Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I Believe In Open Borders

Lately I've had borders on the mind. There's been a lot of discussion around this new immigration law in Arizona, and it's forced me to begin articulating my position on border policy. At one time I was an avid supporter of strict border policy enforcement and was the sort of person who would half-joke around about the need for a wall or fence or something at the border.

Over the last few years, as I've thought more carefully about the matter, I've kept rather quiet about the matter, and over time, I've come to an entirely different conclusion. I've come to believe that what we need is not stricter laws, or better enforcement, but open borders. Why? Because I've looked closely at all my arguments for controlling borders, and behind the surface of all the political lingo I've found mostly hatred and unfounded fear.

So I want to give a full account of why I've come to this conclusion. It won't be a complete argument (such would require a book). But I hope to at least provide a thorough account of why I think what I do about border policy. Though it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately, it's not something on which I'm some sort of expert, so please do add your two cents in the comments, especially if you disagree with me.

Jobs, Borders, and Nationalism

A huge concern people often express about opening up borders is that immigrants "take American jobs." Immigrants come and work cheaper (and often harder, it seems to me) and take jobs that Americans would have taken. I know. It's hard to lose a job. But think: the immigrant coming here needs a job too! He and his family have to eat, just like any American family. Why should the American get the job? Why should we favor the needs of someone born in Arizona over the needs of someone born in Mexico? What's so great about Americans? Do Americans, as Americans, have special rights that every human being doesn't have?

The notion that "American" jobs belong to "American" people is a nationalistic one. And nationalism, it seems to me should be to as scary a word as racism. Their similarity is striking. Both involve the denial of rights to people on the basis of some artificial distinction. We must be willing to admit the simple truth: nationality is as artificial as race. And we have to ask ourselves: do rights belong to human beings as human beings or only to certain human beings due to their nationality?

Roderick Long made this point well a few weeks ago, when he pointed out the conflict between two claims American conservatives often make:

Our constitutional rights aren’t granted to us by government. Our rights come from God, and the Constitution simply recognises them.
Illegal immigrants and terrorist suspects don’t have constitutional rights because they’re not American citizens.

At first glance, this seems to be almost a plain contradiction. But, as someone points out in one of the comments, there is a way to reconcile these two statements. The problem is that it requires a rather disturbing synthesis statement, like the one that one commenter suggests:

Only American citizens were created equal, because God only cares about Americans.

So, if we say that rights are granted by God, and then we say that certain people don't have them because they're American, then we are effectively saying that God hasn't granted them certain things because they aren't American. The same thing goes for any similar formula without God. If we say human beings have rights as human beings, and yet that there are certain rights immigrants don't have, then we are effectively saying that they are somehow less human because they aren't American. And this is exactly the spirit of nationalism: to make people of one nationality out to be better, in terms of the rights they deserve to have respected, than people of other national origins. And that is as morally reprehensible as racism.

I'm not saying, of course, that immigrants should receive any special favors. I'm not suggesting anyone get a leg up on everyone else. I just want to give people an equal chance to compete for a job. America ought to be the land of opportunity, not of entitlement. And yet, it is the self-professed opponents of entitlement, the conservatives, who are most vocally opposed to freeing up our borders. But what is the claim that American jobs are for American people except an insistence upon an entitlement of Americans to certain jobs!?

And consider the economics of the matter: producers will go where the cheap labor is. You can't stop companies from going to other countries where labor is cheaper. And this is exactly what they're doing: outsourcing. Keeping cheap labor in other countries will not prevent employers from taking advantage of it. It will simply cause those employers to go elsewhere. So, on top of being morally reprehensible, preventing foreigners from competing for American jobs is impossible!


The other major concern people have about open borders is a matter of security. "Immigrants commit crimes." People claim. "After all, they're willing to break immigration laws, why not other laws? Immigration is a threat to our safety and security!" Not quite. This worry about crime and security, as it turns out, is simply not based in fact. The evidence (see here and here) actually shows increased immigration is correlated with decreased crime!

