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Recently, I became embroiled in a debate relating to proposed "Border Security" plans proposed by President Trump.  Well into the debate, someone popped up in the debate which caused me to step back and reassess my position.  Below, I lay out my thoughts and I invite feedback and discussion...

Starting Point:  "Should the U.S. build a border fence/wall to better control illegal immigration?"

I had started here and was very much in the camp of "Well, doh." for an answer.  However, after reading a number of essays from Objectivists whom I respect, I have at least reconsidered how I make my case--and what that case should be.

What I have come to think of as a mistake was my assumption of the analogy that the territory of the U.S. is "our property." I recoiled at the assertion made by another commenter that I was espousing collecitivism.  But, thanks to some articles of Harry Binswanger, I have moved to thinking of the U.S. border as the geographic limit of the jurisdiction of the Federal government.  When we "defend" the border, it must be to defend individual rights, not to defend the "border."

That said, I found that everyone easily agrees that if an armed group of people approach the U.S. border, that the military should take appropriate measures to repel or eliminate the threat.  I also found general agreement that "peaceful people in search of opportunity" should be able to cross into the jurisdiction of the U.S. without being subjected to quotas or limits.  (NOTE: The fact of general agreement is NOT justification--I am simply eliminating points of agreement for the purpose of highlighting areas which I consider insufficiently "chewed" by Objectivists I either know or have read.

OK, so let's continue-- assuming agreement on defense against obvious threats such as foreign military or armed gangs approaching the border... and further assuming agreement that peaceful people have the innate right to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction of their own free will.

Let's look at other "threats"...

  • Cartel violence -- this would obviously be solved by decriminalizing drugs.  The issue is that I doubt it is politically feasible to do so.  Perhaps marijuana will be decriminalized, but I don't see the American people supporting the decriminalization of hard narcotics, especially opioids.
  • Human trafficking ("Coyotes")-- while this can be largely resolved by eliminating immigration quotas, it would remain an issue for those barred from entry to the United States.  For example, known terrorists or felonious criminals barred by a U.S. Court of law from re-entry after deportation.
  • Sex Trafficking-- While the victims of sex trafficking (involuntary prostitution) would "have a better chance for being saved" in the U.S., I doubt that even the de-criminalization of prostitution would resolve the issue.  Also, I can't see the U.S. Congress de-criminalizing prostitution in our country any time soon.
  • Foreign Terrorists-- In the "old days" attacking another country required columns of soldiers and lots of heavy equipment for invasion.  Today the world has evolved to face the threats of bio-terrorism and suitcase nuclear devices.

If we adopted "open borders" as some would suggest, the above threats would not abate--and would, in my opinion, get worse.

And here's the crux...  idealism vs practical reality.  (Don't jump on me yet-- keep reading!)

To quote from a Broadway musical, "Politics is the art of the possible"

While I would agree that unrestricted border crossing by peaceful people is the ideal-- the question remains, "Who will vet the threat posed or not posed by border crossers?"

Is "inspection" at the border an acceptable solution?  If so, then border fences and ports of entry are required.  If not, then how do we prevent perfectly shielded nuclear devices from entering our country's jurisdiction?

I don't want to take on the subject of illegal immigrants already inside the country within this post--though I'm happy to discuss it in another post.  ;-)

But, I will say that those who cross the border without "clearance" (documentation) for doing so are put into the position of receiving the un-earned (they *can't* pay most taxes, yet are allowed to benefit from our institutions) and the position of fearing exposure for being in the country illegally--thus are far more vulnerable to exploitation.

Ultimately, this discussion seems to end in a quagmire of what we "should" do and what we realistically "can" do.

I submit that we have to solve issues like the pointless war on drugs, the welfare state, and other issues before we can genuinely approach the question of national borders with philosophical clarity.

In the meantime, I am left with supporting effective border crossing controls and inspections (fences, patrols, technology, etc.), but we could at least eliminate immigration quotas/limits NOW.

To support throwing open our borders is to be utterly naive about the very real threats to the individual rights of our citizens by doing so.

I do agree that anyone physically inside the jurisdiction of the United States is entitled to the respect of their individual rights-- but I simply cannot support the idea of a "right" to come to the U.S. for those not already here.

NOTE: This is where my thoughts are at present.  I am open to reasoned discussion and feedback--and reserve the right to update my position should I be proven wrong to my satisfaction.  i.e., I always reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than I am today.  My genuine goal is to whittle these issues down to their roots, chew them further, and arrive at a coherent position--and a realistic action plan for moving from present policy to ideal ones.

