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Immigration – A Very Qualified “yes” and Several Badly Needed Questions

July 27th, 2010 by Inspector · 31 Comments · Uncategorized

I will start out by saying that I agree in principle with the Standard Objectivist Position On Immigration. The central solution to most current problems is to reform immigration law and abolish quotas so that the black market is removed, much like the whole war on drugs mess.


I think that the way I most often see this position presented is, at best inaccurate or oversimplified and at worst naive or suicidal. I will call this presentation, “Open Immigration” because that is what its presenters call it and also because that name highlights the key point of what is wrong with it.

First of all, many fail to make the very much necessary distinction between legal residence and citizenship. Most readers will take the position of “Open Immigration” to be “Open Citizenship,” and while, yes, you could say that’s their problem, I think it’s counterproductive to do anything but cut that thing off at the pass. This is a good example of many of the right approaches to not only this point, but of how to frame the case in general. Or a good start, at least.

With that out of the way, comes a few questions which I believe are the best way for me to lay bare what my issue is with the policy name and proposed policy of so-called “Open Immigration.”

1) Is your proposed policy that anyone professing or admitting to the Moslem faith is de facto an enemy of the US government, its citizens, and its constitution and therefore may be barred entry?

If so, how can you accurately characterize your position as “Open Immigration?” If not, then we may indeed have deeper disagreements and I believe your proposal may amount to not only a misunderstanding of the principles involved, but also a suicidal self-sacrifice on the part of America.

(As a follow up to that question, what is your position on That Mosque, and if you agree it should be demolished but don’t agree with the above point, how do you square those two things?)

2) Would your proposed immigration policy bar members of Mexican drug gangs, Chinese Communists, and other assorted members of murderous organizations and open enemies of the U.S.?

If not, again, that is suicide as above. If so, again whence the term “Open.” But perhaps more importantly:

3) Do you not realize that most of the countries which currently represent immigration problems exist under a near or total breakdown of law and order such that it would in most cases be relatively impossible to determine whether entrants were in fact in the above categories? That records from such countries are often either nonexistent, notoriously unreliable, or maliciously deceptive? And furthermore that this is before one even beings to consider the fact that such entrants would be lost in a deluge of millions, such that we would go bankrupt in any attempt to employ enough investigators to determine so many cases?

And that in turn leads to my final question,

5) Given that it is impossible in the case of many countries to determine the danger or harmlessness of applicants, do you believe that the burden of proof in such cases are that the non-citizen applicant is responsible for proving his harmlessness to the citizens and government of America or that the burden of proof rests on America such that if we cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that an entrant is malicious that we must By Right let him into our midst?

I would answer that the duty of our government is to protect the rights of its citizens first, and the rights of foreigners as a second. And I have yet to hear a convincing (or even non-tautological) argument as to why entry to a governmental jurisdiction for a non-citizen (who, by definition, does not own any claim to such territory) is, as such, a right.

So yes, I suppose one could, in a very technical sense, characterize the proper position on immigration as “Open,” given that, absent any of the aforementioned factors, yes we should let anyone who wants it, in.

But at this point, the whole characterization is just inaccurate. And if they’re using it as a stand on principle, I’d fear that we’re dealing with a wrong or misunderstood principle, or at the very least a poorly-worded position that makes us look bad in front of non-philosophical people who have the good sense to know how impracticable anything with the title “Open Immigration” is in today’s context – i.e. just the sort of people we’re trying to get this message out to.

Perhaps worst of all, it allows the conservatives, of all people, to gain ground on us with those same people. Conservatives. I’ll just let that last one sink in for a bit.


31 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrew Dalton

    How about a “non-protectionist” policy? That label underscores that whatever restrictions our government places in immigration, the purpose must be to defend the actual rights of American citizens, rather than their bogus “right” to a job or high wages.

  • Inspector


    That’s a decent idea, or the start of one at least.

  • Neil Parille

    Incidentally, Leonard Peikoff says he supports the Arizona law. He also said that unless there is laissez faire, a country is entitled to impose subtantial restritctions on the number of immigrants. I also read, but haven’t confirmed, that he is opposed to Moslem immigration.

  • Inspector


    Interesting – I didn’t know that. I have some catching up to do on his podcasts, but I’ll keep an ear out for that one.

