BURNET, Texas – America has always had an “illegal immigration” problem. Just ask any Native American. During a conversation with a Cherokee chief several years ago I asked him, “What did the native tribes call America before the white settlers came here?” He looked me straight in the eyes and solemnly replied, “Ours.”
This immigration debate is a classic example of why libertarians must become better communicators. Libertarians and others advocating immigration law reform talk about “open borders.” Conservatives, on the other hand, insist America must have “secure borders.” Both sides use these terms as if they were mutually exclusive. They’re not. They’re opposite sides of the same coin. It’s possible to have borders that are both open and secure.
The problem is that the term “open borders” is not specific enough to convey to a listener what we actually mean. When some people hear the words “open borders” they immediately envision an invading army marching across our borders unchallenged. On the other hand, when others (particularly libertarians) hear open borders, all that it means is accessibility for peaceful people to come and go.
As far as I’m concerned, we have open borders now. You go through a checkpoint at the border and if you are on the up and up, you’re allowed to pass unmolested. The border is kept both open and secure this way, at least in theory. Building walls and fences do not keep people out, and really only serve to keep people in.
People who complain about “illegal immigration” usually insist that anyone who wants to come here should “get in line.” The problem is there is no “line,” at least no line that makes any sense, as this chart from Reason magazine illustrates. The real problem we have is not the immigrants themselves as much as America’s immigration laws.
The Emmy award-winning investigative report John Stossel did a program last year that dramatically illustrates this point. If you’re from India, for example, have a doctorate and want to come to America and become a citizen, the immigration process takes five to seven years. Most people would agree that’s relatively reasonable and doable.
But if you’re an unskilled laborer from Mexico and want to come to America and become a citizen, the same process takes about 130 years. We’ve made it impossible for these people to immigrate legally. It’s no wonder people are swimming the Rio Grande. We have literally made it easier to swim the Rio Grande than to climb Mount Bureaucracy.
Not surprisingly, government has “created” this illegal immigrant problem. When people start screaming about the illegal immigrant problem, are they complaining about people coming from India to burden our system by taking advantage of already over burdened government programs? No. Generally they are complaining about people coming from south of the border. Why? Because we’ve made it impossible for them to come here legally.
Libertarians can become better communicators if we stop using broad and general terms too easily misunderstood by our audience. Instead of building walls we should work to expand the doorway leading to the American dream. The Libertarian position on immigration should advocate for “secure open borders” coupled with reform of the ridiculous immigration laws and phasing out of onerous welfare programs, to make it easier for peaceful people to come here to live, work, prosper and become productive members of our society.