In discussing immigration, the issue of national sovereignty often arises.
Doesn’t a nation’s very existence depend upon its having borders? And doesn’t its maintaining its sovereignty imply the need to enforce or defend those borders?
The answer to the first question is, of course, “Yes.” But the second question cannot be answered until one understands what sovereignty is, and until one concretizes what is meant by “enforcing or defending those borders.”
“Sovereignty” refers to the government’s monopoly on force. The border defines the area within which the government has that monopoly–the monopoly on the use of force. The border indicates where a particular government has jurisdiction, the area within which its police will enforce its law.
The border is not the property line between the government’s ownership of “its territory” and the next government’s ownership of theirs. The government does not own the country. Nor does any collective. Sovereignty is not ownership.
What then does “enforcing our border” mean, in a non-collectivist sense? It means not letting neighboring governments start to use their force within our borders. Enforcing the border is enforcing the government’s monopoly over force–it is not the initiation of force to obstruct or stop the free movement of individuals across that border.
If the Mexican police or army were entering Texas, trying to enforce Mexican law there, that would violate U.S. sovereignty and would call for our government to enforce our border.
If the United States cedes to the U.N. authority to make law regarding carbon emissions, that would be partially surrendering our sovereignty. If soldiers operating as a U.N. “peace-keeping team” enter Lebanon and start imposing their decisions on the Lebanese people, that would be Lebanon’s loss of sovereignty.
The point is that American sovereignty has to do with the reach of American law, not with any policy regarding immigration.
As John Patillo wrote on HBL a couple of years ago:
Sovereignty is established by the monopoly of force that allows . . . laws to be applied within a delimited territory: these laws (and no others) apply to this territory (and no other). Sovereignty does not per se endow the government with the right to control the movement of any human being on earth.
Immigration policy, whether rights-respecting or rights-violating, has no effect on sovereignty. The two are unrelated. Enforcing the border is a government-to-government issue. Our government must not let foreign police or military operate within our borders. Immigration is a government to individual issue: can the state use force against a person trying to drive on a public road that runs across the border?
If Canada’s government were rolling its tanks towards Buffalo, our military should use retaliatory force to stop them. But they would be doing it to protect Americans’ individual rights, not to protect the government’s sovereignty (“their turf”). That would be a welcome side-effect, not the primary justification of retaliating.
That’s all that needs to be said about a government needing to “enforce” a nation’s borders. What about the claim that a government needs to “protect” or “defend” our border?
Imagine that Mexican criminal gangs, brandishing weapons, were to try to enter our country. In that case, our police and military should protect us from them by using retaliatory force. But that’s not protecting or defending the border; that’s protecting or defending the rights of a nation’s individual citizens. The government’s retaliation would be justified on the same grounds that would apply to the case of a local gang in Kansas or New Hampshire, if they were brandishing weapons.
The people talking about keeping our sovereignty, enforcing our borders, defending our borders seem to actually mean: our government should use initiated force to obstruct or block the movement of people who want to work here, do business here, and live in peace here.
The appeal to “sovereignty” as a justification for initiating force against peaceful individuals is illogical, and unjust. It reflects a wholly un-American attitude: tribalism—us vs. them. Also anti-American is the implicit equation of government jurisdiction with government ownership.
True, for those taken in by the false propaganda of the nativists, there is not much difference between limiting immigration and defending the rights of those already here. The propaganda paints immigrants as uncivilized, disease-ridden, and harboring a high percentage of thugs and criminals.
This is exactly what was said, by anti-immigrationists in the 1920s about Irish immigrants, Italian immigrants, and about “the scaly scrappings of the European Ghettos.”
For a credible report on the actual statistics, listen to this 11-minute podcast from Cato:
According to the Cato scholar, immigrants have a lower proportion of criminals than do native Americans.
Philosophically, though, it doesn’t matter. Suppose the crime rate for immigrants were triple that of native Americans. Since justice is not collective, that fact would not justify any interference with the flow of immigrants across our borders. You think it does? Would you then advocate that the police go to a poor neighborhood, where the crime rate is triple the average, and eject or imprison everyone? Would you even advocate “extreme vetting” of the entire population of that crime-ridden neighborhood? I hope not.
In regard to the issue of crime, immigration policy is a distraction from the real issue: the need to end Prohibition II (aka “The War on Drugs”). Legalize every substance, and the crime rate will fall by a factor of . . . 3? 4? 5? Then bring back proper policing—an easier job once the police don’t have to deal with drug-based crime. And with the consequent end to overcrowded prisons, judges would face less pressure to avoid sentencing convicted felons to prison.