  • madmax


    Do you believe that Islam itself should be labeled an enemy ideology, perhaps under the idea that it is a perpetual call to commit murder? I am asking because I am seeing a growing number of O’ists start to question how Islam should be classified. Other O’ists will argue though that Islam is a thought system and a gov’t can’t regulate in the marketplace of ideas. What a gov’t can do is prevent criminal conspiracies. But there must first be evidence of intent combined with some overt act. I fear that a large number of Muslims in our current cultural context would be disasterous. But how to treat Muslim immigration is a difficult one. But I do see that many Objectivists are starting to consider totally banning Muslim immigration. This was not the case 5 years ago.

  • L-C

    I classify it as an organisation bent on global conquest and the cessation of all human life qua humans. Its “peaceful” supporters should be met with restrictions in, or eviction from the US and denial of entry at its borders.

    Their homelands should be annihilated with megaton yield thermonuclear warhead, as is proper treatment of an existential threat to our lives and civilization. An enemy that wants the lives of humans to be filled with, not joy, struggle, production, excitement, fulfillment and happiness but fear, misery, oppression and torture.

    None of its supporters in this total war deserve to take part in the Western civilization their leaders seek to destroy.

  • Inspector


    That is the idea, yes. While Islam is a thought system, it is more than just that and therefore subject to legal considerations that other thought systems may not be. It is an actual tenet of Islam to murder and subjugate non-believers and to subvert and destroy any political system which opposes outright theocratic rule.

    Freedom of thought should not extend to calls to destroy the US government and kill or subjugate its citizens. In fact, I don’t believe it ever has, although a dedicated historical and constitutional scholar may have more to say on that.

  • Inspector

    That should read, “Freedom of religion should not extend…” Obviously it’s not a “thought” but an advocacy of murderous action which is the act in question here.

  • madmax

    So then are the anti-Islam Conservatives correct when they argue that the practice of Islam should be banned in America and all Muslims should ultimately be deported? That is what a growing contingent of Conservatives are arguing. They also argue that mosques are pivotal elements in Islam and the ultimate aim of Islam is the conquest of non-believers (ie the whole planet), therefore, mosques should not be allowed anywhere in the country.

    As we know, many Objectivists are going to disagree with this. Am I wrong in thinking that the subject of Islam could represent the danger of yet more schisms in Objectivism?

  • Andrew Dalton

    Immigration policy is a very different issue from the question of how we should treat Islam within our borders. For one thing, the measures that you described would be serious violations of the Constitution.

    (I consider illegal immigration vis-a-vis Islam and terrorism to be a red herring from conservatives; our border enforcement problem is almost entirely a matter of Mexican illegal immigration. Conservatives know this, but they are looking for a “hook” to make this an urgent military/national security issue post-9/11, rather than a law enforcement one.)

  • Neil Parille

    Mr. Dalton,

    Would you restrict Islamic immigration at all?

    If a Moslem wants to come to the US and doesn’t have an infectous disease, a criminal record, or ties to terrorist oranizations should he be allowed in?

  • Andrew Dalton

    Neil –

    Please articulate your own position rather than posting, again and again, these “Would you X?” “Would you Y” type questions.

  • madmax

    Conservatives know this, but they are looking for a “hook” to make this an urgent military/national security issue post-9/11, rather than a law enforcement one.

    Yes, this is true. Serious anti-immigration Conservatives view Mexican immigration as an invasion and a direct threat to the American republic. The arguments they give that I have seen are some version of the following:

    1) protectionist economics
    2) demographic / racialist grounds
    3) crime / drug related
    4) cultural – opposition to the Hispanization of America
    5) national security – Muslims will slip in through the Southern border
    6) welfare-state – Mexicans will enhance the welfare-state
    7) voting Democrat – Mexicans (non-whites) will vote Democrat and turn America into a socialist state permanently

    Only 6 deals with the issue from an individual rights perspective. (7 is a citizenship issue, 5 deals with Islam / national security.) Objectivists are really alone in the attempt to deal with immigration from the framework of a theory of unalienable rights (and how they apply). Our job is made harder by the fact that those who sound like us – libertarians – are arguing for the very type of “open immigration” that, as Inspector noted, make Conservatism look more sensible and realistic than Objectivism.

