrants was 71% in 2010, compared to 65% among the legal workforce as measured by the BLS.) The real world is full of people who face a wide variety of circumstances. No one set of conditions is ever true of all people, all the time.

In truth, there is no fallacy, because no one has ever claimed that every single human being who wants to immigrate has a job offer. “The Crimson Reach” is wrong whenever he suggests otherwise. If something sounds silly, it usually is silly.

Instead, what open borders advocates say is:

(All of the above statements appear on “The Crimson Reach”’s blog as examples of an open borders “immigration = jobs fallacy.” )

The argument reflected by these statements is this: we consider it a basic human right to search for a job and accept it wherever it happens to be located. Another way to say this is that we feel immigrants ought to be allowed to participate in the US labor market whether or not they can ultimately procure a job. That’s not a job, it’s a job search.

Of course, this point strikes open borders advocates as being a bit pedantic or banal. Does the difference between having a job offer and merely searching for one impact the argument for open borders? Only if you believe that accepting a job in a foreign country should be permissible, but searching for it ought not be. As this is not the open borders position, it is an irrelevant distinction to us.

However, it might be a fair question to ask of immigration restrictionists: Will “The Crimson Reach” go on record as stating that anyone who has a job offer in a foreign country ought to be allowed to immigrate?

Still, many immigrants do have job offers. There are recent college graduates (international students) who find domestic job offers before their student visas expire, as is the case with several of my own friends and family members who graduated this past Spring. There are currently-legally-employed workers whose visas allow them only to work for their current employer, who are barred from accepting job offers from other domestic employers even though they are legally entitled to work here – and are actually doing so. There are migrant agricultural workers who slowly work their way across the country, following the harvest season from south to north before ultimately returning to their homes abroad. There are families of legal immigrants who must follow special visa applications in order to legally contribute to their families domestic income.

And, yes, the fact that so many illegal immigrants also find domestic work to the tune of 71% labor force participation proves in no uncertain terms that immigrating with a job offer is not unique to highly skilled legal immigrants.

There are other reasons to immigrate, of course, beyond just getting a job. Some people immigrate to be closer to family. Some do it because their spouse-to-be is a citizen of that country. Some do it to seek political asylum. There may be as many reasons to immigrate as there are immigrants. But, as I said at the outset, we cannot possibly speak to all of these points simultaneously each time we wish to speak to one of them individually. To suggest that we commit a “fallacy” each time we make one point, just because we don’t dedicate limited print space to every other point, is wholly unreasonable.

Conclusion

Immigration is a multifaceted issue, so it’s easy to get lost among all the different reasons to embrace open borders. We all have a responsibility to stay on point, and to that end, OpenBorders.info has assembled and organized information on all the major cases for, and arguments against, immigration. We do not dodge or “two-step” any aspect of this issue.

Even so, it is useful to refer to points concisely. Those of us close to this issue – including passionate immigration restrictionists like “The Crimson Reach” – often refer to larger points using shorthand language. We often say, “Accepting a job offer is not a crime” because it is more concise and identifiable than writing a multi-page explanation of the labor market freedom every time we have something new to say about it. If, in doing so, we have fallen short of outlining the basic idea, my hope is that what I’ve just written will be accepted as an explanation for the general idea. Whether “The Crimson Reach,” or anyone else, finds this explanation a fully persuasive justification for open borders is probably not in question, but perhaps at the minimum the debate can now advance beyond false accusations of fallacy.

Immigration And Property Rights

Opponents of immigration often compare nations to households. Under this analogy, citizens are members of the household, while an illegal immigrant is “like a roommate who doesn’t pay the rent.” We wouldn’t allow someone to barge into our household and use all of our private property, so why would anyone allow an immigrant to barge into a country and attempt to find a job?

Weaknesses of this analogy aside, it rests on a view of property rights that is perhaps best outlined here by blogger Simon Grey. In summary, the argument goes:

  1. Under most reasonable people’s understanding of property rights, a single owner of private property is entitled to keep anyone of his or her property for any reason whatsoever.

  1. A group of private property owners on adjacent properties may fence their properties together and do likewise.

  1. Such a group of property owners can further outsource the management of property linkages, such as common roads, sidewalks, etc. to a third-party (e.g. a homeowners’ association) if they so choose.

