Immigration Restrictions Violate Americans’ Liberty

Immigration restrictions are more than just violations of the liberties of foreigners. Truly a society that restricts the freedom of certain groups restricts the freedom of all. Apologists for state action will reassure voters that each new intrusion into society will only impact the “one-percent” — that is to say that restrictions on the liberty of marginal groups will leave yours unaffected. The message underlying each government intervention is that your freedom is safe, or even enhanced by another’s loss in liberty.

Immigration restrictionists assure Americans that the sacrifice of the immigrant’s freedom of movement entails no limitation on the liberty of Americans. But liberty is not atomistic. The government cannot simply excise the liberty of one group and leave the freedom of all others unaffected. Just as free speech violations violate not just the rights of the speaker to speak, but also the right of listener to hear, so immigration limits injure not just foreigners who want to move, but also Americans who want to associate with them.

When the U.S. government prevents foreigners from working in America, it restrains freedom of contract not only for the immigrant, but for every U.S. employer. When it denies refugee status to a Somali immigrant like Mahamed Mahamud, and forces him to close his restaurant, the violation of his freedom spreads to his employees, suppliers, and customers. When a South African immigrant like Luke Melchior has to fight deportation because U.S. immigration law does not recognize same-sex marriage, it is not just his fight — it is the fight of his family, friends, and his partner Brandon. When it deports Guatemalan immigrant like Sandra Payes-Chacon it violates not just her rights, but also the rights of her two children who are American citizens. Do American citizens really have no right to a mother? Apparently, they do not. That is the logically consequence of immigration restrictions.

Restrictionists like to focus the debate solely on the immigrant’s “right to enter” since they know that most people agree that government has the authority to limit entry. The implication of this argument is that because it may limit entry, there are no grounds for opposing such restrictions. But the ability of the government to act is not an argument in favor of its action. Immigrants may have no rights whatsoever — and listening to restrictionists they apparently do not — but that would change nothing: restrictions would still be just as much an affront to a free society.

If Americans accept the premise that the government’s obligation is to protect the rights of its citizens, they have just as much a principled reason to oppose immigration restrictions. Under this theory of government, it ought to be protecting the rights of Americans to associate, contract, and trade with foreigners, not attempting to restrict those rights even further.

Even if the majority of Americans would expel every immigrant if they could (which is certainly not the case), the rights of the minority who want to associate themselves with immigrants ought to be protected in a free society. Just as the rights of those Southerners who wanted to serve or employ blacks ought to have been protected, so the rights of those who want to serve or employ immigrants ought to be protected.