Other policies

All of this said, I should point out that opening borders might exacerbate the effects of existing bad policies. This, however, is not a reason to write off open borders, but a reason to ask tough questions about these policies. Often people seem to use this as an argument against open borders. It seems to me that this should rather be an argument about those policies. There are two such policies of particular importance: welfare transfers and minimum wage.

One common concern about immigrants is that they take advantage of our welfare system. Opening up the borders, it seems, would likely make this problem worse. More poor people would come across the border and take advantage of various programs designed to help poor people. This, of course, would be expensive. No matter what one's position about such programs is, however, this problem cannot be one for open borders. If one is an opponent of welfare transfers generally, or even for the most part, it seems to me that the problem is with the welfare transfers. They, not border policy are the problem. On the other hand, if one is an advocate of welfare programs, I don't see how one can be disturbed by immigrants receiving benefits without invoking the very sort of nationalism I criticize above. If poor people have rights to the provision of certain goods, why not poor immigrants? Either way, I don't see how the problem of immigrants benefiting from welfare programs is a problem for immigration rather than for those programs.

Another important policy issue in regard to immigration is minimum wage. Any opening of the borders, it seems to me, really ought to coincide with the removal of minimum wage. This is simply the flipside of what I've already asserted: America should be the land of opportunity, not entitlement. Minimum wage both destroys opportunity and increases a sense of entitlement. On one hand, it reduces the number of jobs available at a low wage, by making it higher. At the same time, it encourages a sense among people that they are owed a certain wage. Both of these, it seems to me, are wrong in themselves and bad for immigration policy. The wonderful thing about many immigrants is that they are willing to work hard and to do so for prices that are affordable for employers. The existence of minimum wage discourages the virtue of hard work by breeding entitlement, and limits the benefits to employers (and thus to consumers, for whom prices can be lowered) of the willingness of many immigrants to work for less than their American competitors.

A recap:

Limiting immigration to protect American jobs is nationalistic (read: morally equivalent to racism) and won't work anyway. Concerns about crime are not based on the facts. Problems created by other policies are problems with those policies. The stock set of reasons for opposing open borders are nationalistic, not factual, or beside the point.

A closing remark for the economically minded:

One other way to think about this for those who advocate free trade: open borders is nothing but free trade in labor. So rather than "do you believe in open borders?" one may as well ask "do you believe in free trade in labor?"


  1. Interesting article Ben, and I appreciate many of the points you made. But I don't agree with your conclusion that open borders are the way to solve the immigration dilemma. Let me respond to the two "conservative claims" you offered up:

    "Our constitutional rights aren’t granted to us by government. Our rights come from God, and the Constitution simply recognizes them."
    "Illegal immigrants and terrorist suspects don’t have constitutional rights because they’re not American citizens."

    The Constitution upholds the idea put forth by the founders that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are good, moral concepts worthy of being protected. The Constitution provides the legal civic-based structure where these pursuits may be acted out. Citizens are are in effect legal-partners - accepting the roles, responsibilities, guidelines, and legal framework that makes the micro-society of a nation function. As Americans we pursue life, liberty, and happiness within the construct of the Constitution.

    Even further, as America - our government acting on our behalf - ideally seeks to uphold life, liberty, and happiness for the people of the world, stepping in to act as ally and protector for those whose natural rights are under attack. Our treaty with South Korea is on top of mind today.

    I agree with the founders that we do have a natural right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. And this natural right cannot come at the expense of others. This is where I believe an argument for open borders falls apart.

    You view closed borders as preventing non-citizens from attaining God-ordained life, liberty, and happiness. I view closed borders as protecting the life, liberty, and happiness of those who have entered into the social-contract of being an American citizen. The ONLY step keeping non-citizens from pursuing life, liberty, and happiness in America is going through the process of legal immigration. When the laws of the country are undermined by anyone, the rights afforded citizens by the Constitution are placed in jeopardy, and this is certainly the case with illegal immigration.

    As American citizens we pursue life, liberty, and happiness within the framework of the Constitution and the nation it protects. Non-citizens are welcome to enter that pursuit, and what is wrong with requiring them to do that legally? Whether through an immigrant worker process, or by becoming citizens themselves, they can afford themselves - and be protected by - the same rights that we as Americans lay claim to.