  1. The above is similar enough to a state that appeals to property rights are consistent with this analogy.

I find this argument unpersuasive, for following reasons: First, under this argument, natives also have a right to transact with immigrants, thus the concept provides no special reason to oppose immigration. Second, because this argument makes certain assumptions about governance of the commons, it ceases to be an argument about property rights and reduces to a declaration about moral governance (an argument which can be disputed on a purely moral basis independent of property rights). Finally, advocating for open borders is in no shape or form a violation of anyone’s property rights.

Some Problems With Collective Property

Property transactions involve property’s being either bought-and-sold or rented. Unless an immigrant intends to sleep on the streets, someone within the country has voluntarily elected to either sell or rent property to the newcomer. And while it’s always true that one might run away from his or her debts, the fact remains that any immigrant is always a party to some kind of business transaction in being here. Unless those business transactions occur exclusively among fellow-immigrants (a totally unreasonable assumption), immigrants are trading with domestic natives who wish to trade with them, too. Thus, this is exactly the opposite of “a roommate who doesn’t pay his rent.”

Almost paradoxically, the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual utilizes just this rationale in its argument against open borders. The argument is that, because every free market transaction is a de facto “restriction” on absolutely uninhibited use of another person’s property rights, the open borders concept is logically impossible. Clever logic like this is classic Hans-Hermann Hoppe, but it nonetheless misses the mark.

Giving things away for free is hardly what we have in mind when we argue for free markets. Similarly, opening borders to free human migration means allowing people to travel so that they can solicit the kind of free trade to which Hoppe refers. Knocking on doors, renting apartments, and answering wanted ads are not the kinds of activities we typically call property rights violations, and this is all we really have in mind when we talk about open borders. The anarcho-capitalist counterfactual is neither an argument against this kind of activity nor a particularly strong justification for the restriction of it.

Suppose I live in a private, gated community with Steve Sailer, Joe Arpaio, and Mike Huckabee. Further suppose that John Lee wishes to live in our community. If John wants to purchase or rent land from Sailer, Arpaio, Huckabee, or the homeowners’ association in which theirs is the majority opinion, they would be within their rights to decide that they don’t want John in their community, and refuse to sell or rent to him. But what if I choose to rent my property to John? Aren’t I within my own property rights to enter into a leasing agreement with John?

Opponents of immigration may counter that my participation in the homeowners’ association bars me from doing so. If true, what’s to stop me from ending my contract with the homeowners’ association and renting to John, anyway?

Only by asserting that the homeowners’ association’s collective control over my personal property – i.e. by asserting that collective property rights trump individual property rights – can we conclude that I cannot rent to John. Of course, opponents of immigration can always invoke the principle of collective property rights to argue against open borders, but such claims run contrary to the spirit in which property rights were invoked in the first place.

After all, I doubt that what conservative opponents of immigration have in mind is the supremacy of collective use of property over individual property rights. If they did, a significant shift in public opinion would invalidate their argument. Indeed, a significant shift in public opinion might even invalidate their individual claim to property.

Claiming The Commons

A second problem with the property rights argument against immigration is that it assumes that only immigration’s opponents own the commons. Embedded in an appeal to property rights to close the border is the assumption that the border itself and the state mechanisms deployed to enforce it work only for those who oppose immigration, and not for those of us who do not.

In truth, public land, public offices, and public resources are merely stewarded by the state. We call it “public property” only because it is not owned by private individuals. It is tempting for libertarian minds to reason that this is unfair or inappropriate – perhaps such reasoning even has a sound basis – but so long as property is owned and operated by the state, it is subject only to the will of the state.

Therefore, if the state decides to take an anti-immigration policy stance, the borders will be closed. If the state chooses to open the borders to the many benefits of free human migration, the borders will be open.

Vipul Naik previously summarized how the state might choose to govern its decisions here:

  • Radical agnosticism: The nation-state’s government can admit or deny non-citizens in a completely arbitrary fashion, without having to justify itself to either citizens or non-citizens. In this view, whatever the government decrees is the right thing.

  • Agnostic democratic fundamentalism: Non-citizens should be allowed or denied entry based on whether the majority of citizens would consent to their entry. […]

  • Citizenism via democratic fundamentalism: Here, elected representatives need to make decisions based on what the majority wants. But in addition, individual citizens, whether as voters or political lobbyists or elected representatives, need to make and justify their political decisions using citizenist premises.

