[cross-posted at C4SS]
Anderson Cooper recently complained, on his July 22nd CNN show, that presidential candidate Donald Trump has thus far offered not one shred of proof for his repeated claim that the Mexican government is behind the illegal immigration and are the ones pushing … these people over the border. At which point Coopers guest Jeffrey Lord, a former White House political director under Ronald Reagan, and currently a Trump supporter, offered a fairly astonishing reply:
You know, we talked about a wall on the American side in terms of keeping people out of the United States; but we all remember the Berlin Wall. And in the Berlin Wall situation, that was built to keep people in. Now, are we being told here that the Mexican government cant somehow find a way to keep their own people from leaving the country illegally? I mean, it defies common sense. So I think what hes saying makes a great deal of common sense, that this is happening repeatedly. The Mexican government is clearly doing nothing to stop it. … I mean, to do it intentionally can mean a lot of things. Its not like they need to give them information, a slip to leave; its that they just dont guard the border … and know that theyre going to escape, and … so they go.
Yes, you read that right. A former White House official and Reagan aide is demanding that Mexico maintain a Berlin Wall to keep its own citizens from escaping.
While restrictions on the right to enter a country are widely accepted, restrictions on the right to exit a country are usually regarded as a tool of dictatorship. Lords own former boss, Ronald Reagan, famously gave a speech in front of the Berlin Wall in 1987, condemning the structure as a gash of barbed wire, a restriction on the right to travel, and an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state and concluding with a rousing cry to tear down this wall! But apparently some Republicans are learning to make their peace with the idea of an Iron Curtain.
Oddly enough, though, Jeffrey Lord is actually right on the central point, though he draws the wrong conclusion from it. The assumption of a deep moral difference between restrictions on entry and restrictions on exit is indeed unjustified.
Those who try to distinguish the two often point to the analogy of private property: I have no right to keep you prisoner by forbidding you to exit my property, but I have every right to forbid you to enter.
But the analogy is a bad one. The government of a country, dictatorships aside, is not the owner of all the land within its borders. That land, or most of it, is divided into privately owned parcels. So when the government restricts entry, it is acting as a third party to forbid immigrant A to enter the property of citizen B, even if citizen B wishes to welcome immigrant A as a guest, a customer, an employee, or a tenant. What difference does it make whether this restriction on travel is being imposed by As government or by Bs? In either case the restriction is an invasion of the liberty of both A and B.
So Lord is right: immigration restrictions and emigration restrictions are morally on a par. But the right conclusion to draw is not that both are justified, but rather that both are unjustified. A Berlin Wall does not become civilized or tolerable merely because it is run by the government on one side of the wall instead of on the other. National borders are a perpetual human rights violation, and every restriction on migration is one more Berlin Wall.
Mr. Lord, Mr. Trump, tear down this border.
Having just spent two months in the shadow of the Israeli separation wall, and having passed through something like 30 armed checkpoints during that time, I have a lot of sympathy for what you’re saying here. Incidentally, the Lord-Turner line has a precedent in the attitude of Republicans like John McCain who conspicuously condemned the Berlin Wall while praising both the Israeli wall, as well as the idea of a wall between the US and Mexico. (In fact, the proposed US-Mexican wall borrows heavily in concept and techniques from the Israeli one.)
That said, I can’t go as far as you in condemning the idea of national borders as a perpetual rights violation. You say this:
The third sentence says that government restrictions on entry are third-party rights violation of the property rights of those owners who wish to welcome immigrants as guests. But doesn’t that imply that restrictions on entry are not a violation of the rights of those owners who wish to keep immigrants out? Imagine ex hypothesi that the vast majority of border-adjacent owners do want to keep immigrants out (at least in the narrow sense of not wanting immigrants to enter the country via the particular parcel of property that the owners own). In that case, they could regard the government as their agent in that endeavor. If there were enough of these owners, and their property were closed in by walls (or some equivalent), you’d have drastic entry restrictions without rights violations. (Of course, if you’re an anarchist, you’ll think that the existence of government violates rights per se, but my point is: that set of entry restrictions, qua that set, doesn’t violate rights.) It’s an empirical question whether border-adjacent owners have the attitude I’m describing, but if they do, your argument lacks application.
If that’s the case, then immigrants (or visitors) will mostly be coming in through selected points of entry (as they in fact do now), rather than en masse across the borders in general. But in that case, a separate factor comes into play. People feel entitled to be protected against rights-violative threats from the immigrant population. In other words, they take that entitlement to be constitutive of the right of self-defense as such.
We don’t face this issue in the same way within a well-ordered country, because given the existence of (effective) law enforcement, we can (defeasibly) presume that the people around us are not (serious) rights violators (i.e., felons). But people entering such a country from abroad are effectively entering from a State of Nature. In other words, they are ex hypothesi entering a well-ordered country from places were criminals may be running free in a large scale way. There is a much higher likelihood that there are rights-violators among them, whether criminals or people carrying communicable diseases. (I don’t mean criminals in potentia, but actual criminals.) Don’t people within a country have a right to be protected against an influx of rights-violators?
