Converting Republicans On Immigration

October 17th, 2011   Submitted by Brian Anderson

As many of us ex-Republicans (and ex-Democrats) on this website already know, becoming a libertarian wasn’t a comfortable transition. It’s always stressful to have your views challenged, especially if they aren’t fully developed, and it’s even more stressful when you realize that you were wrong. It seems like human beings will jump through any loophole in order to prove themselves correct despite overwhelming evidence against them.

I can only assume this dance of diversion has something to do with the conservation of pride.

So in this article, we’ll look at how to use a debate on immigration to help Republicans[1] realize that they are wrong without getting caught in the dance of diversion. Looking back on my political experiences, I see one common theme in the arguments that successfully persuaded me to agree with the libertarians’ opinions: the tactic of nicely disagreeing.

Remember that it’s crucially important to make friends over enemies in this time more than ever, especially with so much misinformation about us antistatists floating around the Internet and other communication media. Make peace with the fact that a libertarian community will take a long time to create.

Different audiences require different tools, and being an overly aggressive debater will get you nowhere in terms of making new friends. When converting a Democrat, discuss civil liberties and anticorporatist measures. But when converting a Republican, it’s best to discuss things like free trade and taxes.

On immigration, forget about ethics. The position that all people have an inherent right to move freely across any state borders won’t do anything when it comes to debating Republicans. Not to collectivize the parties any more than they collectivize themselves, but I tend to find that it’s Democrats who are the most receptive to arguments based on morality and sympathy. Republicans are all about utility and patriotism; and that means they’re thinking about (1) the “Founding Fathers,” (2) the Constitution, and (3) economics.

From the cultural worries of Benjamin Franklin to the governmental worries of Thomas Jefferson, it’s clear that the Founding Fathers were skeptical of immigration. You can’t get around that fact. The Founders may mean nothing to you, but they mean a lot to the GOP’s supporters, and these are the people we need to convince. It’s a serious hurdle, and you’ll need good arguments to overcome it.

So start into economics: list the many, many economists from foreign nations who have sustained free-market thinking in the United States up to today:

Ludwig von Mises might not have escaped from the grip of Hitler and Nazi Germany if it weren’t for his successful emigration to the United States. Friedrich Hayek only lived in the United States for twelve years, but his book The Road to Serfdom still manages to widely influence free-market capitalists, especially after being featured on Glenn Beck’s television show. (Tossing in this reference to one of the most watched political commentators in the Republican sphere gives you a nice connection to your audience.)

And don’t forget to mention that Milton Friedman was born just after his parents moved to the United States from Hungary — I highly doubt Republicans would refer to one of President Reagan’s top economic advisors as an “anchor baby.”

The Constitution is another tricky matter, because it explicitly enumerates to Congress the power to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.” Note that naturalization doesn’t necessarily equate to immigration and emigration; you can still freely enter and leave a country without becoming a citizen. However, the case made by border proponents is that Congressional regulation of immigration rates into the country is vital to its control over the citizenship process and therefore the latter encompasses the former. Introduce this sentiment without expansion, and then give your opponent the benefit of the doubt; it’ll help you sound reasonable, and it can alleviate the natural tone of combativeness in debate.

But you need to make it clear that the Constitution has been wrong. The libertarian disagreement on immigration isn’t a landmark. The most modern example of constitutional incorrectness enumerates to Congress the power to “establish post offices and post roads.” The creation of the United States Postal Service was a bad idea in the 19th century, it was a bad idea in the 20th century, and it continues to be a bad idea in the 21st century. We need to ask, couldn’t the Constitution be incorrect about immigration, too?

But economics is the easiest case for free immigration. Your opponent will mostly likely spout out a few statistics on how the illegal immigrants are (1) forcing the government to spend a ton of money each year on immigration enforcement; (2) draining the welfare system; and, perhaps my favorite excuse, (3) “stealing American jobs.”

The first point is nonsensical. Blaming illegal immigrants for the ICE budget is like blaming illegal drugs for the DEA budget. Move past it.

The second point might make sense in theory, but it just fails to take into account the reality of American bankruptcy. The federal government’s $61.6 trillion in unfunded obligations is over four times as large as the annual GDP of the United States. It will never be paid, unless it is through either a massively inflationary policy — after which the US dollar will be worthless — or a tremendous slashing of the government’s budget. Using illegal immigrants as scapegoats for a failing welfare state is like trying to cool down the sun with an ice cube.

