Closed-Door Policy

Doug Bandow has a brief but thought-provoking post about liberty and immigration on the 4Pundits blog. He acknowledges some of the downsides to mass immigration — "the expansion of the welfare state, loss of national acculturating institutions, and danger of terrorism" — but concludes that "nevertheless, America should never close its door to those seeking a better life."

I have to say, my reaction to that conclusion is to ask, "Why not?" Nobody would say that "my apartment must never close its door to those seeking a better life" — which hardly means that one doesn't think others should seek better lives, only that they ought to do so on their own property. Or in their own countries.

In deciding whether to invite someone into one's apartment, the consideration is usually "do I like this person? Do I want his or her company?" Or for someone running a hotel, the question is "can this person pay?" With national immigration policy, the same sorts of questions ought to be asked — does the public want more immigrants (possibly it does) and what do prospective immigrants have to offer? There could be several good answers to that latter question: hard-working immigrants bring profit and economic growth, immigrants can enrich the country culturally, etc. But there is no free-standing, abstract right to come to the United States any more than there is such a right to admission to my apartment or to somebody else's hotel.

Public policy is not, of course, the same thing as administering private property, and governments, which are plenty harmful enough as it is, should not be alllowed to make distinctions between persons as arbitrarily as individuals do. But one distinction that governments conventionally are allowed to make is a distinction between citizens and noncitizens. And while government interests are never the same thing as citizens' interests — govenrments always have their own agendas, and citizens have differing interests among themselves, of course — on an issue like immigration, where fundamental liberties are not directly at stake, even a libertarian ought to be able to say that immigration policy should concern itself with what citizens want. That's making the best of a bad situation, where instead of perfectly free association there is some degree of coerced association and some degree coerced dis-association, which is what actually exists under any government. Someone who wants to immigrate to a particular country must justify himself to its people: what does he offer them? His desire for a better life is irrelevant: after all, everybody desires a better life.

I don't mean to suggest, by the way, that Bandow is not insensitive to all this. His post has just spurred some random thoughts.

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