In a recent blog post, “libertarian” anarchist blogger Christopher Cantwell argues that, contrary to widespread perception, the libertarian position on immigration is not open borders, but rather severely restricted immigration.
According to Cantwell, the libertarian is in favor of “privatizing” borders. Cantwell correctly points out that property owners have the right to determine who is or is not allowed on their property, but seems to believe that in the absence of a state the situation would more closely mirror East Germany than anything resembling open borders.
Cantwell says that open borders would allow in “massive waves of dangerous, poverty stricken people who victimize the populace with crime, drain the public coffers with welfare dependency, and alter the course of the civilization through the ballot box.” This kind of rhetoric, which would not sound out of place at a Klan meeting (or a Trump rally), suggests that Cantwell is as much concerned with keeping out “undesirables” as he is with protecting private property rights.
Like many closed-border “libertarians”, Cantwell makes the mistake of treating national borders and private property lines as equivalent, when they are most certainly not. Borders are (often arbitrary) lines created by governments and protected by force. If borders are creations of the state, and the state is illegitimate, then it only follows that borders are illegitimate as well.
While a property owner has the right to prohibit others from his property, he does not have the right to prohibit others from his neighbors’ properties. If Joe Smith doesn’t want to open his property to a Syrian refugee family, that’s his right. But he doesn’t have a right to say that the landlord down the street can’t rent rooms to any Syrians. For the libertarian, there is no such right to dictate how others may use their property.
So, what is the appropriate immigration policy preference for anti-state libertarians, given the current reality? I would say that repealing all of this country’s immigration laws and ending immigration enforcement would be a worthwhile (if unrealistic) goal. This country’s immigration laws have long had the effect of destroying lives and tearing apart families, and any person with even an ounce of decency should strongly oppose the status quo.
The proper libertarian position on immigration, then, is not, as Cantwell argues, some version of “Papers, please.” Rather, it is to support freedom of movement and private property rights (meaning the right of any person to pack up and move–to seek a better life in a new place), while also supporting the rights of private property owners to refuse access to immigrants.
This is what libertarians mean when we talk about “open borders”. We’re not saying that immigrants should be free to trespass (at least not on private property that is clearly labelled so). We’re simply arguing that someone from Mexico should be free to move to Texas, in the same way that someone from Michigan is already free to do so.
For those so-called “libertarians” who want to keep the borders closed, I ask: What could be a greater manifestation of the evils of the state than a policy of forcibly removing individuals from their own homes because they happen to have been born on the wrong side of an invisible line?