Living here is a privilege, not a right that every human being on earth is born with.
This is the end-of-road for conservative anti-immigrationists: the selective degradation of the liberty to live in a particular place from a right to a “privilege”. As a hostile commenter put it sarcastically (albeit a tad illiterately) at LegalInsurrection:
“Nothing says freedom from government interfernce like “show me your papers.”. Of course, limited government only applies to people who are real americans,not to mexicans.”
Let us examine the conservatives’ trip down the anti-immigration road, and see how it ended there — and what it means for conservatism’s purported fealty to Americanism.
The invocation of national sovereignty as justification for arbitrary immigration controls operates on the unstated premise that individual rights (to life, liberty, property etc.) are contingent upon citizenship (a state-granted status), instead of being inalienable to the person.
This viewpoint is very common these days; it’s not restricted to conservatives. There’s a good reason for that: it rests on the Leftist, collectivist conception of government, installed into the culture around the same time that democracy was substituted for freedom, and it is profoundly un-American.
Apparently, conservatives have decided to retire God from the rights-giving business in favor of the State.
They are wrong. Individual rights are not contingent upon citizenship.
Under the American view, basic freedoms such as freedom of association, of communication (speech), of thought, of self-defense etc. are based upon the rights of man, not of the “citizen” or other group memberships, such as race, national origin, gender etc.) A proper government, constrained by a constitution based on the principle of individual rights, is *subject* to these freedoms, and exists solely to secure them.
In doing so, the State derives its legitimacy and its sovereignty, from that primary fact which are the rights of the people. It is the people — individuals — who are ultimately sovereign; the sovereignty of any State is derivative of that of the people, and therefore forfeits it to the extent that it violates that of the people. (This is why it is morally proper to invade a dictatorship, should a free nation choose; dictatorships have no claim to sovereignty).
If an American seeks to hire a Canadian or to have him as a guest on his property, all the same freedoms apply as when he seeks to do so with another American. The government has no right to interfere with this arrangement, anymore than it does to interfere with such arrangements between Americans.
In other words, “sovereignty” is not a blank check to do whatever the government wishes, even if democratically elected. The government is only free to do what is permitted to it by the principles of liberty.
Declaring entry into the United States as a “privilege” for those not born here inverts this arrangement; it operates on the premise that rights inhere to citizens, not humans — instead of the Rights of Man (based on the nature of man), they become the Rights of the Citizen (a status granted by the State).
Conservatives fancy themselves as heirs to the Constitution of 1787, but when it comes to immigration, the principles of the one written up in 1793 are evidently more to their liking.
Now to head off some of the usual arguments that conservatives use to obfuscate the matter:
1. So we should just let anyone in, criminals, carriers of disease, enemy armies..?
Of course not. The State does have an interest and a moral sanction to secure the borders. This authority, however, derives from the mandate from the sovereign people to protect their rights against forcible aggression — in this case, foreign invaders. It is proper, in my view (here I am at odds with some Objectivists, such as Harry Binswanger) for the State to screen entrants for potential threats to those residing within the borders.
However, the things for which it screens are sharply constrained by its mandate. Screening for disease, enemy combatants (during war) and for criminals is within that mandate; keeping out foreign labor competition, is not. If someone is plainly not a threat, the State has fulfilled its mandate and has no further authority (no discretion) to obstruct passage.
2. So anybody can just walk in and vote? Oh great, Obama can just go ahead and import 50 million new Democrats!
No. Open immigration is not the same as open citizenship. Because of the Leftist premise behind their viewpoint, conservatives fail to distinguish between the two even while citing the Founders who *did* distinguish between them. See for example Michelle Malkin, who conflates the two even while citing the words of men who did understand the difference.
Note also from that post, this telling quote from Malkin:
“Why should we extend rights to someone here illegally that they wouldn’t enjoy in another country?”
See the collectivist premise? Since when do “we” “extend” rights? Governments, be they the royal or democratic “we”, may only recognize or deny rights; they do not grant them.
Citizenship does not confer rights; rather, it confers to the individual a specific and narrow set of privileges: the vote, and the option to seek public office. It is proper for a government to restrict citizenship for those who reside here for a minimum number of years.
3. I’m not anti-immigration, I’m anti-ILLEGAL immigration.
This is a common dodge. It substitutes a different topic entirely, to wit: the rule of law. The purpose of the dodge is to avoid the uncomfortable necessity of justifying their desire to legally discriminate against foreign nationals.
When I stick to the topic and ask whether the rule-of-law supporter would be fine with resolving the illegality issue by *changing the law* (to make immigration open), the honest ones answer yes (or at least that it’s a separate question).
Far more common, however, are the ones who say “Hell, no, we need less immigration!”… in which they confess what they sought to obscure: that they are anti-immigration, with all that implies about their basic political premise.
UPDATE 05/01/10: I did a touch of tightening up of the text above, moving one line and snipped a redundancy.
Gus Van Horn has also written a fantastic editorial at Pajamas Media on the topic of immigration, focussing on the welfare state as being the root cause of problems that conservatives blame on immigration. Tellingly, the conservatives are more interested in bashing him in the comments for being pro-immigration, rather than recognize his alignment with their purported distaste for the welfare state… or insisting on straw men of their choice.
A shout out to commenter Ashley: here is an example of an “airstrip“: the conservatives’ morally slipshod, unprincipled “opposition” to the welfare state, exposed as a shallow imitation of the Objectivist position, and tossed aside for the nonessential it is when juxtaposed with what they really care about.
Priorities, you know.
And now, with a tip of the hat to commenter madmax at Gus’ place, here’s a bunch more of the usual conservative anti-immigration arguments, dealt with scattergun style (as it’s all it takes, for the most part):
* foreign labor takes away American jobs
Translation: Americans can’t compete economically. Were I an American, I’d find that insulting. This one often comes from people in specialized disciplines who are used to their high salaries and don’t care to make the effort of adapting to increased competition (by skills upgrades, or cutting their prices).
* eliminating the welfare state will not end Mexican immigration because American work pays more so there will still be illegal immigration
But the *kind* of immigrants you attract would be the kind that are willing to work. In light of the proportion of native-born moochers, that’s a net improvement.
* America has too many people as it is and can not accommodate any more.
Evidently, those spouting this one have never been to Europe — or Tokyo. Or in the Western USA for that matter.
* There will be inevitable tension between whites and Hispanics
“Inevitable”? Racist/collectivist determinist. These ones need to google “melting pot”.
* Hispanics, at large, will resist assimilation and Hispanize America
Translation: American ideas and culture cannot compete in an open marketplace of ideas. Hogwash; see above.
There *is* a problem here, with hyphenated-Americans etc… but anyone who is paying attention knows that it is not melting-pot American individualism that is failing us.
The simple solution here is for Americans to rediscover what “being American” really means. Hint: it’s not an accident of birth, nor is it a matter of mere citizenship.
* The Southern border needs to be militarized to prevent an invasion
I don’t disagree with this in principle — the government does exist to secure the lives and rights of Americans, and the recent murder in Arizona points up definite failure on this front by the government. But in degree, this idea is ludicrous. Large-scale militarization is unnecessary in light of what’s happening in Mexico. At that level, there is no threat there.