Immigration, Open Borders, and Libertarianism

In my last post on why no countries choose libertarianism, I wrote that one reason

people often do not want libertarianism [is that] they believe they are better off with restrictions on liberty – but they make this judgment without considering the benefits to other people from liberty. For example, people support immigration restrictions on the ground that the immigrants would take their jobs away, but they ignore the benefits to the immigrants. Or people support restrictions on drugs based on the fear of their children taking drugs, without considering the various harms that drug prohibition creates.

A couple of commenters objected to this argument, claiming that “citizens of a given country [are entitled to] give their own interests . . . more weight than the interests of the immigrants.” And that

If the citizens of a country, in setting national policy, are not entitled to give priority to their own collective self-interest, the concepts of nationhood and citizenship seem fairly meaningless.

Two points here. First, people who hold this view are certainly entitled to their view. But whether they are right or not, my point is that many people do not choose libertarianism because they believed that other people’s interests (such as immigrants) did not really count. These comments support my point. The commenter here clearly believes that immigrants count for less. Thus, he is unlikely to be a libertarian on that issue.

Second, one might ask whether this position is correct or not. I find myself a bit in the middle. I do not believe that people in the United States should intrinsically count for more than people in other countries. But I do believe that people in the United States may secure certain claims from taking actions that benefit the country, such as serving in the armed forces especially if they are drafted. I don’t favor entirely open borders, but I do favor very liberal immigration. The restrictions that I do favor are largely about keeping the country a free and prosperous one. But I don’t favor protectionist restrictions to provide rents to those people who happen to live here.

But even if one believes my second point is mistaken, that should not necessarily lead you to disagree with my first point. Rather, your position is actually evidence of the point that I was making.

Mike Rappaport

Professor Rappaport is Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism. Professor Rappaport is the author of numerous law review articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Georgetown Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. His book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, which is co-authored with John McGinnis, was published by the Harvard University Press in 2013.  Professor Rappaport is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he received a JD and a DCL (Law and Political Theory).

About the Author

Recent Popular Posts

Related Posts


  1. John Ashman says

    I think that there is another argument here.

    That the cost to those who want Federal immigration enforcement (unconstitutional, BTW), will pay a very high price to enforce their will on others.

    And these people ignore the positive aspects that immigrants bring, such as actual job creation, filling in holes in the economy, business creation, job retention. Someone without a job complains that an immigrant stole their job, but has no understanding that an immigrant might have given them a job, had they been given the opportunity.

    There is also the cost of lack of economic freedoms, the lack of increasing tax base and dozens of other unintended consequences. Enforcing your will on others always involves cost, that often outweigh the benefit.

    Further, it’s not really libertarian to say “I’m okay with this because it doesn’t affect me”. Libertarianism is the ability to say “it might affect me, but it’s the right thing to do”

    • Lada Belyy says

      I support open borders.
      I belive anyone should be able to leave any country when living conditions become unbearable. And, they should be free to travel to any country, land, or nation, that will accept them.
      I also believe that Nations are composed of People, who have things in common, such as race, ethnicity, language, religion, education, tradition, morals, values, history, etc., commonalities which form the bonds of UNITY.
      With open borders, for entry, Nations can’t control who enters. The result of unregulated immigration, as we can easily see in Europe and the U.S., is diverse, divided groups of people with no common interests, no common language, no common morality, no common values, each vying for its own interest, at the expense of the others. Diversity is division. The big lie of the “opens borders” movement is, “They want the same things we want.” That is NOT always true. In many cases THEY do not want your language, values, traditions, morality, etc. In fact, THEY, want to impose THEIR values onto the Nations which they are invading. It’s time to reexamine liberal immigration policies in the interest of preservation of National unity.

  2. says

    Reading this post leads me to think that the good arguments for private property, whether from justice or prudence, are also good arguments for a multiplicity of polities, whose territory are owned by its citizens. An individual can seek rent on his own land, and a people can seek rent on their own national territory.

  3. Brett Bellmore says

    “But I don’t favor protectionist restrictions to provide rents to those people who happen to live here.”

    You can not favor that all you like, but it’s got diddly squat to do with libertarianism.

