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July 5, 2016

Immigration Is Not a Fundamental Human Right


Do we have a fundamental human right to live anywhere in the world we choose?

Purchase College economics professor Sandy Ikeda thinks so, and makes his case in “Immigration Is a Fundamental Human Right,” published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

To understand his position, you first need to know that many libertarians see national boundaries as arbitrary constructs, and thus people should be able to move to any country they choose just as Americans can move to any state or city they choose.

Ikeda pins his argument on the freedom of association: Since people should be free to associate with whomever they choose, they should be free to engage in that association wherever (i.e., any country) they choose. 

He writes, “The state did not create the freedom of association; free association is prior to the state and prior to the state’s artificial boundaries.”

Identifying fundamental human rights is very subjective, but even if he’s correct, Ikeda never addresses the biggest problem: location.

If several people are exercising their right to associate in a restaurant or bar at closing time, does the restaurant owner have the right to tell them it’s time to leave?  Of course. 

If several people were to break into Ikeda’s house and begin associating with each other, would he be infringing their rights to tell them they were not welcome and had to leave—and turn to the power of the state (i.e., police) if they refused to vacate?  No, he would not.

The intruders are infringing his rights, not the other way around.

Even though many libertarians view national—as well as state, county and city—borders as arbitrary, they are no more arbitrary than the borders of our homes and businesses.  Governments have often entered into contracts, or gone to war, to establish and protect their borders.

And speaking of contracts, about 40 percent of illegal immigrants are people who have overstayed their visas—a voluntary contract in which the visitor agrees to leave by a certain date.  Should they have a right to stay even if doing so breaks a contract?

Ironically, technology may have made Ikeda’s free association defense even less relevant.  People are free to Skype—i.e., associate—with anyone anywhere without crossing national borders.

If my property rights allow me to tell people they cannot come into my house, or that they have to leave if they have overstayed their welcome, so should governments.

Now,  just because governments have the right to say who can and can’t reside within their borders doesn’t mean they should be overly restrictive.  The U.S. and its economy have benefited immensely from immigration.  And one of the reasons we need immigration reform is so those benefits can continue.

But to say that the freedom of association should allow people to associate wherever they choose denies yet another fundamental human right: property rights.  And no libertarian should be guilty of that error.



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