  • Neil Parille

    Mr. Dalton,

    I have stated my position. I would end all Islamic immigration to the US.

  • Inspector


    I don’t have an answer for you yet on what we can or should do about Moslems who are already citizens. It’s a bit of a thorny legal issue, with a lot of implications and consequences. But stopping them at the immigration level is something that is a lot more clear-cut to me.

    I’d say that 3 and 4 are legitimate issues in the context of the fact that the culture involved is deeply Catholic, collectivist, and socialist. And many are members of or support organizations such as La Raza, which is a racial supremacy movement not unlike the Nazis, explicitly devoted to the destruction of the US (I think they call it “reconquista”)

    (and also have been found to have worked with Hezbollah, among others).

    And whatever you think of the drug issue (I support legalization in the long term, to cut the scum off from their money factory if nothing else), the facts on the ground are that the people involved in it are brutal, murderous criminals and current US policy is basically an abdication of our national sovereignty in the face of an armed invasion.

    I’ve just listened to Dr. Peikoff’s podcast on this, and I have to say I’m relieved to hear his approach to this issue.

  • Inspector


    Really, individual rights extends to the protection of the rights of the citizens as well, so when you get down to it, all of the issues here can be approached from the perspective of rights.

    No matter how you feel about the drug issue (I support legalization in the long term, at the very least to cut the scum off from their cash cow), the fact of the matter is that the people involved are the worst kind of murderous criminals and our Federal government’s current policy is basically a near total abdication of the border to an armed invasion.

    What’s worse are the larger organizations, such as La Raza – which is a racial supremacy group torn from the pages of Mein Kampf, explicitly devoted to the overthrow of the US government. (with ties to Hezbollah to boot)

    Even a totally capitalist government would need to take some sort of action when faced with an issue like this. With our current welfare state government, the need is all the more dire.

    I’ve just listened to Dr. Peikoff’s podcast on this issue, and I have to say it is a breath of fresh air.

  • Inspector

    Hm, seems like there was a delayed double post there. I thought it had lost the first post so I went from memory… oh well.

  • madmax


    You make good points. The drug war has essentially militarized the Southern border. The welfare state combined with the Leftist desire to take all Latino immigrants and turn them into one big Democrat voting block threatens the U.S. with permanent socialism. La Raza and “Reconquista” are real threats to America. They are the combination of Latin racialism with Marxist revolutionary politics. And of course there is Islam.

    Each of these is a difficult conceptual challenge and I openly admit I have no answers. But I am glad that we are seeing a more open discussion of these things amongst O’ists rather than just a reference to Harry Binswanger’s essay on open immigration (which I think is a good theoretical foundation for non-protectionist immigration in a laissez-faire society, but it leaves an awful lot out and opens the door for a veritable bevy of questions).

    I hope the New Clarion raises the subject of immigration and Islam more often. We need to tackle the hard stuff.

  • Jim May

    The approach I take is that security concerns being within the proper purview of the government, screening intending entrants is valid and proper. This is because I view potential entrants, pre-screening, as not yet within the geographical area over which the government holds jurisdiction, and therefore outside the legal space which that country’s laws hold.

    So, it is proper for the government of a country to have border controls and checkpoints, and retains the right to do whatever is deemed necessary to execute its mandate of protecting everyone inside those borders, and the civil order that prevails therein.

    That’s up to and including outright border closure.

    Observe, however, that the discrimination involved is less oriented to citizenship than it is to simple location. What goes on here, is the equivalent of what soldiers do in hostile territory: they shout “Friend or foe? Who goes there?”

    In effect, that’s what the border patrol does. This is, at some level, a reversal of the civil principle “guilty until proven innocent” that governs the police *inside* the civil order, but not outside of it. Being a citizen goes a ways towards establishing “friend”, of course, but it’s just one of the considerations.

    Where the “right” occurs is that once a person has demonstrated to the border guards’ satisfaction that he is a “friend”, then he enters the country, is within the civil order and thusly protected by the same laws as the citizenry, with a very few exceptions.

    These consist of a few obvious ones and one not so obvious.

    The former are the restrictions of voting and holding public office to citizens, as well as certain services (e.g. passports).