    But illegal immigrants, and terrorist suspects, are not pursuing the best interest of the people of the country. They are in pursuit only for themselves, at the expense of the country as a whole. Their Constitutional rights must be lessened...not because they are lesser people, but because their actions (whether willingly or unwittingly) have undermined the laws of the nation.

    Our immigration process needs work, but open borders isn't the solution. An open border country releases the floodgates of non-citizens who desire to live in America, and take advantage of American lifestyle and economics and labor opportunities without entering into the social-contract of citizenship. The result would be a nation of non-citizens living off the luxuries of citizenship though not investing in the responsibilities of citizenship. What incentive would they have to abide by the laws of the country, or pay taxes, or serve in civic functions?

    Citizenship and immigration processes provide for order in the place of chaos. And these processes serve to uphold the right to life, liberty, and happiness for society as a whole. But open borders promotes these rights only individuals in isolation.

  2. Matt,

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    A question for you: is there anything about immigration other than the very breaking of the immigration law itself that you view as undermining order and law. Is that the main concern you have? Is it the very act of violating border law that bothers you? If so I’ll address that here. If there are other concerns please explain.

    So, as for this issue of violating the law:
    You seem, as many people, to be disturbed by the fact that illegal immigrants have broken immigration laws, as if breaking of any laws is an affront to legal justice. These laws, I am claiming, however, are themselves unjust. Unjust laws may be broken. Thus the actions of immigrants are not in anyway an affront to justice. They undermine laws that are unjust and ought to be undermined.

    And what if we removed border restrictions? Or what if we lived in a different country that never had them? In that case then immigration would no longer pose a problem to rule of law and order, if the only concern is the breaking of laws. Coming here wouldn’t break laws, so it wouldn’t so far as I can see be any sort of threat to our legal system.

    You do address this question briefly, but I’m not sure that your objections are matters of disagreement on principle so much as concerns about practice. And I think, serious concerns though they may be, they can be dealt with. You write:

    An open border country releases the floodgates of non-citizens who desire to live in America, and take advantage of American lifestyle and economics and labor opportunities without entering into the social-contract of citizenship. The result would be a nation of non-citizens living off the luxuries of citizenship though not investing in the responsibilities of citizenship. What incentive would they have to abide by the laws of the country, or pay taxes, or serve in civic functions?

    This doesn’t seem to be an objection on the basis of principle, but rather appears to be more of a series of practical concerns that can be dealt with. For example: Who says they wouldn’t be paying taxes? There are plenty of ways to make people pay taxes without having to restrict and document their immigration. As for obeying laws, they have the same incentive as any of us: punishment if they break them. As for becoming citizens so they can be politically active, who cares? If they don’t want to become citizens, they simply miss out on the opportunity to have any political impact on the laws of the land they live in. That’s their loss, not ours. None of these seems to be a problem of principle so much as a solvable problem of practice.

    So, it seems to me your concerns about open borders in practice can be dealt with. The only clear argument I can detect that you’ve made about immigration in principle is the matter of undermining our legal order by breaking the law, which isn’t a problem if a)borders are open (which I advocate making happen) OR b.)border restrictions are unjust to begin with (which I claim is the case). Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you. Is there some way, other than the mere fact of violating immigration law, that immigrants provide a threat? You seem to have said your problem isn’t with immigration so much as illegal immigration (e.g. “The ONLY step keeping non-citizens from pursuing life, liberty, and happiness in America is going through the process of legal immigration.”). But what if any process is eliminated and all immigration is legal? And what if illegal immigration is a perfectly acceptable course of action in light of an unjust restriction? Then do you have any reasons, other than the practical one’s I’ve addressed (though please say so if I didn't address them to your satisfaction) for objecting to open borders?

  3. PART 1
    So we're clear, it's not that I'm opposed to the idea of immigration in and of itself. I think immigration is fantastic, and immigration has played an important role in the history of our country and will continue to do so.

