Another Take on Immigration

By Andrew Kern of the Principled Libertarian


Immigration is a controversial subject in libertarian and anarcho-capitalist circles. Usually when there is a question of what people should be allowed to do or what policies we should support we can turn to property rights. We can ask “who owns this?” Unfortunately, the borders of a nation are not that clear cut. Governments specifically prevent individuals from exercising full ownership of the property along the border, and even seize additional property through eminent domain or similar programs.

Both open and closed government borders are not free market answers. Restricting movement of people over property that you do not own infringes on their rights. Alternatively, the government disallowing private acquisition and thus private decision-making of the land surrounding a nation distorts the amount of immigration that would otherwise occur.

Borders, in part, define the nation-state. It is within those borders that the coercive territorial monopolist of ultimate arbitration exists. So while the strict libertarian/anarcho-capitalist position on borders is to privatize them, to do so means to end the state. Until that happens we are forced to choose a 2nd best option as an immigration policy.


The federal government setting the rules for the entire border is the worst possible route for people who care about respecting the wishes of individuals. It amounts to a few politicians and bureaucrats setting the immigration policy for millions of square miles and hundreds of millions of people.

Outside of full privatization, there is another option which can unite libertarians of many stripes: decentralization.

We don’t all need to have the same immigration rules. By allowing individual states, and preferably localities to set their own immigration program, we can get closer to what individuals would decide under privatization.

This is also the Constitutional position. The extent of the federal government’s Constitutional powers concerns naturalization. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 declares “Congress shall have power… To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States” Naturalization is not immigration. It is synonymous with citizenship. That means, constitutionally speaking, the power to allow or disallow the movement of non-citizens rests with the states and the people, as pointed out in the Tenth Amendment.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson reinforced this position in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798: “Resolved, That alien friends are under the jurisdiction and protection of the laws of the State wherein they are: that no power over them has been delegated to the United States …An Act concerning aliens, which assumes powers over alien friends, not delegated by the Constitution, is not law, but is altogether void, and of no force.”

There is potential for a broad coalition on this subject ranging from constitutional conservatives to minarchist and anarchist libertarians. Many more people can have the immigration policy they desire if these decisions are made at a more local level.

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One Reply to “Another Take on Immigration”

  1. Nice article Andrew. This is more or less my view; if the State was reduced to nothing, there would be nothing to stop me from hopping on a plane and going to somewhere where I am welcomed.

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