    The latter pertains to the handling of anyone who is objectively determined as being in fact “foe” after the fact. Such a person, having not entered legally — they snuck in, or they lied about something at the border and are in fact a potential belligerent/criminal/disease carrier — is not legally “in” and so cannot claim protection under the law. In such a case, depending on the international situation, the government is free to arrest, detain, deport or even execute (in case of war) the transgressor.

    So, while I can see Leonard Peikoff’s points, I disagree with him on the extent to which a foreigner “lacks civil rights”; it is meaningless to declare that a foreigner retains basic human rights (such as the right to property) if the government can simply disregard his “civil” rights, such as search-and-seizure restrictions.

    So, to wrap up: “Open”, to me, means that individuals have the right to cross a border. However, remember that governments exist to secure individual rights *within* their borders, not necessarily without. Intending entrants, coming from unknown locations with unknown intents, are not insider the borders yet, and so are properly screened for potential threats to those inside the border, according to the current “alert status”, and the standards by which the government evaluates potential threats is determined by that alert status. If Mexico were hostile while Canada is friendly, Canadian citizenship counts as “friendly” evidence (but not proof) while Mexicans will get a closer look, and may potentially be denied entry.

    Once a person has been cleared by security, they may then exercise their right of entry. Far from being a violation of that right, it in fact represents a protection of it — for I would prefer that a country into which I enter is doing its job to protect and maintain the civil order into which I am seeking entry.

    Note also that security is the *only* rubric to which I do not object. Labor protectionism, the dominant consideration of current immigration law, does not qualify — and neither does the entire customs section. To those, I say: get the hell out of my way!

    So: if the security case can be objectively made for blocking Muslim immigration, or even merely giving Muslims a closer look, I am on board with it.

    But none of the usual conservative BS, like “the hispanization of America”, labor competition etc. passes this muster. I stand by everything I wrote in “Rights of Citizen” on those topics.

    (The mosque issue, I should note, is complicated by the problem of non-objective law inside the civil order, which is not operative in this context.)

    That is what defines “Open Immigration”. If you’re a friend, come on in!

  • Jim May

    An additional note, just FYI: Harry Binswanger came out on his list this week in disagreement with Dr. Peikoff’s recent statements regarding open immigration.

  • madmax

    Jim, good points.

    Intending entrants, coming from unknown locations with unknown intents, are not insider the borders yet, and so are properly screened for potential threats to those inside the border, according to the current “alert status”, and the standards by which the government evaluates potential threats is determined by that alert status.

    I agree with this. But I wonder how many other Objectivists do. Harry Binswanger doesn’t seem to even believe in immigration check points. He considers that “preventative law”. I’m on board with Harry’s approach to Objectivism in most ways but his immigration views leave me cold.

  • Inspector


    I’m not sure if the idea of borders, screening, et al, are compatible with the idea of entrants having the right of entry – an idea that leaves a very sour taste in my mouth for the myriad of implications it has. At absolute best, it would present a situation in which there are conflicting sets of rights which a government must prioritize – an idea that runs counter to a lot of how I understand proper rights and government are supposed to work.

    Not to mention the fact that in our current as well as foreseeable situations, we have an immense volume of immigration from many high-security-risk areas such that the burden of cost would almost certainly require an immigration fee to cover it… something again which I can’t reconcile with the idea of right of entry for the non-citizen.

    So that said, I do have to disagree with the part of your formulation which considers entry a right. (I am aware that this is the formulation used in most Objectivist statements, and as such I understand my position is controversial)

    But indeed I do note that at least we are both trying for the same outcome – the existence of borders and the right of the citizenry to have them as well as screen them for security purposes. (while having immigration otherwise basically free of restriction)

    But in any case, to reiterate: I do understand my position is controversial and did expect disagreement – in fact a great deal more of it than I have so far received.

  • madmax

    something again which I can’t reconcile with the idea of right of entry for the non-citizen.

    I was thinking the same thing. If an immigrant must prove that he does not have an infectous disease and that he is not a common-law criminal and that he is not in any other way a security threat, then how can we say the immigrant has right of entry. Binswanger uses that term all the time and it confuses me. Unless we can place conditions on rights and still have them be rights. I don’t know, is that possible? Perhaps the solution to this lies in a better understanding of Objectivist rights theory. Some Objectivist really needs to right a treatise dedicated to the Objectivist politics and fully flesh out the concept of rights.