Just to clarify: I am not saying that some particular ethnic group is more likely to be criminal or disease-carrying in nature than the wholesome people who happen to be native to a given country. I am saying that within a well-ordered society, we operate within social systems designed to control criminality and communicable disease. The rest of the world may or may not operate that way. To the extent that it doesn’t, to fail to impose entry controls is to fail to protect against serious threats.
Here’s a thought-experiment. Consider a government-owned sports stadium with a capacity of 100,000. There are 100,000 fans outside the stadium waiting to get in. Suppose you have (good) antecedent reason to believe that some of them have weapons and intend to foment a riot once inside. Would you regard entry restrictions as rights-violative here simply because the stadium was government owned? Even if you insisted on regarding the restrictions in that way (since the stadium’s existence is rights violative as such), barring the option of closing the stadium down altogether, I don’t see anything morally wrong with entry controls under the circumstances.
Suppose the management just announces that no weapons will be allowed inside, and then announces that it’ll be checking patrons for weapons. I don’t see the rights violation so far, except on very controversial assumptions about the right to bear weapons and take them wherever you want. Now suppose that management also excludes people with bench warrants for felonies (assuming it could check this in an accurate way). Still no rights violation, as far as I can see. Now suppose you exclude those with serious diseases that can be communicated in airborne fashion (Ebola, for starters). Still no rights violation, at least as long as you have a reliable method for checking.
I think the thought-experiment carries over to points of entry in discussions about immigration (or entry). Sensible border controls need not be any more rights violative than the entry controls at the stadium I’m describing. The relevant issue is the reliability of the methods used, not the in-principle legitimacy of the restrictions involved.
I’m leaving Israel in a few days. The last time I did this via Tel Aviv, I was accused by the security people of wanting to blow up the plane, then strip searched, and held for three hours. I don’t mind their conscientiousness about making sure I don’t blow up the plane. In fact, I admire it. What I resent is ideological zealotry that goes beyond that. It’s one thing to check my luggage and person for explosives. It’s another to ransack my bags in search of stuff that has adverse PR effects on their country. As I see it, the second violates my rights, not the first.
a laissez faire world is topologically simply-connected. A property-rights regime that violates that boundary constraint invites justifiable violation.
But in my view they’d still have to provide right-of-transit via easements. That’s why you don’t have the right to buy up all the land around someone’s house and then keep them prisoner.
Do you have a bibliographical recommendation on right-of-transit easements? I’m no deontologist, so I’m sympathetic to the idea of consequence-sensitive provisos on property rights, but what I don’t get is this: if you open the door to such provisos, what principle explains why you get right-of-transit via easements in some cases, but no use restrictions on risk-impositions in others?
In other words, if you don’t have the right to surround someone by buying up all the land around them (and I agree that you don’t), why would you have the unrestricted right to use your property to invite anyone into the country, even if they were criminals with dangerous weapons and malign intent, or carriers of potentially lethal diseases? It seems to me that the same consequence-sensitivity that entails easements in the one case entails use restrictions in the other.
the proviso is a boundary condition on a “presumption of liberty”…a non sequitur to suggest it can also implies an initial authoritarian presumption re: “use restriction
Sorry, I meant the Lord-Trump line, not the Lord-Turner line. I momentarily confused Donald Trump with Ted Turner. I apologize for the inadvertent insult to Ted Turner.
And here I assumed you meant this guy.
In retrospect, “Lord-Turner line” sounds a bit like a railroad in an Ayn Rand novel (where “Lord” and “Turner” are villains).
Conservatives hate socialism but love the stasi…
Sounds like Lord thinks Mexico is a prison, and its citizens inmates.
If free immigration was legal and completely free (not requiring vaccinations, for example), but the welfare-state benefits were reserved only to non-immigrants or their families, could this limitation be considered a border by left-libertarians?
On the other hand, I believe anyone who wishes for the abolition of the State should enthusiatically recommend both unfettered immigration and full welfare benefits, as this would accelerate the fall of any State. Well, perhaps not.
Musonius Rufus: If free immigration was legal and completely free (not requiring vaccinations, for example), but the welfare-state benefits were reserved only to non-immigrants or their families, could this limitation be considered a border by left-libertarians?
I can’t speak for left libertarians collectively, but, speaking only for myself, no, I would not consider that a “border.” I’d consider it unfair, because it is a government subsidy (to citizens) partly at the expense of immigrants who are forced to pay taxes to provide special benefits to citizens, just in virtue of where they happened to be born. But I think the way to deal with the unfairness would be to get rid of the welfare state subsidies for citizenship, not to universalize it or to reinstate border controls.
In any case, though, even if it would be unfair, a system like the one you describe would be massively more beneficial to immigrants than the current system of restrictive borders.