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But, I will say that those who cross the border without "clearance" (documentation) for doing so are put into the position of receiving the un-earned

I submit to you that navigating the dangerous journey from South America or even Mexico to the US in hopes of a better life is an astonishing act of courage, and that, as far as you can possibly say that a handout or an entitlement is "earned", these people have "earned" it infinitely more than anyone who never actually did anything remarkable to improve their life, and is the beneficiary of it simply by "virtue" of being born in the right country.

Quote

In the meantime, I am left with supporting effective border crossing controls and inspections (fences, patrols, technology, etc.), but we could at least eliminate immigration quotas/limits NOW.

There's a stalemate over immigration policy in the US, and, if anything, the gap is widening between the sides (because of Trump's populist, disgraceful electoral platform that gave no choice to the opposition but to polarize in the other direction).

So there's no "eliminating quotas", or any other change in immigration laws. That's not realistic. In fact, quotas are being tightened through executive discretion. The only realistic pathway for most economic migrants into the US is the illegal way. There's also no "effective border crossing controls". The US-Mexico border is massively long, it couldn't be locked down even if Congress, by some miracle, gave Trump all the money his putrid heart desires.

So I suggest you forget about the "effective controls coupled with lifting quotas" pipe dream, because neither side of that equation is happening. Make a realistic choice, between:

1. turning a blind eye to the majority of "illegal" economic migrants who are peaceful and here to work for employers who hire them in voluntary employer/employee arrangements (I don't just mean illegal border crossers; a lot of "illegals" come in the Ayn Rand way: legally, but then overstay their visa)... but, at the same time, trying to police the minority who are criminals, and the employers who use force and threats to attempt to enslave "illegals" (best the authorities can do that; it's not gonna be perfect, or anywhere close to perfect, because immigration, especially when it's illegal, but even when it's legal, will result in higher crime rates).

2. attempting to stop all of them (in an unrealistic scheme that involves building a $10B+ wall that will only stop some of them...in all likelihood, the most peaceful, non-criminal portion, while driving everyone into the arms of the cartels and the exploitative black market).

P.S. Point number 1 can be coupled with a "macro" approach, that looks at what kind of people are coming into the country (intelligence agencies can be tasked with this, they're quite adept at snooping on foreigners, and it's mostly legal for them to do so), and, if there's an ACTUAL danger (as opposed to the manufactured one Trump fed to his mouth-breather base), action can be taken. The executive branch has a lot of power in deciding who to let in and who not to let in/deport if they sneak in, so the legislative stalemate doesn't prevent the White House from keeping the country safe from any threat to the American way of life...including purely ideological/political (initially non-violent) threats like Marxism.

Even the notion of blocking entire countries (who refuse to cooperate with US efforts to investigate would be migrants) is justifiable, as long as it's, you know: JUSTIFIED. With evidence instead of demagogy and populism.

Edited by Nicky

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9 hours ago, Valdis said:

I submit that we have to solve issues like the pointless war on drugs, the welfare state, and other issues before we can genuinely approach the question of national borders with philosophical clarity.

This is backwards. First you need philosophical clarity regarding national borders, then you can apply that knowledge to practical problems related to the war on drugs or the welfare state.

9 hours ago, Valdis said:

To support throwing open our borders is to be utterly naive about the very real threats to the individual rights of our citizens by doing so.

I do agree that anyone physically inside the jurisdiction of the United States is entitled to the respect of their individual rights-- but I simply cannot support the idea of a "right" to come to the U.S. for those not already here.

I agree in principle, and, look, we didn't even have to solve the drug war first. Though we might disagree on what qualifies as "a very real threat to individual rights." For example, you don't mention anti-individual rights ideologies, like socialism. Binswanger has argued against controlling for political ideology at the border. I disagree and have debated the point at length on the "Immigration Restrictions" thread.

http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?/topic/31452-immigration-restrictions/

Edited by MisterSwig

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14 hours ago, Valdis said:

When we "defend" the border, it must be to defend individual rights, not to defend the "border."

...  ...  ...

If we adopted "open borders" as some would suggest, the above threats would not abate--and would, in my opinion, get worse.

While libertarians and a few other small groups debate issues like "Should a country have a border? Should we have Open Borders?" and so on... this is not the actual political issue that the vast majority are talking about. For most people, these arguments are politically correct ways to express their support or opposition to current U.S. immigration law. 

And, the real issues in U.S. immigration law are questions like: "Should we allow poor South Americans to come and work in the U.S. and become U.S. citizens/voters?" or "Should we triple the number of Indian programmers who are allowed to come and work in the U.S.and become U.S. citizens/voters?"

If people reach agreement on these tactical issues, the question of Open Borders and such will be boring to most, though it will continue to be debated in libertarian forums.

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Trying to find an “Objectivist” position in public policy debates is usually frustrating. I find it useful to fall back on Ayn Rands admonition, ”Check your premise.” Given borders are an attempt to separate something from something else I assume the 1st poster was stating premises in his threats list.

