Patrick Lynch wrote an interesting and provocative piece the other day arguing that immigration restrictions are consistent with libertarianism. An earlier post of mine explains why I disagree but I wanted to take the chance to say more on the issue. Lynch says:
Support for open borders implies the elimination of national boundaries for the purposes of political organization and is much more consistent with anarchism than with classical liberalism— both of which are now commonly referred to as libertarian. It’s a position that rejects the entire experiment in constitutional governance and different political systems that has been a foundational belief in liberalism for hundreds of years.
I’m not sure why support for open borders implies support for the elimination of meaningful national boundaries. Think of it this way: there’s an open border between Virginia and West Virginia but that doesn’t mean that we’ve eliminated state boundaries for the purposes for political organization. It just means that the state of Virginia can’t forcible exclude West Virginians from entering.
Next, in responding to Michael Huemer’s argument on behalf of open borders, Lynch writes that what Huemer “and others are doing is confusing a core value that all classical liberals, libertarians, and anarchists value—the right to exit—with a much more controversial claim, the right of entrance.” Lynch provides an analogy to marriage.
You have a friend who is in a horrible, abusive marriage. This person decides to exit the marriage because the safety of themselves or perhaps their children is at risk. You can support the idea that an abused spouse can end a bad marriage, but this does not obligate you to provide financial support to or marry this person. Exit from a situation does not require that someone else allow entrance.
However, one of Huemer’s key points is that states that restrict immigration do not simply withhold benefits from would-be immigrants—they actively and coercively interfere with them. Closed borders forcibly exclude immigrants from working for employers who want to hire them and buying housing from willing sellers. To run with the marriage analogy, it’s as though A and B want to marry, but C steps in and forcibly prevents them from doing so.
Lastly, Lynch writes,
In fact borders may be consistent with a core libertarian principle, exclusion by groups. [Bryan] Caplan would reject this argument, claiming that problems with political decision-making make the analogy baseless. However, instead of “groups” let’s substitute the words “homeowners’ association.” Unlike a club or group (Huemer uses the example of a philosophy discussion club), a homeowners’ association is very similar to a government with a geographically defined boundary. It sets up rules under which people gain and maintain membership. It and controls the living space of individuals. And it can discriminate based on age or any number of factors.
Here’s the problem: if the state really is like a homeowners’ association, then not only can it forcibly restrict a person’s liberty to enter, it can forcibly restrict all sorts of liberties. For instance, my HOA routinely threatens to fine me for having an unkempt lawn. But I don’t think that the U.S. government can restrict my right to grow an unkempt lawn. The point is, private organizations to which people expressly consent can be justified in restricting liberties in ways that the state is not—and this goes for the liberty to enter, too.