  • Citizenism as a direct basis for political decision-making: Here, elected representatives directly make decisions on a citizenist basis, irrespective of what the democratic majority decrees. In the ideal world here, the ruler is a benevolent citizenist dictator.

Thus governance of the commons effectively reduces to a choice between the arbitrary decisions of our rulers, the democratic process, or Citizenism.

Nearly everyone agrees that the first choice is senseless by virtue of its being arbitrary.

Meanwhile, if proponents of the property rights argument object to democratic fundamentalism under the assumption that it violates their property rights, they must not subscribe to the principle of collective property rights discussed in the previous section. (Thus, my desire to trade with immigrants is an exercise of individual property rights equal to their desire that I not trade with immigrants.)

Finally, if proponents of the property rights argument wish to object on grounds of Citizenism, then they are not really making a property rights argument at all. Instead, they are arguing that those property rights held by immigrants and the native citizens who choose to trade with them can and should be violated if the transaction fails the Citizenist moral test.

In light of the above, it seems that property rights arguments cannot appeal to the commons at all and truly remain property rights arguments.

Ethical Shortcomings

The previous two sections discuss problems with the validity of the property rights argument, but this argument isn’t just invalid; it’s also irrelevant. Why irrelevant? Because I need not deprive you of your property rights to make the case for open borders.

Consider Simon Grey’s position:

Let us also suppose that the man and his neighbors are all of the same ethnicity and thus decide to form a group that allows all members to utilize each other’s properties for travel (with reasonable but equal limits, of course) while simultaneously blocking everyone who is not a member of the group from crossing the properties at all.  Would all the members of this group be within their rights do so, even if we personally find this to be quite distasteful?  Again, the answer is yes.

Or, alternatively, as expressed by blogger “The Crimson Reach:”

People have bad reasons for how they wish to dispose of their property, of course. We can second-guess them and complain about them. But we too might have bad reasons for doing so…. In any event, simply having a bad reason for what you want to do with your property can’t, in and of itself, add up to an argument that you shouldn’t be allowed to do so. Not without, again, demolishing the concept of property.

We see that appeals to property rights are often made with full awareness of the fact that one’s motives for closing borders might not be good at all. They might even be terrible reasons for closing the border. This is likewise acknowledged in the academic literature. For example, philosopher Christopher Heath Wellman writes:

First, let me stress that I seek to defend a deontological conclusion about how legitimate states are entitled to act, not a consequential prescription for how to maximize happiness or a practical recipe for how states might best promote their own interests. I understand that groups can have weighty reasons to limit immigration in certain circumstances, but what the best policy would be for any given state’s constituents (and/or for those foreigners affected) will presumably depend upon a variety of empirical matters, matters about which others are more knowledgeable. Thus, I doubt that any one-size-fits-all immigration policy exists, and I, qua philosopher, have no special qualification to comment on the empirical information that would be relevant to fashioning the best policy for any given state. However, if anything, I am personally inclined toward more open borders…. My aim is merely to show that whatever deontological reasons there are to respect freedom of association count in favor of allowing political communities to set their own immigration policy.

All three people I have quoted argue the case that states, like individuals, are within their rights to determine to close the borders if they so choose.

But so what? Open borders advocates don’t want to deprive anyone of their property rights. It is full cognizance of and respect for property rights that moves us to make the case for open borders through persuasive reasoning. We certainly know that you are freely entitled to oppose immigration. But we think the benefits are clear, obvious, ethical, and rational; hence, we aim to make the case for opening the border to human migration – by choice.

Conclusion

In light of all of the above, I can only conclude the following:

  • Every economic transaction between an immigrant and a native reflects an implicit endorsement by the native of that immigrant’s status in the country, in full consideration of that native’s property rights. Thus, property rights are as much an argument for open borders as they are against open borders.

  • Ignoring this fact amounts to a presumption that either immigration restrictionists feel they own the commons, or feel they are more entitled to public property than the rest of us. But as we have seen, this position calls into question its validity as a position based on property rights.

  • Even if immigration restrictionists are within their rights to close the borders, that still does not address the fact that the arguments for opening the borders are an appeal to change minds, and are therefore no threat to anyone’s property rights whatsoever.

On all points, I find the property rights argument against immigration unpersuasive.