February 26, 2015 by Anders Ingemarson
Note: As the immigration battle continues in Washington D.C. with Congressional Republicans waging a self-destructive internal war cheered on by both House and Senate Democrats and the White House, we’re taking a break from our “Separating State and the Economy – What’s That About” series (check out part 1 and part 2 if you haven’t already) to take a closer look at the separation of state and immigration. Join us at the Centennial Institute’s “Issue Monday: Doing Immigration Right” on March 16 to continue the discussion.
Championing the moral case for separating state and the economy has far-reaching implications. Take immigration. A country that fully respected individual rights would allow for free movement of people across its borders with a few rare exceptions (individuals with an objective criminal record and carriers of life-threatening contagious diseases come to mind).
Apart from the rare exceptions, migration across our country’s borders would be no different from the free movement of people across state borders and county lines, something we take for granted. Yes, Nevadans, Texans and Coloradans may complain about the “invasion” of Californians, but should anybody advocate for restrictions they’d be frowned upon. “People have the right to move wherever they like” would be the kneejerk reaction.
Notice that moving across state borders and county lines to a large extent takes place without government interference. The separation of state and domestic migration is as good an example of separation of state and the economy in practice that we can find in today’s society. And the vast majority of us consider it a good thing; whether we’re aware of it or not, we consider it moral to keep state and domestic migration separate.
So why does immigration to the United States meet with such resistance? On the surface, we may blame populist politicians finding immigrants an easy target, and union bosses out to protect their turf from immigrant competition. But it doesn’t answer why they attract such a large following from across the political spectrum.
We’d argue that the underlying reason is a fundamental misunderstanding of individual rights. Many Americans believe that “all men are created equal” and “rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” only applies to residents or citizens of the United States. They think that the Declaration of Independence, being an American founding document, applies to Americans only.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that the United States is the only country founded on a vision of each man’s and woman’s individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness doesn’t mean that Americans are in sole possession of such rights.
Individual rights are universal and grounded in human nature. They don’t end at the Atlantic seaboard or the Pacific coastline. They apply no less south or north of our borders than within them. It doesn’t matter if you’re born in Toronto, Tijuana or elsewhere on this planet; having individual rights is inseparable from being human—your birthplace, race, gender, religious affiliation or nationality, is of no significance.
It is true that much of humanity lives in countries where massive rights violations are par for the course. But this doesn’t erase that fact that these individuals have the same rights as those of us who are fortunate to already make the United States our home. Theirs are just being violated on a larger scale (we unfortunately are catching up at an alarming speed).
Reforming immigration doesn’t mean opening the floodgates overnight. It has taken a while to get into the current situation, so we should expect that it will take some time to get out of it. But implementing a simplified system that gradually allows more immigration year by year is not that hard once the support is there.
However, until individual right are properly understood, we will not reach a critical mass of Americans morally condemning the fact that we’re violating the rights of men, women and children from other countries by refusing them admission to the United States. And until that critical mass has been reached, our politicians will not feel the pressure to pursue serious immigration reform.
Check out the “Separate State and Immigration” page for our thoughts on immigration reform, and for solutions to the most common claims from anti-immigration proponents such as “they take our jobs,” “they use our entitlements without paying their way,” “they bring drugs and drug related violence.”