    Let us suppose, hypothetically, that we didn’t live in this libertarian nightwatchman state, where everyone directly pays for every service they receive, but instead lived in a rather non-libertiarian welfare state. One where people were taxed extensively whether they wanted to be or not, to pay for serviced provided to people who didn’t have to pay the taxes. Could it be that, in such a state, crossing the border into the state, where you can collect services other people pay for, is not a neutral act which no libertarian could object to, but essentially the first step in obtaining access to what a libertarian would characterize as stolen goods?

    I live in a gated community. My rent, in addition to paying for my actual domicile, secures me access to a poll and fitness center, and other amenities. Once you’ve passed the gate, access to these amenities is not further conditioned. Should I not care if the management throw the gates open to the slum next door? Should I not care that I am paying for a pool others will use without paying? Should I not care that I can’t walk the sidewalks at night without being accosted by people who don’t pay rent? Is this not caring demanded of me, as a libertarian?

    That gated community is called the United States. When the US becomes a libertarian nightwatchman state, you might have a case for open immigration. Until then? Not so much.

    • John Ashman says

      This is the “two wrongs make a right” approach.

      The goods are already stolen by force, you are just upset about who is the end recipient of the stolen goods, which is kind of ridiculous.

  4. Charles Rubin says

    Note how the argument moves from an assertion that some people believe that the interests of immigrants count less, to saying they believe immigrants count less, to saying they believe immigrants intrinsically count less– three very different assertions that seem to be treated as one. If that confusion were resolved, it might be possible to begin to have a serious discussion of the meaning of citizenship as it relates to immigration policy.

  5. gabe says

    That is just downright silly! and inconsistent to boot!

    “The restrictions that I do favor are largely about keeping the country a free and prosperous one.”

    Really? Isn’t this based on an assumption that “others” either do not count as much as Americans or that they are unable to adapt to our customs? why else would you want to restrict them and their liberty to come here (a liberty which I do not believe that they do, or should, possess). Perhaps, if we stopped viewing immigration as a “right” and more as a privilege, we would strike the right balance. But of course, nowadays, everything silly thing under the sun is a “right”, thus we have libertarians.

    • John Ashman says

      Immigration is a natural right, because it is a natural human behavior that existed long before government, and doesn’t directly harm anyone. Libertarians accept that indirect harm is impossible to eradicate, and only direct harm is punishable. Further, an immigrant coming here could be a huge benefit. As it stands, we educate people in our education system, then tell them to go home and start a business there instead of here.

  6. Mike Rappaport says

    I don’t think that some restrictions to keep the country free and prosperous is inconsistent with saying that immigrants count intrinsically for the same as citizens. To make just one point, if the country were not free and prosperous, that would harm immigrants as well.

    • gabe says

      Mike/ John:
      You do make some good points on this and I am not saying that immigrants do not count the same as citizens; once they are here and have accepted our culture and political history. Aside from the fact, that it is impractical to allow everyone into our country, one must ask if it is “reasonable” to allow into our polity those who may despise it. Should we allow this in large enough measure, would we not ultimately face a modern (cultural) secession crisis. would this not cause harm to this country? As for the economic benefits or disadvantages of immigration, I believe that is secondary to cultural / political adaptation.

      • Mike Rappaport says

        I agree there is a concern about allowing immigrants who despise our country or more generally allowing immigrants who do not support the basic ideals of a free society. How to further this goal, of course, is a difficult question.

        • John Ashman says

          Oh dear lord.

          You’re buying into and propagating the “they hate us for our freedom” BS. NO ONE despises a free state. NO ONE. It’s just a ridiculous assertion to think that people hate a government who doesn’t mess with your business. Secondly, the idea that someone would go to live in a place that lives by a paradigm they don’t like is a bit off as well. If you want to make the terrorist argument, how many terrorists are blowing up libertarian governments?

          If anything, 99.999% of immigrants would move here to embrace freedom, while 80% of American born kids would think that we just don’t have enough statism.

          But again, the Constitution is there to protect us not only from government, but to protect individuals from the masses.