    My position is that we need to allow immigration, but in a controlled manner. I argue in principle against "open borders" - the idea that we shouldn't have any immigration law whatsoever. Wide open borders and the complete lack of immigration law is dangerous, and I'm opposed to that. I'm equally opposed to a country that is completely closed and allows no immigrants.

    In my first response I was trying to offer rational reason for the existence of immigration law. I believe the United States has the right to enact and enforce immigration law; I believe any country has the right to do this for themselves. I don't view the concept of immigration law as systemically unjust. The current law is definitely imperfect and ineffective, but within the reach of reform.

    You're arguing for no immigration control whatsoever with open borders. I disagree with that - I think open borders are detrimental to the country. We need to have immigration control in some form, even if it requires serious surgery on the law itself.

    I would love to hear why you think immigration law is unjust. I get that the existing laws are unfair, but I don't understand your argument for why they shouldn't exist at all. Every country in the world has immigration laws - most much stricter than ours. Why would a country not have the right to monitor and control entry to its territory? Why should we feel compelled to do away with them completely?

    As a country we need to have control and visibility over who's coming into the country, and there are a myriad of reasons for this. I do have practical concerns related to open borders and I don't think they can be dealt with as easily as you imply. Open borders, as I understand it, means we do away with controlling and documenting the flow of people into the country. No more passport checks, no more green cards, no more security screenings. For people immigrating into the US, we would never see their birth certificate, they would never be issued a Social Security number, and we would have no sense of identification for them.

  4. PART 2
    If the borders were to be opened we would be inundated with a wave of people like we've never experience before, and the result would be an entire sub-society of immigrant citizens living off the radar in America.

    I can't even begin to comprehend how the country would adjust to this influx. What would hospitals do when they get sick or injured? Insurance companies aren't going to provide health insurance to individuals that have no identity, so they wouldn't be able to pay for their visit. Hospitals would be morally bound to treat them but unable to collect fees, placing a substantial burden on the medical industry.

    Millions of people immigrating to the country will place a burden on local communities, states and the federal government that rely on taxpayers dollars to provide services and resources. When wages are paid in cash to workers that have no bank accounts and no identity, how do you collect taxes? How do you know who you're not collecting taxes from when there are no taxpayer IDs or social security numbers given out?

    What about the legal infrastructure? If a crime were to be committed by an immigrant, how do you prosecute a person without a known identity? Would they be able to pay for legal representation? How many lawyers would need to be provided by the state "in the event they cannot afford an attorney"?

    As wonderful as America is, the country is not prepared to deal with such a large influx of people. I wish everyone could experience life in a country such as ours, but if we allowed it, a country "such as ours" wouldn't exist in 10-15 years. Unfair as it might be, immigration law protects the best interest of the citizens of the United States, and it also protects the future interest of those who will legally immigrate here in years to come.

  5. Ok. That was very clear. Let me see if I can do the same.

    First let me recap what I argue in my post:

    1-defending immigration controls on the basis that it protects American jobs is nationalistic and thus morally unacceptable

    2-preventing American job loss to foreign competitors is impossible anyway, because of outsourcing

    3-immigrants don’t cause crime

    4-problems created by other policies are problems with those policies, not with open borders

    Claims 1 and 2 the central point I wanted to make. What I intended to communicate is that the notion of protecting American jobs is nationalistic and thus morally unacceptable. Essentially, then, what I’ve argued is that the right to contract to take a job is a right people have as human beings and that the loss of some American’s job is not sufficient reason to make that right qualified in some way. It is wrong to say “people have the right to work for whomever they please… unless an American wants the job.” That’s not an appropriate qualification to that right.

    You are arguing that there is a stronger reason to qualify that right. You want to say something like “people have the right to work for whomever they please… unless their doing so threatens complete chaos in society.” This is a valid concern and not a nationalistic one. It’s not that you value the needs of immigrants less than those of Americans, but that you don’t want to see all of our society fall apart with their coming. That doesn’t help them or us, right? If we have a choice between allowing Americans to experience the good of living in our society and that good of that society falling apart, we should choose, you argue, to allow just the Americans to experience the good of living in this society.

