The libertarian position on immigration is clear. Borders should be totally open, and anyone should be allowed to come in, provided they do not violate the private property rights of the residents. The crucial issue to be understood is that immigration would not constitute an initiation of physical force. As long as this holds true, there is no reason for a libertarian to oppose immigration. There can be no compromise on fundamental principles. As Professor Block puts it, “There can be no countenance for partially restricted immigration, any more than for partially restricted murder.”This is a highly disputed position, and some libertarians might disagree taking into account the implications.
Several arguments are raised against open borders from thinkers of various persuasions. One is that it would lead to a rise in the crime rate. Proponents of this notion go on to argue that immigrants will crowd the jails of United States and become a further burden on the long-suffering tax payer. Now, it is true that open borders would mean that some of the ones who come in would be criminals. Would it be a reason enough to restrict immigration?
Such a cure, however, would be worse than the disease. I do not think any sane person would argue that one should be judged and treated according to the actions of others who belong to the same category. If someone argues otherwise, the implications would be preposterous. As Murray Rothbard asked, “Perhaps the largest criminal class today in the United States is teenage black males. The risk of this class committing crime is far greater than any other age, gender, or color group. Why not, then, lock up all teenage black males until they are old enough for the risk to diminish?” Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes. Most of them come in to make a living in a peaceful manner.
Another argument raised mostly by Union leaders is that immigrants would drive down wages, and hurt low-skilled American workers. In some cases, in the short run, immigration would lower the wages of workers .True enough. Apart from the fact that this argument evades the reason why wages are high in the United States, it should be pointed out that in many cases the gains as a consumer would more than offset the losses as a producer. No one has a vested right to high wages. In the words of Bryan Caplan, “Suppose you could give American high school dropouts a 1000% raise by exterminating every man, woman, and child in Latin America. Would that be the right thing to do? No? Why not? Your answer, hopefully, is that murder is wrong, even if it financially benefits low-skilled Americans.”
Yet another argument is that immigration would aggravate the problem of unemployment. The critics of this argument have tried to answer this by quoting statistics and arguing that immigrants would not just produce, they would consume too. But, all such facts are besides the point. No one with the slightest understanding of Economics can trifle with this idea for a single second. It is mistakenly assumed that there are only a fixed number of jobs in a country, which obviously is far from the truth. There is no limit to the work to be done. We are not in the Garden of Eden. Human wants are unlimited, and as long as there are needs to be satisfied, there will be work to be done.
It is also said that open borders won’t make sense as long as the welfare state exists. Milton Friedman was a leading proponent of this argument. It should be clear that such an argument makes no sense. In fact, it is the most powerful argument against the welfare state. The problem could be solved by abolishing the welfare state altogether. Moreover, if immigrants are likely to be parasites of the state, how could it be ensured that American citizens themselves won’t do it? As Donald Boudreaux writes, “The most important fact overlooked by Friedman — or, at least, by those who cite Friedman as an authority for keeping immigration strictly limited — is that the costs of immigrants’ freeloading on taxpayers must be weighed against the benefits of immigrants’ contributions to the economy and, indeed, to tax revenues themselves. The fact that some, or even many, immigrants come to America to bilk U.S. taxpayers does not, standing alone, argue against more-open immigration. Working immigrants’ extra private-sector output and contributions to tax revenues might well outweigh the burdens created by other immigrants’ use of America’s welfare state.”
Bryan Caplan expresses my own position better than anyone: “Call me a Non-Bleeding Heart Libertarian, but for once, the shoe doesn’t fit. My heart does bleed for people born in poor countries who come here to better their condition with hard work. What about low-skilled Americans? They were born in the U.S. and speak fluent English. Let them count their blessings.”