The third point — “they’re stealing our jobs!” — could be taken care of with the good, old-fashioned broken-window story. But there’s another possible approach here.

Republicans, unlike their left-wing counterparts, are not supposed to believe that everyone has the right to a job. Your opponent’s belief that illegal immigrants are “stealing American jobs” is inconsistent, because it implies that an American does, in fact, have the right to keep his job when his employer might want to give it to a different — quite frankly, more productive — individual.

Now you can paint these border hawks as unionists. The idea that people shouldn’t be allowed in the United States workforce unless they pay annual taxes (dues) and are legally accepted into the government’s system as citizens equates to the rules of membership in a union. So the US government forcibly unionizes its citizens — and will your opponent admit to being in favor of that?


Disagreeing in a nice, relaxed manner can win you the affection and respect of your opponent and your audience. Wait until the end of the debate to strongly attack your opponent; otherwise you’ll seem too aggressive throughout the entire thing. But then you can leave your opponent with an unanswerable, inescapable question, so that his final response is limited to a few words and an even less significant meaning.



[1] For debating Democrats, I encourage you to read Walter Block, “A Libertarian Case for Free Immigration.” It touches upon many of the moral aspects of open borders.

8 Responses to “Converting Republicans On Immigration”

  1. StefanoNo Gravatar says:

    I have had some success in discussions on this subject by pointing out the connection between immigration restrictions and the “progressive era.”

    The advocates of restricting immigration were also advocates of protectionism and even eugenics. This doesn’t sit well with most conservatives and Republicans.

    Here’s an example: ctions-are.html

  2. Dave BNo Gravatar says:

    Good info, Brian. It is a nice angle.

    As for Stefano, I would add this link (I just got done blogging about it).
    Thomas C. Leonard has done some great work on this:

    It covers both the “race suicide” of immigration and Minimum-wage laws advocated by progressives in the Progressive era. They viewed these laws as a way to weed out the “unfit” and “undesirables” from the “worthy workers”. Minimum wage laws were realized to increase unemployment but they thought that “is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health” as it would segregate the worthy workers from the “unemployables.” (Sidney and Beatrice Webb). Race suicide is pretty self explanatory in dealing with immigration policy. .

  3. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve taken a much more antagonistic approach as of late, while still appealing to Republicans. I simply ask them who the hell the government thinks it is to tell ME who I can or cannot have on MY property. If it’s MY property I will have whomever the hell I want, so long as they are willing.

    I then tell them that any time a person is not on my private property it’s of no concern to me, and that public property is just socialist property anyways.

  4. Steve PNo Gravatar says:

    I like to point out to people that the flip side of immigration is emigration. If nations have the “right” to dictate who may, or may not cross their borders, then it’s equivalent to saying that people should not be permitted to flee their own government if it is trying to exterminate them (without the permission of adjacent nation’s governments).
    I also challenge people who consider themselves “tough” on illegal immigration while claiming not to be “anti-immigrant”, as long as people don’t break the law in order to get here. “Everyone needs to wait their turn in line” is the common mantra.
    The notion of the “waiting line” is the underlying premise that I NEVER hear questioned by anyone, including political candidates during immigration debates. It’s simply accepted by all as one of those inevitable givens that can’t be changed. Is the waiting line a consequence of the slow wheels of bureaucracy that can’t handle the flood of Visa applications? Or is it the result of the “quota” system, (another one of those “givens” not to be questioned). Who establishes this “quota”? What mathematical formula determines this magic number which is so rigidly enforced and which constitutes “the law” americans are so enamored with and that separates the “good” immigrants from the “bad” ones?
    Immigration law is a wonderful cover for xenophobes. Here’s a hypothetical question for them: “What if the United States used improved technologies enabling “instant” Visas at the borders and congress legislated changes to the quota system, effectively doubling or tripling the numbers granted entry into the country”? Are they now content that the number of “bad” immigrants has been reduced significantly? I doubt it. Now they fall back on the “we can’t assimilate so many into our society” argument.
    Who determinesTHAT magic number? Congress? A presidential panel of PhD sociol;ogists? Please. Our immigration laws, and those of other nations, are responsible for the deaths of thousands of jewish refugees trying to flee europe at the begining of WWII. In May, 1939 the S.S. St. Louis passenger ship bound from europe to Havanna, Cuba and carring hundreds of jewish emigrants, was denied entry into Havanna harbor. When it attempted to find ANY other country willing to receive its precious human cargo it was turned away (including by the USA). It was forced to return to europe where most of the passengers ended up falling into the hands of the NAZIs and perishing in the concentration camps.
    This is the dark side of immigration law people need to be reminded of.