      • John Ashman says

        Gabe, who CARES if they accept our culture and political history? By not accepting our culture, they are contributing to it. It’s like suggesting that every immigrant must like apple pie. And far more important than history is our now. I don’t accept slavery, but it is part of our history. The question is, “will you obey the few laws we have?” “You will? Great!”

        What is the point of creating a country so great that everyone wants to move there, if in fact, you don’t want people to move there? And if we don’t want people to move here, it seems that doing what we’re doing is really turning the corner on our immigration problem. We may soon get to the point where more people leave than come, for the first time in our history.

        But the idea that culture is something to be preserved is preposterous. Culture is simply a generalization based on those that live there.

        If a state wishes to secede because the country is too free, let them. That’s the nature of freedom. I doubt that anyone would choose to ever live a country that is too free, however. These are all strawman scenarios.

    • John Ashman says

      “I don’t think that some restrictions to keep the country free and prosperous is inconsistent with saying that immigrants count intrinsically for the same as citizens. To make just one point, if the country were not free and prosperous, that would harm immigrants as well.”

      Okay, I’m sorry, but this is just statism right here. It’s so problematic I’m not sure where to start.

      You just said that we need restrictions to keep the country “free”. I’m not sure how you don’t see the obvious contradiction there. Secondly, it’s not the job of government to provide prosperity, only to get out of the way of it. Prosperity requires free flow of labor and services, which help keep jobs and money within the desired area. So this is a logical contradiction. Further, you may help one person’s prosperity but then you have hurt mine because I may wish to hire an immigrant worker because he wants the job more. If I go out of business for lack of affordable labor, how has the state aided prosperity? Less competition and higher prices?

      Finally, you basically end with “in order to keep our country free, we’re not letting you in”. Come now. You’re starting right off with shooting freedom dead.

    • Lada Belyy says

      Immigration is not a natural right.
      Permission to enter a nation or country is a privilege, granted by the governing body of that political unit.
      Emigration might be a natural right or might should be.
      Open borders policy is based on Marxist ideology, which is based on outdated science. Even birds have borders. I have hummingbirds outside defending their feeders ferociously. Chimps have borders which they patrol and defend with viciousness. It’s a survival thing. Of course, globalists don’t care for borders or restricted immigration. They want every strong nation’s unity to be muddled by immigrants who have no love for that nation’s unity, history, or traditions. Once our unity is destroyed, it will be much easier for globalists to surrender our sovereignty, to be subverted by the United Nations, an organization which is ironically opposed to Nations, but LOVES Countries with strong central, and easily corrupted, governments. In the interest of national unity, it’s time to reexamine open borders immigration policy.

  7. Paul137 says

    The original post above and many of the “Attaboy!” comments seem like vapid theorizing to me. That’s because I read, long ago, John Derbyshire’s memorable piece “Libertarianism In One Country” ( ). Here are his concluding four paragraphs:

    “I think that libertarians should take a leaf from Stalin’s book. They should acknowledge that the USA is, of all nations, the one whose political traditions offer the most hospitable soil for libertarianism. Foreigners, including foreigners possessed of the urge to come and settle in modern, welfare-state America, are much less well-disposed towards libertarianism.

    “If less than one in seven American voters is inclined to libertarianism, then there is much missionary work to be done among present-day American citizens. To think that this missionary effort will be made any easier by a steady stream of arrivals from foreign parts, most of which have never known rational, consensual government, is highly unrealistic, to the point of delusion.

    “That is why I say that libertarians who favor mass immigration are nuts. If there is any hope at all for libertarianism, it rests in the libertarianism of my title: libertarianism in one country.

    “There is no contradiction between maximum liberty within a nation and maximum vigilance on the nation’s borders. Not only is there no contradiction between the two things, in fact, it may be that the second a precondition for the first.”

    • John Ashman says

      This post makes no sense based on historical evidence.

      The largest reason for US immigration is economic freedom and opportunity.

      People can usually get handouts in their own countries. As a Mexican man once told me “You know what’s wrong with your country? You give stuff away. If I don’t work, I don’t eat. So I work.”

      It would be far easier to create a libertarian paradise with 100 million immigrants than 100 million voting Americans, 99% of whom voted for statism in 2012.

