A Libertarian Argument Against Prescribing Open Borders
I’d like to begin with a hypothetical scenario. If I got together with some like-minded individuals to buy up a large parcel of land and set up a private community, membership by invitation only, we wouldn’t be infringing upon anyone's liberty by refusing entry to some people. We'd be exercising our liberty, our freedom to associate and disassociate.
Suppose we continue to grow and built out infrastructure, begin to operate our own security services, and become self-sufficient. We don't need local, state, or federal governments for anything. We wish to be left alone, unburdened by demands for taxes from governments from which we’ve disassociated. So at some point we all unanimously vote to secede and become a sovereign nation. Maybe it’s unlikely we’d be successful. But let’s suppose we had weapons powerful enough to disincentivize the government from using force to try to prevent us from seceding.
We declare our independence and we achieve it. We occupy the same territory and enforce the same policies as before: entry by invitation only. (Before, we had to rely on the outside police to arrest and remove trespassers and aggressors. Now, we rely on our own internal police force.) Nothing has changed for people who want into our community. Some of them are denied entry, as before.
But now, unlike before, certain types of libertarians object. They demand we adopt an open immigration policy. They now insist that everyone has a right to take up residence in our micro-nation – from the aimless vagabond to the Somali Muslim.
So suddenly, the world’s 7 billion people acquire a right that they didn’t possess before we declared our independence – the right to immigrate into our community. And we have a corresponding moral duty to open our doors to all comers. If we don’t, we violate their freedom to immigrate.
But either migrants’ rights were always being violated by us or they never were and aren't now. Nothing changed for them in relation to us! When we were a private community within a larger state and had a selective admissions policy, people were denied entry. We inhabit that same exact geographical area now. It was legally just as impenetrable to the rest of the world before as private property within a state as now, a sovereign micro-state. The freedom of anyone in the world to take up residence in our land didn’t exist before and doesn’t now. No one’s freedom status has changed. No one’s rights have been violated.
If there is a right to associate and disassociate freely, and to separate and secede from oppressive governments and their voters, then there can be no such thing as a universal right to immigrate.
Any private land area that restricts movements into it could be an insipient nation that does the same exact thing in the same exact area, meaning nobody's freedom status outside it changes. Ted Turner owns more land in the U.S. than the total land area of many sovereign nations. Whether Turner fences off his land, or the same geographical area becomes "Turnerlandia" the nation, neither Turner nor Turnerlandia violate the rights of those who are refused entry for any reason.
The notion of a universal right of everyone to immigrate everywhere is effectively a demand for nations to prevent insipient micro-nations from forming and ultimately for a global government to tear down border fences and make national boundaries meaningless. Open immigration absolutism requires an effectively borderless world. This can be achieved either through global government or global anarchy.
Neither ideal is conducive to the preservation of liberty. Global government would obviously pose a nightmarish threat to liberty, and global anarchy is an unustainable pipe dream.
The alternative is libertarian nationalism. A libertarian government exists to secure its citizens rights and interests, not the entire world's. It is not an act of aggression for a government to deny a foreigner citizenship or entry on any grounds, including nationality or race or religion or shoe size. Certain criteria could be considered arbitrary or irrational, but denying aliens entry on those grounds would still not be violating their rights.
It would be bizarre to suppose that the moment any baby is born in Uganda, the baby acquires a moral and legal right to be a U.S. citizen. Where would such a right come from? Americans didn’t cause Ugandans to come into existence and don’t owe them anything. The relevant question is whether it’s in Americans' rational self-interest to automatically recognize all Ugandans as latent American citizens. The answer can’t be deduced a priori from grand moral principles.
A country's immigration policy is contextual. Israelis are not duty bound to open their borders to the hostile Arabs who surround them in large numbers. To the contrary, what's moral for Israelis is what's in their own self-interest. What any number of Palestinians or Somalis or Canadians want Israel's immigration policy to be isn't directly relevant. It is in Isrealis' rational self-interest to task their government with implementing an immigration policy that will secure a sustainable future for the country as the non-Arab oasis it is. To put it bluntly, that means preventing an Arab majority from taking root. It's right for Israel to ensure its survival qua Israel, and it's right for the U.S., the nations of Western Europe, and all civilized nations to do likewise.
Would-be immigrants who are denied entry aren't being convicted of anything or aggressed upon. Their thwarted desires do not constitute an injustice. A nation's immigration policy exists solely to uphold and protect the rights and values of the citizens under its jurisdiction.
A nation that seeks to repel invaders from penetrating its borders is using force defensively. The end-game of one-world, one-people, all-equal, open immigration idealism is the end of nations.