  5. DerekNo Gravatar says:

    You can’t get there from here… at least not directly.

    Increasing the number of immigrants, legal or otherwise, will increase the number of people competing for the same jobs. The results of this are very real losses of personal freedom. Those lucky enough to remain in the employ of someone else have seen (or will eventually see) losses in the amount of their earnings they are allowed to keep and are (or will be) expected to act as if they are “on the clock” on time that is not rented from them by employers. While the self-employed will have to face competition that is not disadvantaged by artificial imbalances produced by occupying governments, both foreign and domestic.

    This will give the most severely injured parties two choices for survival:
    1) Legal theft through government OR
    2) Illegal theft through individual action.

    In the first case, the Democrats increase governmental control of our lives “to help the poor.” “The poor”, being continually dependent upon the government’s theft, can neither oppose whatever tyrannical actions the government takes nor work for the money that their prospective employers lost to the government.

    In the second case, the Republicans increase governmental control of our lives to “keep us safe.” Those three words usually mean something along the lines of “unreasonable search and seizure”, “lynching”, “prison rape” etc. If both you and your employers/clients avoid such a fate, you will still be robbed by the government to finance the atrocities.

    In either case, we are moved farther from the goal of living our own lives of our own free will. It would be more prudent to work toward having the only functions of government being the defense of borders and the prevention of governance of the citizens thereof. If a sustainable model approaching individual sovereignty can be maintained in one territory it will have a positive international and historical impact on the case for freedom.

    I respect your efforts to restore our natural rights through making respectful appeals to the intelligence and virtue of your target audience(s). However, claiming that being a citizen of the United States of America makes those who are not citizens “quite frankly, more productive” does not match the “tactic of nicely disagreeing.” Insulting the work-ethic of those whose good names are built upon it will close their minds to the point you are trying to make. That is a shame, because real freedom is a great idea.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Are you operating under the assumption that there are only a finite number of jobs that can exist? If that were the case, then yes, one man’s job is another man’s joblessness.

      But there is an infinite amount of work to be done in the universe. And since this is the case, new jobs are created constantly, so long as the regulatory burden or tax thievery doesn’t counteract what would be growth in the economy, which it often does.

      • DerekNo Gravatar says:

        Hello Mr. King. Respect for your efforts towards personal freedom.

        To answer your question, I am operating under the assumption that there are a finite number of jobs that DO exist. As work done for oneself cannot pay government imposed rent on one’s own property, work for employers and/or customers is necessary for survival in the unfavorable circumstances under which we are forced to live. At any given time there are only so many people, be they employers or customers/clients, willing to exchange government theft paying treasury notes for work. Those who are not chosen are out of luck. While the universe may be infinite, the length of time an individual can survive without money is not.

        In competition there will always be losers. That is fine so long as everyone has a chance to win. Government rigs the game, so you gentlemen wisely advocate changing that. The problem, however, is that getting “our” government out of the way in regards to borders does not get other governments out of the way. The corrupt (even by relative standards) government of Mexico will continue to prop itself up by exporting poverty to the United States of America. Many Americans will have no chance to win the game when the competition is working under the table, splitting rent ten ways, driving without insurance, etc. because we cannot get away with that.

        Throwing the nations gates wide open at this point will not restore the freedom of decent and hard-working people, neither Mexicans nor Americans. Preventing the government of Mexico from despoiling Americans will encourage a market based on truly consensual trade while making the continued denial of prosperity for which Mexican citizens have worked be less tolerable. …less tax thievery to counteract what would be growth in the economy, indeed.

        • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

          You write “Many Americans will have no chance to win the game when the competition is working under the table, splitting rent ten ways, driving without insurance, etc. because we cannot get away with that.”

          I would like to challenge you here. In fact, it is how the “illegals” live that inspired me to stop paying taxes by working under the table and also drive without permission or insurance.

          As obeying the system becomes more of an impossibility, more individuals, such as myself, will find that disobedience is the solution to coercion.