    This is where we get to the whole bit on “in principle.” I’m not sure your argument actually amounts to saying there’s anything wrong with open borders in principle. Wouldn’t you say that if it didn’t threaten such harm then open borders would be just fine? It’s just that you don’t think open borders can work out with being very destructive? Correct?

    I want to make sure I clearly understand your argument before I respond to it. In that response I hope to answer your question about why I think border controls are unjust. But first I want to make sure I’m clear about what you are claiming. Is what I’ve said here a fair characterization?

  6. I believe you've summed my view up quite nicely.

    Furthermore, I agree with points #1 and #2 above. That immigration control purely on the basis of nationalism is immoral. And that American companies are going to benefit from non-American labor as a result of our global economy.

    I don't know enough to comment on #3 (illegal immigration vs. crime rates). I'm still unconvinced about #4.

    You're right - the more appropriate thing for me to says is that "in principle", yes, I agree that we should have open borders. But only if the borders can be opened without causing detriment to society. I don't think they can.

    Let me ask one further question as you tell me why border controls are unjust: Let's assume controls are unjust. Is that reason enough to do away with border controls IF damage to society ensues as a result? Can a law be both unjust and necessary? Can the necessity for an unjust law be reconciled when considered in the context of a functioning society?

  7. Haha, that was exactly the question I was going to ask you! And the answer is yes.

    The argument that border controls are unjust is simple:

    1-All people have the right to go and work where they will.
    2-This right, however we justify it, must be grounded in universal matters about their being human, not in local matters like the laws of the nation in which they happen to live at the moment.
    3-This right may not be qualified because of the desires or needs of particular people group. That is to say, one can not say “all people have the right to go and work where they will… as long as that doesn’t cause them to compete with people from (insert nation here).” Of course, there may be other qualifications that are not nationalistic (for example “unless they are preventing others by force from exercising such a right” or “unless they are violating someone else’s property” etc).

    A note: 3 follows directly from 2. That is, the fact that this right is justified in reference to their being human quite obviously implies that it cannot be qualified in reference to some particular people group. If it is qualified, it must in reference to human beings in general.

    Now, we seem to agree on all of this. Your concern, however, is making it work. Open borders ought to be the goal, but we just can’t skip right to it. Opening up the border immediately without changing anything else, if it has all the effects that you worry about it having, might be sort of like this:

    Pretend you are a parent and have a little boy. You live on a busy street with lots of traffic. Yesterday, after your son played at a friend’s house across the street, each boy took home the toys he had brought with him. Except that your son accidentally brought one of the neighbors toys home with him. Your child is young enough that you won’t let him walk across the street alone. And you just aren’t in the mood to go over there right now. He and the friend are yelling across the busy street, trying to figure out how to get it back to him.

    Now, your son should not throw the toy across the street. It’s reasonable to assume that this would likely get the toy run over by a car in the busy street. The kid might end up getting back what he owns, but it would be damaged. The real problem of course, is not with your son. He’s doing all he knows to do to get the neighbor what he’s owed. But without slowing down the road or changing your mood, he can’t help the problem.

    Now the toy is kind of like what’s owed people in other countries who don’t have access to American labor markets. Your son it kind of like Americans, trying to figure out how to get them what is owed. You, the father, are kind of like all the of the conditions of present society. It is these conditions that are the real problem. They need to be fixed so that immigrants can be allowed to cross the border to fairly compete in American labor markets.

  8. Of course the beauty of border controls is that they can be fixed gradually. The toy thing is kind of all or nothing. But with immigration, we can start giving back what we owe our neighbors bit by bit, working on all the obstacles as we go. We can gradually start allowing more legal immigration while we try to deal with problems we’ve created (most of which seem to me to be caused by government getting in places where it ought not be).

    That said, I’m not sure your worries are all as serious as you think:

    -The tax thing is particularly easy to deal with, for example. Assuming we don’t do the best thing and just eliminate the income tax, we could require employers to be responsible for reporting information on their employees for tax purposes.