  • North Bridge

    I haven’t followed the debate closely, but several years ago Craig Biddle wrote an article outlining the “Open Immigration” position, which I assume is representative. His basic argument was that individual rights consist at root in a right to act on one’s own judgment. Hence if a man judges it in his best interest to live in another country, it would be a violation of his rights to prevent him from moving there.

    “The right to act on one’s judgment includes the right to contract with others by mutual consent to mutual advantage… Foreigners have a right to move to America, and Americans have a right to hire, contract, and associate with them by mutual consent. A government that prohibits or limits immigration thereby initiates force against would-be immigrants… The principle of individual rights forbids this prohibition and mandates open immigration.


    The article presents no specific argument for a “right” to cross the borders of another country; it seems to treat it as an obvious application of individual rights. The closest thing to an argument is the floating idea that individuals have a right to associate with whomever they want, as long as the rights of others are not violated.

    Biddle supports his case by such examples as a Mexican who wishes to take a job at a car wash in Los Angeles, who is (without further argument) equated with an American wishing to relocate for a position in another state. The implication, taking the entire article in context, is that the Mexican has every right to enter the country, legally or illegally. The only applicable standard is his wish to live in the U.S., and the fact that a U.S. employer wishes to hire him.

    This is not actually an argument from rights. The fact that the Mexican and his prospective U.S. employer may have a mutual agreement is irrelevant in the context of the right of the rest of the population to protect themselves against foreign criminals, disease-carriers, terrorists, supporters of enemy regimes, etc. The only way to identify the ones that are threats is to screen all immigrants. In enforcing an application and screening procedure, to the extent that it is done objectively, the government is acting to protect the rights of its citizens. Conversely, by sneaking across the border at night to evade that process, an illegal immigrant is violating the rights of all U.S. citizens.

    It is indicative that Biddle’s article acknowledges the necessity of a screening process, but then proceeds to call immigration law “immoral and illegitimate” and calls for “unconditional amnesty and a presidential apology” to all illegal aliens. Not because current law is non-objective, but apparently because the mere existence of restrictions on immigration is a violation of rights. Well, you can’t have it both ways. If it is proper for the government to screen prospective immigrants and reject criminals, there will have to be laws defining the process and criteria, and people will be waiting in line while their applications are being processed.

    The “Open Immigration” position, as represented by this article, is born of rationalism. (In fact, it is reminiscent of libertarianism in waving “mutual consent” as some magical wand to eliminate the legitimate functions of government.)

    It starts from the observation that individual rights are requirements of man’s survival, and hence “universal” (not dependent on living under any particular government). It deduces from the Objectivist validation of rights that there must be a right to move one’s body anywhere on the planet one wishes, as long as nobody else’s rights are violated. And from this it deduces that if a government blocks that movement, it is violating individual rights. It fails to take into account that the means of protecting rights is government, which is always “local” in the sense of pertaining to a defined geographical area and tasked only with protecting the rights of people within that area. Citizens of Mexico or Ukraine may assert their universal “right” to live within the U.S. as much as they want, but the only proper concern of the U.S. government is to protect the rights of U.S. citizens.

    The “Open Immigration” position seems to see borders and governments almost as fictions, arbitrary barriers restricting the natural freedom of man. (Again, reminiscent of libertarianism.) The fact is that borders are real, and critically important in the context of protecting a nation.

    In my limited experience, “Open Immigration” advocates sometimes argue that since there are criminals and terrorists in the population anyway, why should we worry about foreign ones in particular? To me, this shows more than anything how rationalistic and untenable the position is. Homegrown criminals and terrorists do not have any “right” to be here. The problem is that there is nowhere else to send them. We are saddled with them, in effect, because they were already citizens when they committed their crimes; hence it becomes the problem of the U.S. government to incarcerate them and isolate them from the rest of the population. For the same exact reason it is a function of government to keep foreign criminals out of the country. The case of enemy operatives is even more obvious.

    From what I know of U.S. immigration law, it is not as irrational (at least in principle) as it is sometimes made out to be.

    Should there be immigration quotas? It is not an issue of what “should” be the case, but the plain fact that there is a limit to what government has resources to support. Whatever number of applications government can process in a year is the extent of possible immigration that year.

