The world before 1914 saw only limited immigration issues or policies, and no real border controls. Instead, there was free movement of people; there were few questions asked, people were treated respectfully, and one did not generally need official documents to enter or leave a country. While there were some exceptions, this all changed during World War I.
During World War I, European governments introduced border passport requirements for security reasons, and to control the emigration of citizens with useful skills. These controls remained in place after the war, becoming standard procedure. Today it is virtually impossible to freely move across artificially defined state borders without state permission.
There have been two primary camps in the immigration debate. Those who favor open borders (free immigration) and those who oppose open borders (restricted immigration). The open borders camp primarily tends to equate freedom with the freedom to travel. The restricted immigration camp opposes open borders due to security concerns and issues with the welfare state.
It is important to note that, when speaking of borders, both sides are typically referring to political borders, or in other words, the artificial territorial monopoly of the state. They are not referring to private property, which is encompassed by real borders. Since the state has no property rights (despite its false claims) we must look at the issue from individual property owners. It is beyond the scope of this article to examine the invalidity of state property rights.
For open border advocates, who support property rights, their argument poses a serious problem. Does one have a right to freely travel in a free society? The answer to this question is not difficult achieve. Imagine a society where everyone is the exclusive owner of their own property, without the burden of the state (i.e. a private law society). There would be no political borders, but only private property borders. In such a scenario, movement from one territory to another would only be allowed by permission or invitation.
In a private law society exists the freedom of many independent private property owners to admit or exclude others from their own property. Admission to some territories might be easy, while to others it may be very difficult. Admission to the property by the admitting person does not imply that there is freedom to move around in other territories, unless other property owners consent to such movements.
The reasons that private property owners allow immigration or non-immigration are their own. We can be assured that the reasons would only benefit both parties involved. Why would someone want to immigrate to a territory that would make them worse off than before? In a similar manner, why would property owners allow for immigrants to enter their property only to be worse off?
Those who advocate for a right to freely travel are essentially claiming, that when one travels, there is an exemption to property rights. They would be hard-pressed to apply their argument to their own lives. For how many would keep the doors of their homes unlocked and allow strangers to come and go as they please?
On the other hand, those who support state restricted immigration also fall into the trap of having a position that opposes property rights. In other words, they support the idea of the state deciding who can and cannot enter a given territory. In such a case, the decision making ability of the private property owners or associations has been removed. An agency with no property rights is now making immigration decisions.
Suppose person X owns a plot of land. Imagine the absurdity of person Y (who has no claim to the property) setting up a fence outside of person X’s property in an effort to control the entry and exit of persons. Further suppose the absurdity of person Y allowing complete strangers to enter the property, or excluding others that person X wants to do business with. Person Y may even charge a tax or fee for this.
Moreover, the state, by creating artificial borders, has now created two groups of people. Those who live inside the borders and those who live outside its borders; citizens and foreigners. It has removed the concept of free association and replaced it with forced exclusion and forced integration; decisions that should rest with private property owners.
Matters are further complicated since most states are publicly owned. That is, through democracy everyone can make decisions for the public at large; everyone can be king. Through voting everyone has the ability take on a temporary elected position of power and govern democratic society. As a result of this temporary caretaker status, democratic rulers tend to maximize monetary and psychic income; money and power. After all they don’t own the property associated with their position of power, they are merely renting for a short period of time. Any economic loss that is suffered by the public, based on their decisions, does not impact their personal welfare. As such, they have no incentive to push policies that preserve or enhance rather than diminish the value of society.
Due to democracy’s inherent egalitarianism of “everyone gets a vote,” emigration and immigration policies tend to be distinctly egalitarian. As a result, to democratic rulers it makes little difference whether productive or unproductive people, geniuses or bums enter or leave the country. They are much more concerned with keeping someone who will vote in favor of egalitarian measures versus their victims who are likely to vote in opposition to these types of measures.
Democratic rulers tend to favor unproductive persons because they constitute a “social problem.” These types of “social problems” allow for more egalitarian measures to be imposed. Thus those who benefit from these measures, the unproductive, will likely vote to support the democratic rulers’ policies.
With all these issues in mind, what should one hope for and advocate as the correct immigration policy? As long as the democratic state continues to exercise its monopoly of decision making ability over immigration policies we are in a difficult position. Despite this obstacle, the only policy that is correct would be to advocate for private property rights on all fronts. All policy decisions must be judged through this lense. A free society is based on private property. If the policy violates private property rights one should oppose it. As such, one must accept the right of free and voluntary association and reject state-controlled borders. Ultimately this does not imply supporting open borders, but rather embracing private property rights.