On May 7, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.
“If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
Immigrant families were forcibly separated, with parents being caged in one location and their children elsewhere.
Nearly all Libertarians, most Democrats, and many Republicans were repulsed by the harshness of that policy. Previous administrations used only civil procedures for misdemeanor illegal border crossings, usually resulting in no more than deportation.
It’s time to recognize that America has always benefited from the energy and entrepreneurial skills of immigrants. This has not changed. We need immigrants as much as they need us. Immigrants are usually escaping economic impoverishment or political tyranny, or both, in the countries they are coming from. They need to live in a place where they can earn an honest living. Americans need their productivity and benefit from cross-cultural enrichment. Immigrants do the opposite of taking American jobs. For every job they take, they create even more jobs by increasing demand and opening new markets with their consumer and investment spending.
Some of our most illustrious entrepreneurs, cultural icons and business leaders have been immigrants.
Shahpour Nejad and Reza Kalantari, for instance, came to the United States from Iran. They co-founded Pizza Guys in 1986, a chain that today provides delicious food from more than 60 West Coast locations. Another Iranian immigrant, Hamid Akhavan, has been the CEO of Unify and T-Mobile.
Famed dancer, pop star, and television personality Paula Abdul is the daughter of an immigrant from Syria and Oscar-winning actor F. Murray Abraham is the son of a Syrian immigrant. One of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was the son of a Muslim immigrant who fled oppression in Syria.
Albert Einstein immigrated from Germany. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is from Russia. The best NBA shot blocker of all time, Dikembi Mutombo, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Liz Claiborne grew up in Belgium. Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, the cofounders of YouTube, came from Taiwan and East Germany respectively. Mariano Rivera pitched his first baseball in Panama. Jordi Munoz from Tijuana turned a borrowed $500 into the multi-million-dollar drone-making company 3D Robotics.
These are only few examples of a story that has played out innumerable times, in cases both large and small. Immigrants come to the United States and fill needs, open businesses, raise families, and add their unique stories to a vibrant and diverse American culture.
Immigrants not only expand the economy and enliven our culture, they also constitute a crucial demographic for replenishing depleted pension funds.
America has record low unemployment right now. We have a growing population of senior citizens and a static or declining number of working-age people. That’s pushing both public and private pension plans toward bankruptcy. More people are collecting pensions than paying in. Aside from higher pension investment returns, higher pension contributions, or lower pension benefits, the one way to sustain the retirement funding that Americans have come to expect is to increase the number of contributing workers. The United States has a static birth rate, so the only way to bolster the working class is to increase immigration. Instead of building a wall and writing more restrictive immigration laws, Congress should be encouraging immigration for anyone willing to work and contribute to the economy.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian policy think tank, has published definitive research showing that immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than native-born Americans, are less likely to consume welfare benefits, and generally consume a lower value of welfare benefits when they do use such services. Immigrants, almost across the board, are a net value to the United States.
Immigration isn’t a problem in need of a solution. Immigration is an asset to the United States, one that grows the economy and improves the lives of not only those people who move here, but also those who were already here. Ultimately, the only way to deter immigrants is to destroy the market economy that draws people here from throughout the world.
The United States had no quantitative immigration laws until 1921, and no qualitative laws until 1875 when convicts and prostitutes were barred from entry. “Mental defectives” and Chinese were prohibited in 1882 for blatantly racist reasons. One of the complaints in the Declaration of Independence for the revolt against King George III was that “He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither.”
The U.S. economy suffered not at all from our acceptance of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Immigrants made this country great in the first place, and they continue to do so today. We need to move in the direction of more open, legal immigration, not in the direction of militarized borders fit only for a police state.
The entire debate about immigration results from a misapplied concept of property rights. When we refer to “my car,” “my clothes,” or “my toothpaste,” few would argue that the word “my” does not imply a property right. We also use the word “my” in non-ownership contexts, such as “my street,” “my neighborhood,” and “my country.” We obviously don’t have a property right in the entire country, but opponents of immigration use arguments implying we all do have a collective right to our country — and, therefore, a right to exclude foreigners. We don’t. We each have an individual moral right to hire, do business with, or sell a house to any willing person from anywhere. We also have the moral obligation not to interfere with our neighbors’ rights to do or not do the same.
The issue of immigration has been obscured by layers of cynical political campaign rhetoric, but it comes down to whether individual liberty applies only to native-born Americans or to everyone. If freedom works for us — and it does — what possible moral reason do we have to say it applies to people born in San Diego, but not to those born inches away in Tijuana?
Libertarians support free and open migration across borders. For all Americans, we encourage an enthusiastic embrace of the boundless cultural and economic benefits provided by immigrants who come to our country to work and do business.