The mainstream libertarian view on immigration is that open borders are necessary. This rests on the premise that a free immigration policy goes hand-in-hand with free trade and that restrictions on border crossings are by their nature coercive.
Murray Rothbard, in the last chapter of For a New Liberty, argues that libertarianism cannot succeed unless we advocate an immediate and total transition to a libertarian society; that is, we cannot take things one at a time or prioritize some types of reform ahead of others. That is to say that if we were to prioritize the privatization of a particular industry for 15 years down the line, it would be like saying that the socialization of that industry is acceptable for now until we can get to it lat, which would be a false statement, as all socialization is wrong now, and we must abolish all of it now.
While Rothbard’s logic is quite persuasive and reasonable, I cannot accept that logic when it comes to immigration. Illegal immigration in America has been proven to create a greater drain on government subsidized programs–healthcare, education, and hundreds of others. Illegal immigration therefore promotes government’s plunder of individuals because we live in a welfare state where such plunder is acceptable and encouraged.
If Rothbard’s desire for wide open borders were to come to fruition tomorrow, we would be in trouble. The welfare state would be forced to deal with them by increasing taxes, and the right to be free from plunder would be eroded very quickly.
Since it is certain that in a welfare state illegal immigration requires increased taxation to handle the social problems that result, we cannot decriminalize illegal immigration until we abolish the welfare state. To do so would be contrary to the goal of libertarianism, which is to decrease plunder and coercion at the hands of government rather than to increase it.
Thus, while Rothbard is correct in saying that libertarians must pursue an immediate and total transition to a libertarian society, libertarians must also be careful to recognize the potential practical consequences of not prioritizing certain reforms ahead of others. Unless we can open the borders and abolish the welfare state simultaneously, we must prioritize the latter ahead of the former to avoid making our situation worse than it already is.
Comments and debate from other libertarians are highly encouraged.