Libertarianism and Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration

Article excerpt

At the basis of libertarianism lies the nonaggression principle--the theory that as long as someone's actions do not infringe on the rights of others then there should be no legal restriction against them. The goal of a libertarian is to increase individual liberty and thereby, as but one result, improve the economy. Catholic social teaching is grounded in the idea that all human beings have dignity and thus should be treated with the utmost respect and cared for as children of God. Both the libertarian movement and the Catholic Church are known for having clearly defined and very strong opinions on topics having to do with political issues, but oftentimes they are perceived as being on different ends of the political economic spectrum as far as human rights are concerned. (1) With regard to one topic in particular that is very relevant in America today--immigration--the two very different perspectives are either not that far apart or perhaps are even fully congruent. (2)

While there is some discordance among libertarians as to what the proper stance on this issue should be, (3) using the nonaggression principle as a guide, one can conclude that libertarianism supports open borders. (4) The social teaching of the Catholic Church teaches that immigrants should be accepted as important potential contributors.

One objection to immigration arises from the large number of illegal immigrants estimated to be in this country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are around 10.8 million unauthorized residents living in America. (5) The reasons for migration are varied--a better life, more money, escaping a dangerous home, and so on. For libertarians, the reasons for emigrating are more or less irrelevant. They are more concerned with simply allowing people the freedom to move as they please. For the Catholic Church, in contrast, the reasons for emigrating are of utmost importance because they believe that these people have the right to work and the right to life, and therefore the right to immigrate. While they use different justifications, libertarians and the Catholic Church reach the same conclusion: Open borders are the only correct and just way to handle migration problems. Libertarian principles align with Catholic social teaching in the case of immigration. If America were to rewrite its immigration policies to correspond to libertarian philosophy, not only would the economy improve but also this country would be showing a greater respect for human life, which is a huge component of Catholic social teaching.

In the first section of this article, we discuss the libertarian analysis of immigration. The second section is devoted to an analysis of the views of Catholic social teaching on this issue. The purpose of the third section is to compare and contrast our own (libertarian) viewpoint with that of several other scholars who are considered by some to be inclined in this direction: Gary Becker, William Simon, Daniel Griswold, and Stuart Anderson. We conclude in the last section.

Libertarian Views of immigration

Libertarian philosophy rests on the nonaggression principle or the NAP. The act of immigrating is not a violent one, and therefore, according to Block and Callahan,

   not being guilty of a violation of the basic libertarian principle
   of not initiating aggression, there is no justification for
   visiting any violence upon [an immigrant]. Since forceful removal
   from our shores would indeed constitute an initiation of force
   against him, this would be improper. (6)

The United States is not lacking in land. It has vast unused tracts of acreage in different areas of the country that could possibly be used to house additional residents. Currently the US government controls virtually all of this empty territory, but libertarians point out that government does not have the right to act as owner of this land if someone else desires to homestead it. …