    A slow/difficult/cumbersome process? Whatever it takes to legitimately protect U.S. citizens. Again, the only concern of the U.S. government should be to protect its citizens, whether or not that inconveniences foreigners.

    Merit tests? Years back Dr. Binswanger argued in favor of 19th-Century vagrancy laws, by which police could arrest any vagrant who lacked “visible means of income.” The assumption was that if you were unable to point to any honest way that you were supporting yourself, you were probably a criminal. Similarly, immigrants should be required to document some realistic way that they plan to provide for themselves in their new country (education, personal wealth, active job offers, familiarity with the language). This is an especially keen concern in the context of a welfare state, but would hold true even under laissez faire.

    None of this addresses the extent to which current laws may be non-objective or make it “too ridiculously difficult” to get into the country. Those would be appropriate issues to address in connection with a general rollback of government, but they have no bearing on the basic issue of a “right” to immigration.

  • North Bridge

    BTW, the above was in response to madmax’s question.

  • madmax

    North Bridge,

    Excellent comment. Craig Biddle’s essay always sat wrong with me.

    The fact that the Mexican and his prospective U.S. employer may have a mutual agreement is irrelevant in the context of the right of the rest of the population to protect themselves against foreign criminals, disease-carriers, terrorists, supporters of enemy regimes, etc.

    I once made this comment to Harry Binswanger in a private e-mail and he told me I had accepted a Conservative premise. That answer never sat right with me either.

    The only way to identify the ones that are threats is to screen all immigrants.

    Binswanger, it seems, thinks this is too intrusive and smacks of preventative law. His arguments on immigration always seemed to me to be more towards the “libertarian” side; which is interesting because in many other subjects he doesn’t come across libertarian.

    Again, great comment. I’ll be interested to see the response it gets.

  • Inspector

    North Bridge,

    Yours is obviously an analysis which you’ve put some thought into, and a decent one, although personally I’ve made it a point that no matter how frustrated I am, that I should try to refrain from speculation into the causes of others’ errors (i.e. “rationalism” or “reminiscent of libertarianism”).

    That said, I think you’ve covered all of the bases involved. Those questions and omissions are exactly what I would like to see addressed, and why I mentioned I’ve yet to hear a non-tautological argument (i.e. one that does not amount, in the end, to “it’s an individual right because it’s an individual right.”) Folks just seem to treat their position as a self-evident given that flows without need of explanation from the idea of individual rights.

    Unfortunately, the answers given so far are of such a nature that they will do nothing to explain the situation if you don’t already accept this premise as self-evident.

  • North Bridge


    I appreciate the intent of your cautionary note. I regretted the references to libertarianism after having submitted my comments, as it dawned on me that I was inviting misunderstandings.

    Dr. Binswanger is most emphatically not a libertarian or anything “like” a libertarian. I have no personal knowledge of Biddle, but I assume he is an honorable man and a sincere student of Objectivism. I didn’t claim, and didn’t intend to imply, that either of them somehow has a foot in the libertarian camp on this issue. That would have been a baseless insult.

    I do believe there is an error of method behind the “Open Immigration” position. Good men can, and do, commit thinking errors on particular issues, which does not imply any failure of rationality or morality on their part. Many years ago Dr. Binswanger retracted a position he had previously defended, saying that his former approach was positivistic. I have heard Dr. Peikoff pointing out to a good Objectivist, in a context of helping him sort out a confusion, that he was accepting a Christian premise. Madmax mentions in his comment above how he was told that he accepted a Conservative premise. None of this implies that the individuals in question accept (or lean towards) positivism, Christianity, or conservatism. It is a way of identifying the nature of an honest error committed in the process of applying Objectivism. The focus is on understanding the error, not attacking the person. I had nothing more in mind with my “libertarian” references, but it was a mistake to assume that that would be clear to everyone.

    I believe the answer in principle (and in a nutshell) to the “Open Immigration” position is that it is not a concern of any government to uphold, defend, or protect the rights of the citizens of other nations. (That is the function of their governments.) This leads to a situation that may on the surface look paradoxical: Men have a right to emigrate, but they do not automatically have a right to immigrate. The principle of individual rights does imply that every individual has a right to leave his native country and move anywhere in the world he wants; if the government he lives under hinders or obstructs him in leaving, it is violating his rights. But on the receiving end, a foreign government is not obligated to let him in, or even to consider his application. A proper government would let in as many qualified immigrants as possible, because an influx of productive individuals is to everyone’s advantage, but the primary concern of that government is still to protect the rights of the current population. Hence the entry granted to new immigrants is a privilege, not a right.