    -You’re right that hospitals create a problem. More poor, uninsured people would only create more trouble. This, however, is a problem with our healthcare system, not with immigration policy. This aspect of the problem would be simply solved if we stopped requiring hospitals to give care to people who are uninsured. This does not preclude doctors or hospitals from doing so, but it would allow those in areas where its simply not possible to deal with the problems to avoid being overwhelmed with costs they couldn’t cover. I imagine hospitals and doctors in such circumstances might well set up funds to raise money to allow them to pay for such matters. But simply passing those costs on to others in the system simply will not work. (actually this seems to me to be a pretty good way to get some individual responsibility oriented reform in healthcare going anyway, regardless of immigration).

    -I’ve already mentioned the need to get rid of minimum wage. This is essential. If we don’t we will miss on the economic benefits of cheap labor.

    -Social security should be eliminated immediately anyway.

    -I’m not sure the criminal thing is that big a deal. These are problems we deal within the case of anybody in our country. If poor people in general suddenly started having insane amounts of children you wouldn’t say we should put caps on births so that we could control population growth because our legal system couldn’t handle all the births (because presumably, even if the poor didn’t commit more crimes I suspect there would be more criminals than lawyers among them). In that case, I would hope you’d say that that’s just a cost of having a free society. Though, again, I’m really not sure this is a big problem.

    There are of course other issues and these aren’t really thorough solutions to each of these matters, not to mention things you haven’t brought up. And some of these solutions are unpopular and unlikely to ever happen. I think, however, if we just start freeing things up, if we begin by getting rid of minimum wage, giving amnesty to existing immigrants, expand worker programs a bit, and watch the effect, and then go from there.

  9. Thanks for thinking out loud with me, Matt. It's really helped me think through this issue more carefully. I will probably have a section of one the later chapters of my book devoted to the matter of nationalism, and will at least briefly raise the issue of the immigration. This conversation will help me do so much more clearly than I think I could have otherwise. Thanks!

  10. I appreciate the discussion! Thanks for the forum to have it in. I've enjoyed reading your thoughts and feedback.

  11. I truly wish I had more time to discuss this.

  12. Me too! I would love to hear your thoughts. If you find some unexpected patch of free time and this is still on your mind, feel free to come here and add your two cents (or maybe more like several dollars, like Matt have exchanged), even if it's days, weeks, or months from now.

  13. Hey Ben, a few things.

    You already know where I stand on borders--I'm pretty sure you were in the sanctuary at Grace when I was talking to Jeff about Arizona's knew law. So I won't spend any time laying out what I think. Suffice it to say for anyone reading that I am very, enthusiastically in favor of enforced borders. In light of that:

    1. The negative synthesis you say is required between the two statements about constitutional rights and illegal immigrants/terrorist suspects is, in fact, not necessary. The basis of your assumption is founded on the idea that the Constitution is in fact the equivalent of our God-given human rights. That is not the case, nor is that what the original statement says. I do not believe that there needs to be any synthesis between the two, as I see no contradiction between them (one addresses what the Constitution does theoretically, the other addresses a regulation observed when submitted to its rules), but if there must be synthesis, it would go like this: 

    "Our constitution acknowledges all men created equal under God, but in order to partake in the benefits of these rights in this country it is necessary to become an American citizen.


    This is not a denial of human rights--it is rather a necessary byproduct of how we have chosen to acknowledge them in a civil society. The Constitution was written to pair two ideas: God-given rights and civility. The common man wanted liberty, and the founding fathers wanted a guarantee that granting that liberty wouldn’t result in the same anarchy they were overthrowing. That necessitated an exchange--the common man submitted to law and order while the founding fathers granted liberty, each banking on the good conscience of the other. To deny these rights to anyone outside of the law is not nationalism as you describe it. It is simply a mirror of the original posture that our nation’s founding fathers and common men assumed prior the drafting of the Constitution: “You give me what I want, and I’ll give you what you want.” This is basic negotiation. This is also why the original synthesis is not necessary. Because our Constitutional rights are not equivalent to God’s rights, but simply recognizes them and upholds them in exchange for civility, the two statements stand on their own quite well. The second statement is actually completely faultless, especially in regards to terrorist suspects. And if one is to assume, in fact, that the Constitution is equivalent to God-given rights, terrorists should then be righteously executed, having committed treason against something men unanimously share and profess.


