What is national sovereignty?

We advocates of open immigration are often accused of seeking to undercut national sovereignty.

“A nation’s very existence depends upon its having borders,” we are informed. Then that obvious fact somehow gets transformed into “A nation that doesn’t enforce its borders has surrendered its sovereignty,” which then slides into: “We need the power to control immigration.”

But what is sovereignty?

“Sovereignty” refers to the government’s monopoly on force. The border defines the area within which the government has that monopoly—i.e., its area of jurisdiction, the area within which its police will enforce its law.

The border is not a kind of property line, dividing one government’s ownership of “its territory” from the next government’s ownership of theirs. The government does not own the country. Nor does any collective. Jurisdiction is not ownership.

“Enforcing our border” in the proper sense means using military force to preserve our government’s area of jurisdiction; it means repelling foreign governments or gangs who would raid us or try to take over areas of the country. “Enforcing our border” does not mean initiating physical force to obstruct or stop the free movement of individuals.

If the Mexican police or army were entering Texas, trying to block U.S. authorities or to rule it, 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.

France has compromised its sovereignty by allowing Sharia law inside Islamist areas of Paris which the police will not enter.

The point is that a nation’s sovereignty has to do with the reach of its law, not with its policy on 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, is not part of maintaining sovereignty. Immigration policy could only affect sovereignty if, like France, the host nation’s government does not have the moral certainty needed to assert its power. (In other words, there is no reason on earth that the French military and police have to genuflect to Islamist sentiment; they have the power to clean out those areas, and enforce French law 100%–the explanation of their abdication is the West’s loss of moral self-confidence, due to the onslaught of post-modernists and multiculturalists.)

Enforcing the border is a government-to-government issue. 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 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”). The government’s retaliation against initiated force is always justified—whether the aggressors are invading Mexican soldiers or a criminal gang of locals in Topeka.

So much for the claim that we lose sovereignty if we permit open immigration. To enforce our borders is to enforce our government’s jurisdictional area.

Those talking about keeping our sovereignty, enforcing our borders, seem to mean that our government should use initiated force to obstruct or block the movement of people who seek 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: the collectivist view that “we” or our government own the country, and get to decide who may come here and who may not. And the “us vs. them” approach represents the lowest form of collectivism: tribalism.

Nativist 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 . . . 4? 5? 8? Then bring back proper policing—an easier job once the police don’t have to deal with drug-based crime and judges no longer have to worry about overcrowded prisons when they jail real criminals.

Crime has been dropping for decades. To the extent it remains a problem, it is to be dealt with by getting rid of rights-violating laws (like the anti-drug laws) and better policing, not by violating individual rights by erecting barriers to immigration.