    “Open Immigration” advocates may disagree, and hold that the U.S. government is obligated to protect the rights of foreigners. As far as I can see, their position commits them to that. But in that case they will have to address a range of consequences, not only having to do with immigration. (In epistemological terms, the position needs to be integrated with the rest of one’s ideas. One cannot hold a position on immigration, or anything else, in a vacuum.)

    — Why are innocent casualties of war justified? Does the government’s relationship to foreign individuals change during times of war?

    As I understand it, a government only relates to foreign nations at a “state” level — i.e. one government conducting official business with other governments. In the government’s eye, in effect, individual citizens of foreign nations do not exist. Government has no relationship, function, or interest associated with foreign individuals. (If you want full precision, I should say “except as they relate to foreign policy goals.” E.g., government agencies helping Soviet scientists defect was appropriate because it tied in with proper foreign policy objectives.)

    With friendly nations, the government’s concern should be to remove barriers to trade and exchange, which would then be conducted by individuals and businesses in both countries. With an aggressor nation, the government’s concern should be to defeat the aggressor. But in neither situation is the government concerned with upholding the rights of foreign individuals. If the U.S. had laissez faire and England remained a welfare state, the unjust taxation of English citizens would not be a concern of the U.S. government. Similarly, in war the government should do anything necessary to defeat the enemy, without concern for the lives of innocent civilians.

    The opposing premise requires a fundamentally different account of this relationship.

    — Why is the U.S. justified in supporting “friendly” dictatorships against their e.g. Marxist opposition?

    This is a matter of peacetime policy, so whatever exception may be argued for times of war does not apply here. Again, it is straightforward and consistent to hold that it is not the function of the U.S. government to uphold the rights of foreign individuals. Nor would it be inappropriate to pressure the foreign dictatorship to improve, but the key concern is to prevent a Marxist takeover.

    On the opposing premise I believe this would be very difficult to justify.

    — May the CIA assassinate foreign individuals (or heads of state) without a due process of law?

    And on and on. Ultimately the “Open Immigration” view would have to be integrated with a full view of war and peace, foreign policy, international trade, “international law,” and the function of government in general. Or perhaps the thinking is that immigration is in a special category, so that on this particular issue government is obligated to uphold the rights of foreigners, whereas otherwise it is not. But that would be a hard case to make.

    The bottom line is that I don’t think the “Open Immigration” position has much of a leg to stand on.

    Well, maybe you had already figured that out.

  • North Bridge


    … he told me I had accepted a Conservative premise.

    It would be interesting to know what that premise is. Conservatives often make collectivist arguments on immigration, but there is nothing collectivistic about saying that government’s role is to protect its citizens against foreign threats as well as domestic ones. Maybe he saw something else in your statement.

    … thinks this is too intrusive and smacks of preventative law.

    I don’t see that the concept of preventive law applies. That would be the principle that there must be a crime committed before law enforcement can take place. (1) I don’t think immigration comes under law enforcement. It is more of a sui generis function. (Not every proper government function pigeonholes into either law enforcement or military). When a prospective immigrant is found to be a criminal, the function of INS is not to arrest him and bring him to trial, but to deny entry. (2) The concept of rejecting criminals etc. presupposes that they already have a criminal record. They would be rejected because of their past record, not incarcerated to prevent future crimes. In fact, the purpose of rejecting them would not be to prevent future crimes — but to prevent future crimes, if such should occur, from taking place on U.S. soil.

  • Inspector

    North Bridge,

    I just wanted to clarify that I didn’t ever think that you did intend your phrasing in a hostile manner, only that it left too much room to be interpreted in that way (exactly as you said). I definitely appreciate your clarification and think that with it, you have an excellent statement of position that I hope will make an impact.

  • Fareed

    the rights of the “population” to protection from enemies doesn’t trump my right to hire the Mexican worker. you can’t nullify my agreement because you need to be protected.