Our first post in this series argued that freedom of immigration is on a par with other important liberal freedoms like occupational choice and freedom of association. Next, we argued that if states’ rights to collective self-determination justify restrictions on freedom of immigration, they justify restrictions on these other important liberal freedoms, too. Now we’ll show that the costs allegedly created by freedom of immigration are also costs that other liberal freedoms may create. Since the costs don’t justify restricting these other liberal freedoms, they don’t justify restricting freedom of immigration either. Let’s run down the list.
Overconsumption of Government Services
The worry that immigrants will consume more in government services than they pay in taxes and thus increase citizens’ tax burden is a common one, particularly among libertarians. Suppose for argument’s sake the empirical claim is correct (we doubt that it is, but we won’t press the point). This doesn’t clinch the case for immigration restriction—after all, an increase in the tax burden is a predictable consequence of the exercise of lots of liberal freedoms. You have the right to enroll in any philosophy Ph.D. program that accepts you. But this choice puts you at risk of long-term unemployment and raises your odds of needing unemployment benefits.
Or suppose you convert to Thoreauvian transcendentalism and become a hardcore minimalist. You quit your job, chop down your house, burn all of your remaining property, and give away your land. But now you’ll need public assistance to get food, healthcare, etc. Still, liberals (including classical liberals) think you are within your rights to do all of these things. Indeed, as one of us has argued before, libertarians think you are within your rights to consume heroin despite that fact that doing so increases the likelihood you’ll need government-funded medical assistance.
Another popular objection to open borders is that the subsequent increase in the labor supply will drive down wages for native-born workers, particularly lower paid native-born workers. Here again, just suppose for argument’s sake the empirical claim is correct. Plenty of other choices people make can have this same effect. The most obvious example is outsourcing, which places domestic workers in direct competition with foreign labor. Automation worsens the labor market position of native-born workers, too (at least in the short run). So do certain forms of occupational choice. If a bunch of highly-paid lawyers burn out and decide to work as baristas, they’ll drive down the wages of existing baristas. But surely a liberal state may not prohibit this career change. There is evidence that women drove down the wages of men when they entered the workforce in large numbers. This is obviously a bad reason for forbidding women from finding jobs (although not everyone has always agreed).
Norms and Institutions
Consider the claim that an influx of immigrants will disrupt the recipient country’s cultural norms. The problem with this objection is that cultural change can occur through the exercise of a variety of liberal freedoms, like freedom of speech, association, and religion. But a liberal state wouldn’t prohibit people from publishing the Communist Manifesto, joining an unorthodox and unpopular religion, or protesting prevailing cultural and political norms.
Another worry is that immigration damages political institutions. The fear is that immigrants will push for illiberal laws and norms. Notice though that many of our fellow citizens support illiberal policies. Nonetheless, liberals don’t think it’s a good idea to put our illiberal compatriots in detention camps. (Happily, there is little evidence that immigration actually does undermine good institutions).
Now, you might be thinking that we have stronger reason to refrain from restricting the freedom of fellow citizens than the freedom of non-citizens. Our final post will explain why our obligation to refrain from coercing non-citizens is just as strong as our obligation to refrain from coercing citizens. But before we get to that, we’ll add a post addressing the objection that the freedom to move across borders simply isn’t as important as other liberal freedoms and thus isn’t deserving of the same protection.