The Immigration “Problem” & The Libertarian “Solution”

I know this may sound dreadful to many of you, as we tend to stay away from sideshow distractions that our political circus in the media wants us to focus on. But the immigration debate is fascinating for the divisions it makes so obviously clear within the libertarian camp. This article will highlight the works of Dr. Walter Block that promote entirely free immigration as the only consistently libertarian position. As usual, there are points of agreement and disagreement with Block, but I agree with essentially the same theory of “immigration policy” that Block says is the libertarian theory.

First we have to note the hilarious immigration debate that is going on in the District of Criminals right now. This has been a great display of ignorance. Since neither the Republican nor Democrat parties have anything remotely resembling a foundational philosophy or guiding principles, the debate on immigration has been strictly politics, as usual. The Republicans are afraid that the “illegal immigrants” will vote overwhelmingly Democrat, and the Democrats are pretty convinced of that as well. Nowhere does this debate acknowledge principles. Why is it important to apply principles to the immigration debate? Because immigrants are people to, believe it or not, and must not be aggressed upon.

Immigration is a word that serves a purpose only in a world of Statist parasites. The difference between migration and immigration is based in the illegitimate theory of a just Nation-State. Without a monopoly of force on one side of a “border”, there is no need to seek permission to cross into another area that lacks a monopoly of force. This potential exposes the illegitimacy of borders as we know them today. According to Murray Rothbard:

“There can be no such thing as an “international trade” problem. For nations might then possibly continue as cultural expressions, but not as economically meaningful units. Since there would be neither trade nor other barriers between nations nor currency differences, “international trade” would become a mere appendage to a general study of interspatial trade.” 1

There would still be names of regions, whether they are called counties, provinces or even States all with unique cultures preserved, but no monopoly of force would exist. The only borders existing in a truly free society are those surrounding private property. If there are no borders enforced by a “legal authority” with a violent monopoly, then there is no difference between migration and Immigration. Dr. Walter Block argues this point convincingly in his essay A Libertarian Case for Free Immigration:

“If it is non-invasive for Jones to change his locale from one place in Misesania to another in that country, then it cannot be invasive for him to move from Rothbardania to Misesania.”2

Walter Block

Block and Rothbard have theoretically proven that immigration, or migration itself is not an aggressive act, it is only an exercise of one’s right to own themselves. This however does not imply that immigration is itself a human right. The “immigrant” has no right to the use of another’s property unless, as Block stated “the immigrant moves to a piece of private property whose owner is willing to take him in (maybe for a fee), there can be nothing untoward about such a transaction.”3 It follows logically that the place of origin of a migrant need not be considered to determine the rights of said migrant. As I noted before, this is what makes our argument different from those of the Democrats and Republicans, we consider immigrants as human beings possessing the same rights as those on either side of any border.

No Borders

No Borders

But we live in a Statist World!

And in this statist world, there are minarchist libertarians. After arriving at the above conclusion it is easy to simply dismiss further debate due to the illegitimacy of borders and the State. This is fine for discussions sake, but here we will examine some common minarchist libertarian policies and hold them to libertarian principles.

Many minarchist libertarians agree with the principle that humans should be allowed to move freely, and they accept that it is in fact the migrant’s right to self-ownership that guarantees this. Therefore they advocate a simple, non-invasive means of legal immigration. Libertarians advocating this view are trying to minimize the amount of force employed, because they see government as a necessary exception to the principle of nonaggression. I would argue that even this is up for debate. This solution, however “simple” or “non-invasive it is, requires State officials to monitor the entire border. This single step requires vast amounts of violence. First, to purchase, settle, and make ready for siege all the land across a border requires countless amounts of stolen “taxpayer” dollars. Next you have to pay the salaries of officers working for whichever agency is tasked with securing the border. And lastly, should a human not be free to run across the border, perhaps without waiting in line for an intensive grope of person and property? In the proposed “simple, non-invasive” system, the person who refuses to go through the proper checkpoints, or the person who exercises his freedom to move across a “border” is liable to get shot and killed, or arrested and deported.

We do live in a statist world, but there is still a way to minimize the use of force at the border. Is there a good reason for the State to have a presence on the border at all?  The most common objection to this proposal is the very true fact that we have a welfare state in the United States. Without some sort of pragmatic solution, the country would be overrun with people only making the economically beneficial decision of immigrating to the United States.  Again, let’s go to Dr. Block:

“Pragmatic matters … can form no part of the libertarian world view. The only issue is: do emigration, migration, and immigration constitute, per se, a physical trespass against person and property or a threat thereof?”…”There can be no countenance for partially restricted immigration, any more than for partially restricted murder.” 4

There is also no legitimacy in attacking proposed immigration policy based on a fear of added expenditures to the welfare system. Dr. Block quoted Hans-Herman Hoppe in his Libertarian Case for Free Immigration:

“It would also be wrongheaded to attack the case for free immigration by pointing out that because of the existence of a welfare state, immigration has become, to a significant extent, the immigration of welfare bums, who, even if the United States is below the optimal population point, do not increase but rather decrease average living standards. For this is not an argument against immigration but rather against the welfare state.” 5

Libertarians, both anarchists and minarchists, desire to reduce the amount of coercive force employed in our lives, and most especially, force by the government. I have sincere appreciation for the minarchists who fight this battle. Rather than turning a blind eye to the fact that there are migrants who are being subjected to government force every day, rather than hiding behind the theory that borders should not exist in the first place, these minarchists are fighting towards freedom. For this they deserve no contempt from libertarian anarchists.

Like so many other problems created by the State, a libertarian solutions will not always be possible inside the parameters of a State, but it does not change the morality of said solution. By applying the simple principle of nonaggression we are lead to the same conclusion that Dr. Block reached years ago: “either migration is totally legitimate, in which case there should be no interferences with it whatsoever, or it is a violation of the non-aggression axiom, in which case it should be banned, fully.”6 The pure libertarian solution to the immigration “problem” could be reached by asking one question, and it’s a question that would stump Democrats and Republicans. Do the “human rights” of immigrants differ from the “human rights” of migrants?

by Adam Alcorn, Editor, the Humane Condition


A free PDF of Dr. Walter Block’s essay “The Libertarian Case for Free Immigration” is available here thanks to the Mises Institute.



  1. Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, [1962] (1992), p. 550. Accessed May 7th, 2013
  2. Block, Walter. “The Libertarian Case For Free Immigration.” The Journal of Libertarian Studies 13.2 (1998): 167-168. Print.
  3. Block, (page 173.)
  4. Block,( page 169.)
  5. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Free Immigration or Forced Integration,” Chronicles 19, no. 7 (July 1995): 25.
  6. Block, (page 185.)