Definitions are important. It is impossible to have a discussion when people are using different meanings for the same word. Or, in this case, two words that make a phrase: “Open borders.” What does it even mean? 1
Trump fans like to characterize those opposing another useless big government public works project and wasteful big government program – The Wall – as wanting “open borders.” This is supposed to be a horrendous insult. It is less of an insult than a non sequitur.
One can oppose The Wall and still favor very strict access into the country. You know, like, in an effective way that does not waste money and take away the private property of Americans – like The Wall would do.
Immigration and border security are currently hot button issues. The Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy of arresting everyone attempting to walk across the border without proper documentation has dominated multiple news cycles. It should.
Immigration was also a major issue at the recent Libertarian National Party convention in New Orleans, which I attended as a delegate from Colorado. Going into the convention, the LP had this platform plank:
3.4 Free Trade and Migration
We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade. Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders. However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.
During the convention, the last sentence was deleted.
I personally see no issue in restricting access to the country to those who “pose a credible threat.” I believe if I asked most delegates at the convention, “Hey, do you think it is OK to keep people out of the country who pose a credible threat to security?” most would say “Well, if they pose a credible threat, we should not just let them into the country.” I think elimination of that last sentence was largely an expression of a desire to poke a stick in Trump’s figurative eye and to reject his administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy. I understand that desire.
Do not get me wrong: Many delegates do, actually, believe in completely open borders. If the reanimated corpses of Trotsky, Guevara, Idi Amin and Vlad the Impaler got off a plane in New York City and announced that with the help of a Chitauri army they were here to institute Plato’s Republic and they would be the philosopher kings in charge and that we all needed to kneel before Zod, some delegates would be all like, “Hey, we have no right to keep them from coming in to the country and why are you so racist?”
Likewise, if someone with the Rage disease from the 28 Days Later movie series wanted entry to the United States, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to deny that entry.
The newly abridged Libertarian Party platform plank still allows for such an outcome. The second sentence remains: “Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries.” As of July 10, 2018, the official LP website still had this page:
If one is not to be unreasonably constrained, that means one may be reasonably constrained. By definition, a reasonable constraint is, well… reasonable. Opposing something reasonable, is, well…. unreasonable. It is kind of a definitional thing.
Even a recent statement by a member of the Libertarian Party Audacious 2 Caucus demonstrates this issue clearly. The statement declares they are “for eliminating national borders” and that they are “arbitrary lines.” Then it concludes by saying they “will fight . . . tyrannical dictates that . . . punish peaceful people for not asking permission to cross an imaginary line.” On the left is a screenshot from Facebook:
Do you see the problem? They do not want to “punish peaceful people” for crossing the border. That makes perfect sense. Even if the rest of the country is not ready for that radical notion, it is completely reasonable. However, if one does not wish to “punish peaceful people,” then, again, by definition, the implication is that it is perfectly cool to punish NON-peaceful people crossing the border.
But if that border is erased, one can not keep violent people from crossing it. Methinks that self-evident.
You can not keep Vlad the Impaler out when there is no distinction between out and in. One can not simultaneously call for keeping violent people on that side of the border and for eliminating that border. We have another non sequitur.
So, if “open borders” means eliminating that imaginary line, one must concede that we are going to let Vlad the Impaler in. Then statements like the one regarding the Audacious Caucus must delete any reference to “peaceful” people. They must accept that without a border, violent people come in, too.
That is intellectually consistent. Some make that argument. It is absurd, but it is consistent. Absurd and consistent is better than absurd and inconsistent. 3
So, if “open borders” means letting peaceful folks in the country but keeping out violent people, I can agree with that. The current platform allows for “reasonable” restrictions. That makes sense. However, it is not literally “open borders.” It keeps out violent people, therefore it is not completely “open.” 4
The anarchists in the party will disagree on a fundamental level. They literally want to abolish those imaginary lines. I get it. I have been to four of the last six national conventions. Some of my best friends are anarchists. 🙂 I have no desire to spend time arguing anarchism as a concept. I know there is lots of literature on how a stateless anarcho-capitalist system would work. I am familiar with it. I do not even disagree with it in a theoretical sense. There are plenty of people in the Libertarian Party eager to make the anarcho-capitalist arguments.
However, my calling is to focus on incremental, practical, and, yes, pragmatic, change. Properly defining the Libertarian Party’s position on national borders is part of that. I will argue keeping “reasonable” restrictions in place is, well . . . reasonable. Today, I can go to a Tea Party meeting5 and convince many of them that free markets require letting all peaceful people into the country. That is a step in the right direction. If I go into that same meeting and argue that all borders should be eliminated, I will not convince them of anything.
The Libertarian Party currently supports reasonable restrictions on entry into the country. It is right in the platform. Any peaceful person should be welcome. Free markets require that. Violent people are not welcome. Even the anarchists seem to recognize the distinction between peaceful and violent people. Therefore, the LP does not support literal “open borders.” It supports economically open borders, as it should.
Please share and fire away in the comments.
- Let us stay focused. First, this article is not about welfare. If immigrants getting too much welfare is your objection, then your objection is welfare, not immigration. The LP opposes the welfare state in its entirety. So we can move on from that argument. Second, this article is not about the constitutionally enumerated powers of the federal government. Article i, Section 8 gives the federal government power of “naturalization,” not “immigration.” This article is about the policy of immigration, not which level of government has the authority to make and implement that policy. Thanks for staying focused for me.
- Do not ask. Seriously.
- And, hey, I’m all about incremental progress.
- One objection will be to who determines who is “violent” and who is not? I get that. I agree. The application of that standard could be problematic. However, difficulty in application of a standard is a different discussion from whether or not a standard should exist. I believe it should.
- Do they still have Tea Party meetings? Well, assuming they do…