    • John Ashman says

      Also, some of the most vociferous libertarians are Russian immigrants.

      So I’d gladly swap out 99% of Americans for communist immigrants who would defend our Constitution.

  8. Gilbert De Bruycker says

    1/ [T]he masses of immigrants […] remain what they are: Zulus, Hindus, Ibos, Albanians, or Bangladeshis. Assimilation can work when the number of immigrants is small. It is entirely impossible, however, if immigration occurs on a mass scale. In that case, immigrants will simply transport their own ethno-culture onto the new territory. Accordingly, when the welfare state has imploded there will be a multitude of “little” (or not so little) Calcuttas, Daccas, Lagos’, and Tiranas strewn all over ….”

    2/ Some like Hans-Hermann Hoppe have what I believe to be quite incorrect understandings of not just the inevitably fluid nature of society in a modern extended order but have also failed to grasp the dramatic effect of capitalist trade based economics on making societies more dynamic and adaptive when they interact increasingly globally. As a result, Hoppe takes an extremely non-Anglosphere, quintessentially Germanic view of the nature of civil society when viewed separately from the state: at its core he sees a blood and soil Volk, racially, genetically as well as culturally based and therefore leading to self reinforcing communities of ‘like cultures’.

    Thus he takes the view that were it not for the imposed integration of the state, whilst people may wish to trade with anyone, they would inevitably not freely wish to live and work in close physical proximity with different cultures, races and lifestyles. Different races, homosexuals, libertines, people who take siestas in the afternoon etc. etc. (i.e. anyone who was not a member of the Volk either racially or culturally) would be either excluded from the community of free property owning citizens all together or at the very least banished to enforced ghettos like medieval Jews. I do not feel I am overstating Hoppe’s position (see ch.9 ‘On Cooperation, Tribe, City, and State’ in ‘Democracy-The God that failed’

  9. Gilbert De Bruycker says

    “[A]s long as there are national boundaries, even if, as is often the case, highly arbitrary ones, it is necessary to have clear criteria concerning who should be allowed to come into a country and who should not. It is not entirely accidental that all countries have criteria of the kind. Such criteria can indeed be “racist,” if they exclude people purely on the basis of race (as might have been the case with earlier immigration policies), as well as “right-wing” in the traditional sense, if predicated on, e.g., capitalist interests in keeping wage rates low by inflating the available labor pool, or maybe on maintaining a particular ethnic composition, irrespective of the assimilability of potential immigrants and their offsprings. There is nothing inherently racist or right-wing, however, in insisting on the cultural assimilability of newcomers and their children, or limiting their number in relation to what particular communities can readily accommodate or are willing to accept. ”

    Paul Piccone, “The tribulations of left social criticism”

    • John Ashman says

      “There is nothing inherently racist or right-wing, however, in insisting on the cultural assimilability of newcomers and their children”

      No, just something inherently statist and irrational.

    • John Ashman says

      Let me paraphrase what you just said.

      “People actually want to do something and that’s the very reason we must prevent them from doing it!”

      It reminds me of the bus stops that were built by citizens in Detroit. The very fact that someone would do this without government permission is the very reason it must be stopped. Never mind that bus stops are good things (sort of).

  10. says

    Do you believe in the religions of multiculturalism, diversity, and egalitarianism? Do you believe in the welfare state? If so, how does a liberal immigration policy work with those things that now exist within the State? Since these are the realities of the State, (in the US and elsewhere) and are not going to change anytime soon, explain how free immigration of everyone and anyone works to empower the State? Well, I know how it works to empower the State, but how does it work to empower citizens, individuals? And when someone comes here because they have “no choice” how is “no choice” a choice? It isn’t. Moreover, how do you respond to Murray Rothbard, who said, “The libertarian, especially of the anarcho-capitalist wing, asserts that it makes no difference where the boundaries are, since in a perfect world all institutions and land areas would be private and there would be no national boundaries. Fine, but in the meantime, in the real world, in which language should the government courts hold their proceedings? What should be the language of signs on the government streets? Or the language of the government schools? In the real world, then, national self-determination is a vitally important matter in which libertarians should properly take sides.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>