So, let’s look at the other "threats"...

Cartel violence -- Key word here is cartel, not violence. The issue then is the organized resistance to law enforcement. Organization is about the flow of information not product. (The crime may be about product or violence, the organization and its reach is not.) Arbitrary lines drawn on a map have next to NO impact on information in a world with a global information network with largely sub-second latency. This threat is pertinent only to other topics about limiting unethical people from bad behavior, not walls.

Human trafficking ("Coyotes")-- The key question here should be efficacy. The initiating question is pro<>con a border wall, so the issue boils down to, “CAN a wall impact the currently successful methods of these ‘Coyotes’?”. Currently -well over- 92.5% (three full standard deviations) of the successful border crossings of smuggled humans is by, a) legal port of entry, b) at a coastal port, c) flying, or d) tunneling. Quantities, I am given to believe, are in that order but that’s from memory so look it up. ROI on a wall near zero.

Sex Trafficking-- Here again, a complex criminal behavior. For the “trafficking” part see above, for the “organization-cartel” part see above, and for the rest, violence, sex, and coercion, I see little that a wall even could impact.  ROI on a wall near zero.

Foreign Terrorists-- The key point of premise three seems to be a juxtaposition of “old” invading armies Vs terrorists toting “suitcase nuclear devices”. Please, I wish we could put this myth to rest. Allow me to explain. Yes, fusion based nuclear devices have been shrunk to remarkably small dimensions. But using only well known high-school level physics, it is easy to estimate real physical limits on that device. Without boring you with gory detail, suffice it to say the lightest functional fusion device will be very close to one hundred pounds. Portable, but requiring planning. It can be revealed without triggering a visit from MIB that there have existed so-called “back-pack” devices but they were packed in a minimum of three packages and they have never been actually used because the deployment was difficult enough that the primary risk was providing an enemy with fissile material. In order to smuggle one across a border, you are dealing with a cylindrical device of approximately 100 lbs plus a half ton (non-negotiable, laws of physics again) of shielding or your presence can be detected with a $25 Geiger-counter. Our government does not buy consumer grade Geiger-counters. Basically, nucs still face “invading armies” style obstacles. Walls are ineffective at keeping out chemical bombs as well.  “Suitcase nuclear devices” do not and can not exist. Anyone well informed, using them as a premise, is fear mongering.  Ill-informed? Well, that is its own problem.

 

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On 2/16/2019 at 2:44 PM, Skylab72 said:

Currently -well over- 92.5% (three full standard deviations) of the successful border crossings of smuggled humans is by, a) legal port of entry, b) at a coastal port, c) flying, or d) tunneling. Quantities, I am given to believe, are in that order but that’s from memory so look it up.

Look it up where? Who has stats on successful smugglings?

If we go by "inadmissables" who were caught at the border last year, the vast majority of them tried to cross between ports (396,579), not at them (124,511).

https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration

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On 2/16/2019 at 5:44 PM, Skylab72 said:

Cartel violence...

Human trafficking...

Sex Trafficking-...

Foreign Terrorists...

Do you take any of those points seriously? People who make those points are either rationalizing or using them to try win an argument. Their real argument is that they don't want more than a certain number of immigrants each year, because it dilutes existing culture and brings competition for jobs.

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@Valdis I've tried to provide some philosophical clarity on this issue on my blog here: Closed Borders: A rights-based defense

You are 100% correct in thinking of the US border as the "geographic limit of the jurisdiction of the Federal government". However, this is precisely what makes it "our property", because we've delegated our rights to the US government for the purposes of defense. Defending the border is in essence what we're paying the government to do. If that's "collectivist" than so is any agreement amongst a group of people, and we might as well advocate for abolishing all corporations while we're at it.

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4 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

@Valdis I've tried to provide some philosophical clarity on this issue on my blog here: Closed Borders: A rights-based defense

You are 100% correct in thinking of the US border as the "geographic limit of the jurisdiction of the Federal government". However, this is precisely what makes it "our property", because we've delegated our rights to the US government for the purposes of defense. Defending the border is in essence what we're paying the government to do. If that's "collectivist" than so is any agreement amongst a group of people, and we might as well advocate for abolishing all corporations while we're at it.

The country isn't "our property"; property is not owned by a collective. Defense of a "border" only makes sense insofar as it is the defense of individual rights, but there are also ways to "defend the border" which amount to the violation of individual rights. Telling immigrants seeking jobs that they may not cross the border to do so, for instance, is not any defense of right, in reason, but it is the violation of right and the initiation of the use of force.

(And because I've had this conversation enough times to know the next tack, yes it is valid to screen at the border for criminals, etc.)

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