Blogs > Liberty and Power > Collectivism and Immigration Controls

May 15, 2008 4:41 pm


Collectivism and Immigration Controls



Butler Shaffer has a piece at LRC on the basic principles involved. A choice excerpt:

As with government control generally, the power of the state to prevent or regulate immigration is grounded in the doctrine of collectivism. When governments build walls or fences around politically-defined boundaries, they are doing what all other property owners do: staking out their claims to everything contained within. It’s just an extension of the earlier ritual of explorers planting flags on the shores of newly-discovered lands and claiming them for one monarch or another. From China’s"great wall," to Hadrian’s wall, to the Berlin wall, to current efforts to install a fence across the Mexican-American border, governments have built barriers that restrain both their own people and those seeking entry. The principle that allows this to occur is that the state enjoys some collective ownership interest that differs from – and is in conflict with – individual property claims. The state, through no other principle than the coercive force that defines it, is able to transform itself from an agency of protection into a principal interest to be protected!

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Allan Walstad - 5/20/2008

"Children of immigrants born in a certain country automatically obtain citizenship of that country everywhere (in the Western legal world, at least)"

That's not at all the case from what I've read.

"The fact is that immigrants don't benefit from any special welfare programs and often don't benefit from any welfare programs"

Their kids can go to the government schools, hospitals can't just turn them away, etc. Although such things are not the focus of my concern, and I am not claiming that immigrants are a net economic drain, it is undeniable that immigrants, including illegal ones, draw on government services here in the US-whether that falls under the rubric of "welfare" or not.

Your characterization of "what the whole immigration problem usually boils down to" has little to do with the general issue I've raised. What would be more relevant is this: Suppose the pro-liberty movement is at long last making strides toward turning public opinion in favor of libertarianism, and suppose a wave of immigrants arrives that does not share that perspective at all. What effect does that have, especially in the years to come when they and/or their children become citizens? So again: does the route toward more liberty lie in a simple straight line?

Anybody else out there? Some of the topics raised on this site are pretty interesting, but the discussion is very sparse.


Bogdan Enache - 5/19/2008

Children of immigrants born in a certain country automatically obtain citizenship of that country everywhere (in the Western legal world, at least) because birth in a certain polity is the fundamental principle of modern citizenship (with naturalization coming second). It would be very strange to be otherwise, because then citizenship will have to be conditioned by factors such as ethnicity, race, religion or status and so on which will essentially eliminate the whole idea of citizenship as we know it and restore in its place a form of tribal polity.

It is not a privilege to be a citizen of the country where you're born, even if your parents were born elsewhere.

My question, on the other hand, was rhetorical. The fact is that immigrants don't benefit from any special welfare programs and often don't benefit from any welfare programs even if they pay various taxes and might actually be entitled. Their work however - and usually they're very enterprising people, maybe even the most enterprising in their home communities - contributes to the general welfare of the country they settle. Therefore, they cannot honestly be considered responsible for an increase of government spending, in the US or in any other part of the world where there is significant immigration, legal or illegal.

The whole "immigration problem" usually boils down to the fact that some/many people don't like certain types of immigrants. The US, for example, is the first destination for highly educated, highly skilled young people from all over the world, so much so that many developed and undeveloped countries accuse the US of draining their talent (governments in this countries have even instituted various public programs to attract these people back to their country of origin - with little success however). Notice that usually nobody complains about this kind of immigrants, the target are always those people that stand out: the low skilled, poor, often culturally exotic and unadapted immigrants.

I hope this is useful in addressing one of your concerns.


Allan Walstad - 5/19/2008

In the US, children of immigrants, born here, do have citizenship.

I don't believe my comment referred to "massive welfare programs for immigrants."

A question is not an answer to a question.

I favor immigration. My mother was an immigrant. I don't doubt that people often migrate in response to a demand for labor. At the same time, I also worry about a very large number of immigrants arriving illegally, whose children automatically become citizens.

At any rate, having read Shaffer's piece, I raised what I think are substantive concerns that are not adequately addressed by, for example, philosophizing about the implicit property rights claimed by the government when immigration is in any way limited. Feel free to address those concerns. Or not.


Bogdan Enache - 5/18/2008

Q2: Leaving aside the problem that immigrants don't have citizenship and so don't actually vote in the countries they settle, can you give one example of a society where there was significant immigration accompanied by massive welfare programs for immigrants?

But this only obscure the fundamental question: why do people immigrate (war and other emergency situations aside)? I bet you'll discover that, overwhelmingly, in each instance when that occurs that the answer to the riddle is the existence of a demand for their labour services, even if part of local population - including people who directly buy their labour services - sometimes happen to despise "the new kids on the block", as it where.

Like capital, people move according to market conditions: sometimes they come (or go) in business suits, sometimes just in the worker's "uniform". It's that simple.


Allan Walstad - 5/16/2008

I read Shaffer's piece. It appears to be of the logic-chopping anarcho variety:

No coercion.
State=coercion.
Therefore, state bad.

Here are a couple of problems for that approach:

1. Can it be proved that eliminating state coercion will not leave society vulnerable to more coercion? For example, without state-based defense, meaning possible war, can we be assured that a free society will not be overrun by collectivist states or barbarian hordes?

2. Given the present existence of massive state power and intrusion, can we be sure that the route toward more liberty lies in a simple straight line? What happens, for example, if massive immigration were to inflate the voter roles with people favoring more government interventionism?

People in the pro-liberty movement are not a homogeneous lot and may disagree on such issues. I respect and try to learn from the disagreements, but Shaffer's piece has a somewhat divisive tone to it that I don't think is helpful.

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