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Libertarianism is often associated with cosmopolitan and dovish attitudes toward foreign policy and immigration. This is wholly understandable — indeed, justified — in that libertarians and libertarian organizations are disproportionally allergic to military intervention and state-imposed restriction of immigration, albeit not as much as their more vociferous critics often allege. That said, libertarians with these positions have misapplied their principles, and fail to account for both the practical need for a healthy nationalism and its consonance with liberty.
As a matter of principle, American political society — as well as that of other liberty-minded countries — is based on a social contract between the state and its citizens, in which the former provides the latter with some degree of safety from coercion and force. As such, the United States government exists for the benefit of its citizens, not those of other countries, and consequentially owes them a wholly different set of duties. Libertarianism does not speak directly to the relationship between the government of one sovereign people and those of another nation, other than that one should not unjustly harm the other. Foreigners have no more claim on our domestic policy than we have on theirs, and control over our borders and admittance into our polity are core responsibilities of that government.
While US immigration policy has a great many problems, the greatest is the matter of illegal immigration from third-world countries, particularly those of Latin America. The reason we have this problem is not simply that we have a porous border and poor enforcement of our laws, as the same applies to Canada. The third, equally important, factor is that the United States offers a degree of opportunity, safety, and liberty that vastly exceeds that available in Mexico, Guatemala, or the Caribbean in a way that cannot be compared to the (relatively) minor differences between the United States and Canada or Western Europe.
Why is this a problem? Because in an era of easy and inexpensive travel (and with a porous border), the incentives for one to emigrate from Latin America are less likely to be consonant with American interests than those of countries with comparable standards of living. A Canadian or Western European who wishes to immigrate to the United States does so because he desires to come to America specifically. In contrast, Latin Americans are far more likely — again, I am speaking in the broadest generalities — to be aiming to escape from the poverty or violence of their native country. It should go without saying that potential immigrants who seek the United States out of choice are different and, on average, likely superior to those who seek it out of need.
Once we have acknowledged principles and identified the main problem, we can discuss matters of practical policy. Stipulating that people may disagree over how many immigrants the US should admit — and that such a debate is a serious matter — a baseline policy should adopt the following items in the following order:
- Control over the border with Mexico and the stricter enforcement of existing laws for all immigrants who either enter the country illegally or overstay visas;
- The streamlining and simplification of our existing laws. Among the low-hanging fruit should be a reduction in refugee admittance, an end to chain immigration beyond immediate nuclear families, and reform of laws regarding birthright citizenship to children of non-permanent residents.
- The adoption of policies — most notably free trade — that will encourage and help other countries to become freer and wealthier, so that their citizens can realize their ambitions in peace and liberty without having to leave their homes, culture, and language (unless they so desire).
Libertarians and conservatives sometimes — though not always — have different ideas about domestic policies, as they see the proper relationship between the state and its citizens in different ways. When it comes to how we see the relationship between our government and citizens of other countries, however, there’s little reason for our ideas to be in conflict.