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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Libertarians could reap huge political benefits by challenging Democrats, Republicans on immigration status quo

(By Chris Moore, -- Libertarianism is regularly accused of being an “open borders” ideology. Whenever the prospect of a Libertarian government is discussed, among the first rhetorical accusations is that it would mean an end to immigration laws, citizenship laws and even the concept of nationality. The borders would be opened, the refugee flood would begin, and all across the country Americans would have Mexicans camping in their back yards.

While there is a utopianistic streak in the libertarian movement that conceptually fantasizes about a borderless future, no serious Libertarian Party candidate should advance this notion as a viable possibility any time soon. In fact, in the short-term and for the foreseeable future, Libertarians should actually propose stricter immigration and border controls than do the Republicans and Democrats, and not just because some Americans already do have Mexicans camping in their back yards. This should be done for strategic purposes, but also because in the current economic and political climate, it is intellectually consistent with libertarian ideals.

At the moment, the Libertarian Party trumpets the economic benefits of immigration by selectively citing pro-immigration studies and arguing that if welfare programs were cut, taxpayers wouldn’t get stuck with huge immigrant-related social-services costs. But the economic disaster that is California (one of the highest immigration states in the country) drastically undermines the economic-benefits-trumps-expenses argument. As for the social-service costs, once welfare is cut, maybe libertarians can talk about loosening the borders. But until that is accomplished, open immigration is an open invitation to get new arrivals on the dole, and to move America inexorably toward socialism.

It’s long since time for the Libertarian Party to change its official policy on this issue. And by doing so, what huge political benefits the party could reap.

Political payoff could be huge
Already a hot-button issue, poll after poll has shown a majority of Americans support stricter immigration controls. And year after year, the status-quo parties ignore the public’s will. There is a pent-up demand for political action on this issue and the pressure will only build as the unemployment rate continues to rise.

When adding up the potential votes for a more restrictive immigration policy, it quickly becomes clear the political payoff could be huge. In addition to the unemployed and people who support stricter border controls out of principle, there are literally millions of workers whose jobs are threatened by the continuing deluge of immigrants: the unskilled working-class fed up with trying to compete with low-wage immigrant labor; low-skill retail service sector workers whose wages never rise because of the downward pressure caused by a large ready-and-waiting immigrant labor pool; semi-skilled blue collar workers -- truck drivers, transportation workers, manufacturing and construction-industry workers, mechanics; even many health care workers -- all of these industries and their living-wage pay scales are threatened by a massive immigrant work force either massing on the borders or already here.

In addition, there the millions of people spanning the entire socio-economic spectrum that recognize the threat to quality-of-life that uncontrolled immigration brings. Right now, that threat is most evident in the Southwest, where major city freeways are clogged, public schools are overrun and public hospitals are bursting at the seams (all of which makes that region a natural place for an immigration-control Libertarian Party to establish a foothold). But those problems are inevitably going to spread north, east and west, too. Someone is going to reap political rewards for addressing the problem. If they would only listen to reason and approach the issue with a little political sophistication, Libertarians would be in a good position to be the party to do so.

Challenging the contemporary open-borders status quo
One major reason the United States has been so economically and politically successful is because it citizens, from the Founders on down the line, possessed a unique combination of defining characteristics: a love of liberty and freedom and an accompanying hostility toward tyrannical government. It was their commitment to both of these concepts that spurred the Founders to first fight a war against the British to secure them, and then enshrine them in the Constitution by writing a series of government checks and balances into the rule of law.

Americans are still strong on personal liberties, but despite their heritage, they are slipping in their resistance to tyrannical government, which today takes the form of creeping domestic socialism. So today’s immigrants are arriving en masse into a socialistic environment run by a government that is no longer committed to limiting itself or securing its citizen's freedom by encouraging self-sufficiency. In fact, it actually discourages immigrants from pursuing these ideals on their own. Mass immigration is designed to shore up support for the political status quo, as the Republicans and Democrats, the architects of the current system, well know.

For the Democrats, mass immigration means the ability to buy votes from poor immigrants and their extended communities by promising welfare, social services and government jobs in return. For Republicans, mass immigration means an ever-expanding marketplace and cheap labor for their big-business constituency, which in return keeps their coffers running over. (The GOP’s folly, of course, is that a campaign money edge can blunt a demographic tide for only so long, which is why Republicans are more often following Democrats down the road of throwing taxpayer money at various government-dependent constituencies in exchange for votes.) For both parties, mass immigration means a population that will forever be grateful to the status quo powers running the government for letting them into a country with a standard of living that is almost always head and shoulders above where they came from.

The problem with all this is that the United States has a high standard of living because its population has prevented the government from stealing the hard-earned fruits of its labor. By allowing mass immigration, the Democrats and Republicans are selling out the long-term overall interests of the country for the short-term benefit of maintaining their iron-grip on power. This is to be expected from the Democrats, who don’t really want people controlling their own economic destinies anyway and would much rather run the entire economy through the federal government. And more recently it is to be expected from the Republicans, who will gladly compromise their few remaining scruples for the price of a fund raising ticket. But it need not be the position of the Libertarians, who can tap into a working and middle-class fed-up with paying for this dysfunctional form of socialism and exploit the issue without straying from their status as the party of principle.

How to sell immigration control
Libertarian candidates could sell their advocacy of strict immigration controls to the public on the following grounds: Uncontrolled immigration swamps social-services agencies (depriving their existing “clients”), and it swamps public schools as well (decimating the quality of education for existing students). This inevitably leads to higher taxes, and even those never seem to solve the educational and social problems that mass immigration brings. Privatizing schools and even social services could solve many of these problems, but no political or ideological solution can possibly contend with tidal wave after tidal wave of economic refugees.

Another strong libertarian argument against uncontrolled immigration with populist appeal is one of national sovereignty. Just as libertarians oppose willy-nilly war-making in part because it violates and undermines the concept of national sovereignty (the right of a nation to choose it’s own political direction) so too does uncontrolled immigration. By radically changing the culture, value-system and population demographic, mass immigration is a back-door means by which big-government advocates can radically attack the America that up until recently was a bulwark against socialism, and replace it with an America that is less resistant to the soft tyranny of government dependence and control.

Of course, advocating a reduction in immigration will open Libertarian candidates up to the standard political epithets from open-borders advocates: xenophobic, isolationist, nativistic…the list goes on. But no one is proposing an end to immigration, only a strong effort to get it under control. As for countering the demagogues, really now, is there anyone less patriotic and more anti-American than those who want to alter the demographic, cultural and political landscape of the world’s oldest democracy in order to advance their own short-term financial interests, and the interests of big-government, socialistic controls?

Chris Moore is Editor of