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Davis, California

Friday, September 24, 2021

Immigration

Recently several senators, including prominent Republican Senator Marco Rubio, have been working to devise legislation concerning immigration. Included in their most recent plan is a $2,000 fine illegal immigrants must pay before they can even begin the arduous process of applying for citizenship, as well as greater “security” along the borders to restrict human movement.

I’m not really interested in the various reasons that these senators are giving for punishing innocent and often hard-working members of our society — although I think part of it is a vague concern that “people are paying illegal aliens less than American workers” (which, if true, is an expression of the freedom of employers).

Instead I want to raise questions about what the recent debates about immigration legislation imply. This shouldn’t be about whether we are granting “amnesty” to those who have broken the law; it should be about whether those laws are justified in the first place.

Immigration really just means the movement of people to a country for the purpose of residence (no, really, that’s all it means). Does anyone in this country have a right to tell people where they can and cannot move? Does the United States government own all the land in this country?

I don’t think so. But such restrictions imply affirmative answers to these questions. And these are exactly the sorts of arbitrary policies that one would expect from a government that doesn’t consistently protect or recognize rights to property, which only belong to individuals, not nations or governments. Nor does the United States belong to some collective of “native-born” citizens that have the right to enslave or subdue the rest.

Restrictions on immigration through fines and long waits for entry also unjustly punish those who might provide great value to those already living here through trade (and those who, despite coming here illegally, might have become productive members of society). Historically, many immigrants have done amazing things in this country, contributing to fields ranging from physics (e.g. Albert Einstein) to philosophy (e.g. Ayn Rand). Of course, not all immigrants are going to be productive and law-abiding, but this is precisely the point. One is not a criminal just by being an immigrant, and therefore the government is not justified in imposing any restrictions on the activities of immigrants as such.

In a way, our immigration policies amount to an attempt to create arbitrary distinctions between certain groups: granting a different legal status to people merely on the basis of their place of birth is in this respect as bad as judging people differently on the basis of their place of birth. No one decided to be born in Mexico, or China or the United States. Then by what right can any person or group impose legal disadvantages to certain others on that basis?

Laws ought to be both objective and universal; we have our rights to life, liberty and property because we are humans (i.e. because of our nature), and because pursuing our various endeavors, including improving our lives by moving to a different country, requires acting on our independent judgement. Our rights are not mere privileges that our government can give to some groups and deny to others by decree.

A free society is one that protects the individual rights of all its members in an equal and objective way, including the right to move freely. This is what must be stressed in the debates on immigration reform.

TRISTAN DE LIEGE has been stealing jobs from hard-working Americans since he arrived in 1996. He can be reached at tflenaerts@ucdavis.edu.

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