The (Il)Logic of Open-Border Libertarians



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Libertarianism has gained a more prominent position within American political discourse in recent years, in large part because younger voters are increasingly rejecting the politics of both major parties and are looking for alternatives. As libertarianism becomes a broader political movement, self-identified libertarians are attempting to define the core philosophy or set of principles that characterizes that movement. Much like the Tea Party, which is working to forge its identity as an organized political party, libertarianism is experiencing the growing pains that go along with transforming a limited movement into an effective political force.

There is much debate about what are the fundamental principles of libertarianism and how those principles apply to immigration policy. Libertarian proponents of the free movement of people across borders, most notably those employed by the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation, portray their embrace of open borders as an immutable ideological component of the libertarian cause, the only position a true libertarian can take. However, even a cursory reading on the issue reveals that many scholars who hold positions of influence within the libertarian movement have not embraced mass immigration as a practical objective, and, in fact, view it as a means to a more powerful and intrusive central government. 

Big-business interests have a large stake in the outcome of the debate over immigration, and they have spent much money supporting libertarian "think-tanks" that espouse an open-border policy for the United States. By all appearances, this has very little to do with any principled commitment to libertarian principles, but is a way to provide ideological cover for multi-national corporations who lobby for the passage of legislation that will undermine the standing of American workers and force taxpayers to subsidize the costs of a cheaper foreign labor force. An open border, or at least a more open border, would allow corporations to further consolidate their hold on the U.S. economy, while the middle class would lose more of its economic and political power.

FAIR does not promote or denigrate libertarianism, but we do wish to have an honest debate about immigration policy and corresponding political solutions. One does not have to be a libertarian to see that certain commentators who claim to speak on behalf of the movement are using disingenuous and sometimes dishonest arguments to present their position as the libertarian position on immigration.


May 2014