The issue of immigration is a hot button issue in the U.S. and has even caused a rift among Objectivist and libertarian minded activists who typically agree on a great many things. There are disparate views ranging from those who argue for open borders, with nothing but a welcome sign, to others who advocate more restrictive policies.
When many generally reasonable, thoughtful people disagree vehemently over some topic, it is a sign that the topic is complicated and requires difficult, principled analysis where it is easy to make honest mistakes. Furthermore, the horrendous state of the world and our statist government makes the situation even more complicated to analyze. Consequently, it makes sense to analyze a simpler context, e.g., immigration policy within a free country with a rights respecting government. If we can establish these principles within a simpler context, it becomes a little clearer how to deal with the current actual mess. So, for example, since the very real concern over those seeking to come to the U.S. for welfare benefits exists as a consequence of welfare statism, it will not be addressed here, nor will primitive economic claims of the “they’re stealing our jobs” variety be analyzed since those arguments have been debunked a thousand times. It is always beneficial economically to have more hard working, law abiding people than less, i.e, have an even greater division of labor.
The first principles of government in a free society is that it exists to protect individual rights. Objectivists hold that the government should consist primarily of police to protect individuals from local criminals, an army to protect against foreign threats, and a court system to settle disputes. The pertinent aspect of this principle for immigration is how it relates to the government’s obligation to protect individuals from foreign threats.
While individuals have inalienable rights by their nature, not as a privilege bestowed by government, it is a fact that the government which protects those rights must exist somewhere within proximity to those it represents. Local governments are necessary because they are closer to the people they represent. A government, by its nature, is limited to a certain jurisdiction, i.e., a geographical boundary within which it may apply the laws agreed to by individuals within it. The purpose of such a boundary is that it provides an objective legal demarcation line within which it can define and execute its legal jurisdiction. Anyone residing within that jurisdiction accedes to its laws and agrees that issues pertaining to the jurisdiction as a whole are managed by elected representatives. This allows its representatives to engage in agreements with neighboring jurisdictions over various issues.
For example, the sovereign states joined together to form the United States with the Constitution as the legal framework for dealing with cross border or national issues. The states within this union broadly agreed on the nature and scope of government, and a byproduct of this union was unrestricted travel across state lines. Texas and other states joined this union while other jurisdictions, such as Mexico, did not.
Since other countries exist outside this jurisdiction, and may or may not agree with our principles of government and may or may not be a threat, one of the functions of the government, the body of representatives that deal with issues of state, is to provide for a common defense. With respect to immigration, essentially, the problem boils down to the question: is the person a threat or not? It is important to emphasize that this question must be asked if the government is to perform its proper function. That is why there must be some immigration policy. The idea of a completely open border with nothing but a welcome sign would represent a violation of this principle. Such an “open” policy provides no means for the government to ascertain whether persons are invading or immigrating, much less whether they are known criminals or carry infectious disease.
If the government’s proper foreign policy endeavors to identify and eliminate existential threats from overseas by procuring intelligence and launching attacks against enemy states, why wouldn’t its foreign policy seek to identify existential threats from those on its border seeking to enter the country? Why wouldn’t we apply at least as much scrutiny if not more to those actually entering the country? Would a proper foreign policy have to wait for Iran to actually launch a nuclear bomb before taking action against them? Would we have to wait for an armada of jihadists in the New York harbor to actually fire their guns before apprehending them or granting them visas? Foreign policy is not adjudicated in a court of law, it is a set of specific principles to identify and mitigate threats to the country.
The idea that we can eliminate the threat by crushing our enemies overseas and therefore allow virtually anyone to subsequently enter the country does not recognize the nature of reality. The fact is that there are always bad guys out there, and the government’s job is to protect its citizens from them. Although crushing our enemies would help, there will never be a time when the government can cease to police its own border. Only in some future fantasy world in which all states agreed to some form of union under western principles of law and individual liberty could we contemplate a border less nation.
The idea that there should be a presumption of innocence with respect to immigrants is a violation of the principle of self-defense for the same reasons one does not grant a presumption of innocence to someone who has rung the doorbell. The presumption of innocence is a principle applicable in a criminal proceeding where an individual has been charged with a crime. Prospective immigrants have not been charged with a crime, they are seeking to cross the legally established border from an area which may or may not share the same principles of law, and it is the government’s proper function, indeed, primary function, to ascertain whether they represent a threat or not. The goal should be to define a policy for determining what constitutes an objective threat and decide upon that basis whom to allow into the country.
The precise policy defining what constitutes a threat could be debated, but generally I think there are a couple of primary forms. Someone with a criminal record or who carries an infectious disease represents a direct physical threat. One who directly or indirectly seeks to alter or abolish our form of government is a threat. This does not have to literally be a foreign spy or military agent but could be someone who has supported anti-freedom causes. Certainly, without any evidence to the contrary, we should be suspicious of anyone immigrating from a country with which we are at war, have limited diplomatic relations, or have deemed an enemy. It could be argued that those who possess no regard or understanding of the legal principles of the country, who do not speak English, and have no relation to anyone in the U.S. are less likely to broadly assimilate and should be regarded as more likely to constitute a threat. This is not to say that their should be blanket prohibitions based on some of these factors, but in the absence of contrary evidence, they are relevant evidential factors.
In this regard, the burden of proof must be on the immigrant. The easier it is to check someones history then the more likely they are to be granted entry. A British national with a PhD from Oxford that is coming here to work for an American company whose criminal and medical records can be easily checked should obviously be granted entry. If someone comes from a third world country with a history of dictatorship and sponsorship of jihadists, with no sponsorship from someone already here and no ability to directly check his record, then he should be at the bottom of the list if not outright rejected for entry. While there should be a legal process for determining whether someone meets the criterion, the process by which we determine those standards should be a matter of objective policy consistent with the government’s obligation to protect the rights of its people.