Although in today’s context questions regarding immigration are complex matters involving the welfare state, laws governing citizenship, threats of cross-border crime and terrorism, and various other issues, the proper principle guiding any thinking about immigration is—as with every political issue—that of individual rights. With that in mind, let’s explore some of the various misconceptions about a rights-respecting immigration policy.
Myth: “A rights-respecting immigration policy permits criminals and terrorists to enter the country.”
Reality: Obviously, to protect the rights of its citizens and residents, government must keep out criminals and terrorists—and respond with appropriate defensive force if such are found among immigrants already here. Far from calling for unguarded borders, a rights-respecting immigration policy calls for government to tightly control the borders, with specific legal points of entry and screening processes, allowing in only people whom the government has no reason to believe pose any threat to U.S. citizens.
Myth: “A rights-respecting immigration policy entails government provision of welfare to immigrants and permits them to squat on public or private lands.”
Reality: To protect the rights of citizens and residents, government must not compel them to subsidize immigrants and must not permit immigrants to squat on government or private property. If an immigrant is unable to support himself or unable to find a sponsor willing to support him, government may properly deport him.
Myth: “A rights-respecting immigration policy requires government to grant citizenship to immigrants.”
Reality: Policies pertaining to immigration properly are distinct from those pertaining to citizenship. A rights-respecting government need not ever grant immigrants or their children citizenship; although, in certain cases, granting an immigrant citizenship may be perfectly appropriate. (The proper criteria for citizenship is a complex matter beyond the scope of this post.)
Myth: “Support for a rights-respecting immigration policy entails support for any and all proposals claiming to offer immigrants ‘amnesty.’”
Reality: The principle of individual rights does not tell us whether to support some particular piece of mixed legislation—whether involving amnesty or anything else—which in some ways protects rights and in other ways violates them. Matters regarding mixed proposals for legislation must be assessed with respect to the kinds and degrees of rights violations involved. This is true not only of mixed legislation pertaining to immigration, but of all mixed legislation. To take another example, the fact that the principle of individual rights implies that Social Security must be repealed does not mean that every proposal claiming to move in that direction is necessarily a good proposal.
Myth: “A rights-respecting immigration policy requires open immigration during wartime emergencies, regardless of the context.”
Reality: A wartime emergency may require that government cut off some or all immigration for the duration of the emergency—it depends on the context. For instance, in the context in which Israel exists today, Israelis face a continual barrage of terrorist attacks, rockets, and suicide bombers, and the country morally must take actions with respect to that specific context. In Israel’s situation, certain limitations on immigration may be mandatory. However, the fact that Israel is justified in restricting immigration on the grounds that it faces such continual threats does not imply that the United States—which is not in that same situation—should refrain from screening would-be immigrants and permitting entry to rights-respecting individuals.
In summary, regardless of the complexities in establishing a rights-respecting immigration policy, individuals have rights, and government ought not violate the rights of citizens to hire, host, or otherwise associate freely with immigrants; nor should it violate the rights of rights-respecting people seeking entry to the Land of Liberty.