*Note: I would also rewrite the original phrase as, “Our "natural" rights aren’t granted to us by government. Our rights come from God, and the Constitution simply recognizes them.” The original word, “constitutional,” does not go well with the rest of the sentence and adds to the misunderstood implication that the Constitution is equivalent to God’s human rights, etc.

  14. And 2:

    Saying that borders should be open based on facts that deny the negative implications of closing them only works if everyone who wants to cross freely does so with a good conscience. This is very dangerous, and this is mostly why I am opposed to open borders. In other words, saying that borders should be opened because crime is down is banking on what is assumed to be a collectively good set of intentions among illegal immigrants--but the rampant drug problems on the border beg otherwise.

    I think that this can be related to our defense of the Gospel. We are called to defend the Gospel because Christ makes us aware that Satan will be attacking it until he is eternally defeated. We are not allowed to stop defending when we see conversions in a mission field or when we find a church that we like, even though we may become prone to thinking that our success or comfort equals a lull in the attack. This is never true. And while I realize that illegal immigration is not on par with the Gospel, I am relating them nonetheless because the same attitude is necessary for a sound heart and nation: Never stop defending, because evil men will always exist.

    And 3:

    A small point: Opportunity breeds entitlement. It may not be nice (or right, in some instances), but it’s how the world works. 

  15. Thanks for your comments, Matt! (Gosh, I know too many people named Matt) I’ll try to deal with your concerns.

    -First of all, let’s set aside the matter of terrorist suspects. I imagine you and I would probably also disagree as to what is owed them in terms of procedural due process, but this is another matter (and a vastly more complex one that involves many more differing assumptions than the matter of immigration)

    -for the sake of clarity, I want to restate the first of the two claims that Roderick Long complains about convervatives making. I’d put it something like this:

    People have rights in virtue of being human beings (or, from a theological perspective, God creates all men equal, each having the same rights). A government, therefore, can do only only one of two things. It can either choose to enforce and respect those rights or it can violate those rights.

    Now, the problem comes when one wants to say that there are certain rights that only belong to people who live under the constitution. This doesn’t fit the above claim. If all men have the same rights by nature, but a legal system recognizes those rights for some people and denies them to others, then that legal system is not in accord with the rights those people have by nature.

    You try to overcome this problem with this claim:
    "Our constitution acknowledges all men created equal under God, but in order to partake in the benefits of these rights in this country it is necessary to become an American citizen.


    You seem to be saying this: our legal system does grant people their natural rights, but only if they choose to come into a particular relation with that system, only if they become citizens.

    That’s a perfectly fine, if you claim that rights emerge from legal systems. But that would seem to be a rejection of the original claim that rights are something that human beings have as human beings. If one wants to say “human beings only have rights as citizens,” that’s fine, but one can not also say “human beings have rights as human beings”

    To say both of these is contradictory:
    (1) human beings have rights as human beings and legal systems should respect them
    (2) human beings have rights as members of legal systems and legal systems must only respect the rights of their members

    So let’s get specific: People have the right to go where they please and work for whom they will. If human beings have this right as human beings then it is the responsibility of a legal system to respect this right in every human being. There is no way around it. If I have that right, then anyone anywhere has that right and the responsibility of a legal system is to respect that right.

    Now there are things that are political rights: the rights to participate in politics through voting, running for office, etc. These are not human rights in the purest sense. One does not have the right to vote in a particular nation by virtue of being human. One has this sort of right by virtue of being a citizen of some particular country.

    It seems to me that you are treating the right to go where one pleases as some sort of political right, that one has only as a citizen, rather than as a human right.

    But surely you wouldn’t say this of all rights? Surely there are certain rights that you would say that aren’t political, that we should respect for non-citizens: the right to live, the right to be counted innocent until proven guilty, and so forth. Certainly people who aren’t citizens have these rights? Also, keep in mind: not all non-citizens are here illegally. What of them? Can our legal system choose to treat them however it wants, or is it obligated to respect their rights as human beings? If this is true of these rights, how is it not true of others?

  16. You inspired me. Hopefully this will answer some of your questions.

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