Kris Morgan 6/5/18
Borders perform a very important function in society. They define the parameters of all land owned. In political form, they establish government territory. In the private realm, property lines make it possible for us to live in communities together while maintaining our autonomy. This topic is essential, as libertarians seek to perfect a system of thought grounded in property rights and the non-aggression principle. Exploring the differences between public and private borders can help to guide us on what a proper policy should be.
Private borders are older than public borders. In pre-civilization times, this would have included every fruit or vegetable picked, every animal hunted, every shelter erected, etc. Because of this, private borders are as old as mankind. Since ownership of resources is always changing, so are our boundaries.
Because private borders are necessary to distribute scarce resources needed for survival, protection thereof is completely justified. We utilize resources to advance the cause of our own lives; attempts to use other people’s property, with no regard for the preferences of the rightful owners, is never justified. Possession of resources is only justly gained through homestead, trade, or gift.
Political borders are different. They are put in place by populations that have already applied their own allocations of property. The goal of political borders is to help create an authority to oversee conflict resolution, facilitate peaceful trade, and to represent the area in which the government operates. This creates an overlap of ownership claims between public and private entities. By seizing the power to tax, regulate, and employ eminent domain measures, states take on aspects of ownership of everything in their borders. Those who reside within accept the relationship as a trade-off for the benefits of protection. This is the root of Social Contract Theory.
Thus, in order to have political borders, private property rights must be infringed upon. First, taxes have to be collected to fund their defense. Second, since the land in question is not owned under the just methods of homestead, trade, or gift, any force used against those violating public borders is aggressive rather than defensive. When private parties use threats and coercion to keep others out of land they do not own themselves, we typically think of it as gangs or mobsters establishing dominance in a territory.
In addition, there are other differences which should be highlighted. Unlike private borders, political lines must be rigid for long-lasting stability. Navigating life is challenging enough without constantly changing laws and regulations. When our political boundaries remain the same, the population is able to adapt to the rules and work in a cooperative fashion. Everyone knows what to expect and property transfers are easily done. When borders and ruling parties are in flux, that stability is lost. Nobody can keep up with present standards and economic activity is stifled. Many believe the most effective strategy to have a long-lasting border is through immigration control.
The Pew Research Center reported in 2015 there were about 11mil unauthorized immigrants in the US. Since we have been officially at war in the Middle East since 2001, it is easy to understand why this is problematic. The War on Terror makes security a serious concern for both Republicans and Democrats. Where they disagree is how to address those who already reside within our borders illegally.
On one hand, Republicans think the best course of action is zero tolerance and 100% prosecution of individuals entering the country illegally. Deterrence is the rationale behind the move. While it’s difficult to deny the logic, some believe such measures hurt others more than they protect us. Critics of the current administration are focusing on how border policy is separating families.
On the other hand, Democrats support a path to citizenship. According to ontheissues, “Undocumented immigrants within our borders who clear a background check, work hard and pay taxes should have a path to earn full participation in America. We will hasten family reunification for parents and children, husbands and wives, and offer more English-language and civic education classes so immigrants can assume all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”
The current libertarian solution to the border question is what one might expect. Our nation’s economic policies should not provide any extra incentives for people to come, nor should we allow immigrants to enter without a background check, given our current state of war. Those here illegally should be given the opportunity to stay, provided they clear a check (being here illegally does not warrant criminal prosecution).
If libertarians are to make a rational border policy a priority, the first step is to resolve our ridiculous foreign policy of endless warfare. With terrorism as the chosen tactic of our enemies, the population will never support open borders until peace is achieved. This position is understandable. Terrorists operate in sleeper cells, often with members maintaining low profiles until activated — Not exactly ideal circumstances for unimpeded movement of people and property.
Secondly, the practice of giving undocumented immigrants government benefits has to stop. In an article critical of the view that illegal aliens are draining the treasury, econofact noted “Programs that serve undocumented immigrants include school meal programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Head Start, and various in-kind emergency services. Undocumented immigrants are also eligible for Emergency Medicaid.” This may be a far cry from many right-wing claims that illegal immigrants are breaking the bank, but it is still unfair to local taxpayers.
I hope by this point that the issue of border security is straightforward. The border issue is really a symptom of poor foreign and economic policy. The duopoly has managed our government’s power so poorly that implementing reasonable border standards is not something the public is going to support. Until we get our welfare/warfare state in check, our country will continue down the path of becoming a closed society, which is what Trump’s wall proposal symbolizes.
If we don’t want to lose our souls in the process of defending our country, we should focus our efforts on fixing what is wrong. Adding additional evils to manage the ones we already have can only prove futile in the long-run. First came the wall proposal, then the travel ban, and now tariffs are putting Americans out of work. A great deal of economic activity in the US relies on foreign trade. The more steps we take towards closing ourselves off, the more negative unintended consequences we will face.
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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.