Category Archives: Immigration

Libertarianism, “Public Property”, and Immigration

A major debate within libertarianism is on the topic of immigration. Some say closed borders, some say open borders, and others say immigration should only be permitted if certain conditions are met. Walter Block argues excellently for open borders in this article, but does not fully address a theory of how libertarians should view and deal with public property, which, in my view, is the key to this issue. Obviously, the debate centers not on whether the owners of private property should be able to determine who is allowed to access it, but on who should be able to use so-called public property, which, as far as anarcho-capitalists are concerned, is government-stolen property. Because the thief, by definition, cannot hold the title to stolen property, he should not be the one to control it. Who, then, should be the one to do so? If someone can justify his title to a piece of stolen property, he should be the one to control it, but if no owner can be identified and a piece of property is known to have been stolen, what is to be done? It must be returned to an unowned state, with the only one who should not get to appropriate it being the thief. If, in the future, an owner arises to claim it, then that owner could confiscate that property from the stolen-good-appropriator. We have a parallel with government-owned property — it’s difficult, if not impossible to determine who the true owner of any given unit of government property is, but we know that all of its property is stolen.  It’s clear from this analysis that a libertarian should support all government property being declared unowned, and the courts hearing cases from people claiming to be holders of titles to the government stolen property. The major problem is that government, having a monopoly on the use of institutionalized force, will use deadly force against anyone who attempts to appropriate “it’s” property. What, then, is to be done? Libertarians must do everything they can to work towards this ideal. This means getting the government to relinquish as much control as possible. Therefore, the libertarian position on public property is this: try to get it privatized, but in the meantime attempt to get the government no say in how it’s property is to be used, with anyone who wants to being allowed to use it for any purpose whatever. This puts the government property in an unfortunate but better position akin to being unowned but unappropriable, with everyone being allowed to use it so long as they don’t interfere with someone else who is already using it. This is, to be sure, not the end goal, but just a step in the right direction of privatization and justice because it results in less government control of the property it stole.

How, then, does this apply to the subject of immigration? This applies to immigration because insofar as government does control borders, the only libertarian position is for migrants and citizens alike to make free use of the land, because that is the only position that minimizes the amount of control that the government exercises over those borders, and makes them as close to their proper, unowned state, as possible. The only legitimate objection to free immigration is that the migrants make use of (government controlled) property that they do not own in moving into a country. They make use of the roads, federal land, police services, public libraries, and a plethora of other government property and services that they don’t own or didn’t pay taxes to have. As a side note, no one seems to object to people having children or moving to or visiting a different state within their own country, yet all of these things would be wrong according to this argument. This is without merit because closed borders that this argument leads to means more government control of borders (by determining who gets to use “their” land and for what purpose) as opposed to the maximum release of control just short of privatization that open borders and free immigration results in. In conclusion, even on its surface the idea that libertarians could support the use of force against peaceful immigrants is absurd because libertarian support for getting rid of government control of property necessitates that they support open government borders (and free use of all government controlled property).

Further Reading

Open Borders is the Only Libertarian Position

Immigration Symposium