Anthony de Jasay: What is the Liberal Stand on Immigration?

Immigration: What is the liberal stand? : By Anthony de Jasay

Classical liberals have a bad conscience about immigration controls, let alone severe ones. The liberal mind has always disliked frontiers and regards the free movement of people, no less than those of goods, as an obvious imperative of liberty. At the same time, it also considers private property as inviolable, immune to both the demands of the ‘public interest’ (as expressed in the idea of the ‘eminent domain’) and of the rival claims of ‘human rights’ (satisfied by redistributing income to the poor who have these rights). Private property naturally also implies privacy and exclusivity of the home.

One strand of libertarian doctrine holds that it is precisely private property that should serve as the sole control mechanism of immigration. Immigrants should be entirely free to cross the frontier—indeed, there should be no frontier. Once in the country, they should be free to move around and settle in it as if it were no man’s land, as long as they do not trespass on any part of it that is someone’s land, someone’s house, someone’s property of any sort. They can establish themselves and find a living by contracting to work for wages and to find a roof by paying rent. In all material aspects of life, they could find what they need by agreements with owners and also by turning themselves into owners. Owners, in turn, would not object to seeing immigrants get what they had contracted for.

A very different stand can, however, be defended on no less pure liberal grounds. For it is quite consistent with the dictates of liberty and the concept of property they imply, that the country is not a no man’s land at all, but the extension of a home. Privacy and the right to exclude strangers from it is only a little less obviously an attribute of it than it is of one’s house. Its infrastructure, its amenities, its public order have been built up by generations of its inhabitants. These things have value that belongs to their builders and the builders’ heirs, and the latter are arguably at liberty to share or not to share them with immigrants who, in their countries of origin, do not have as good infrastructure, amenities and public order. Those who claim that in the name of liberty they must let any and all would-be immigrants take a share are, then, not liberals but socialists professing share-and-share alike egalitarianism on an international scale.”

Leitura complementar: A Filosofia Libertária e a Falácia das Fronteiras Abertas