The principles of capitalism demand the free flow of goods and services from one individual to another without inhibition or coercion, whether from others or the state. Whether the transaction happens across a counter or across a border, the principle remains the same in all places and for all non-rights-violating commodities – including labor. As such, when a business in Atlanta wishes to hire a man from Honduras and the latter wishes to purchase and live in an apartment near his place of employment, no one can rightly prohibit him from doing so, barring exceptional circumstances that are technical points of legal philosophy (e.g., a criminal record, suspicion of criminal activity, a state of war, etc.).
This is the essence of ethical immigration policies for any nation (determining rational procedures for naturalization is another matter). To keep individuals out of a nation arbitrarily would be a violation of individual rights, both of the immigrant and of those wanting his business. Assuming a proper defense of individual rights and of capitalism, the argument for capitalist immigration policies needs no further addendum.
While this argument is sufficient, it does no injury to the argument to demonstrate the congruence between the moral and the practical. As it is, one practical concern employed by the (mostly right-wing) opponents of any substantive immigration reform, regardless of its potential merits, is that of border security. The concern may be legitimate, but the obstinacy displayed toward bettering current immigration policies is nevertheless unwarranted.
Consider the current state of affairs. The United States spends approximately $18 billion a year (as of 2012) on immigration enforcement, which is more than it spends on the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshal Service, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives combined ($14.4 billion). The New York Times estimates that approximately 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. The Obama Administration has deported about 400,000 of such individuals each year, though that population remains stable. The vast majority of the 11.7 million undocumented persons are carrying on their lives as would anyone – by working, earning a wage, caring for families, etc. – except that they are in constant fear of deportation for the simple crime of living their lives without government permission. In sum, the United States continues to throw away money that it already lacks by enforcing policies that simply are not working and are hurting people who have done nothing to hurt anyone else.
Now consider an alternative scenario. Immigrants go through customs at the border. They leave their names, their intended address, and the name of their employer with customs officials, possibly undergoing a brief background check. They then leave and continue onto their residence and new lives in the United States, periodically checking in with immigration officials and paying the taxes owed by anyone living within the United States (as a matter of fairness, not of pretending that a government has the right to rob its citizenry). Provided they remain in good standing, they may live and work in the United States as long as they wish without molestation from the state, applying for naturalization if they so choose (again, those policies would be separate).
Here, the costs of immigration enforcement would be minimized. After all, if these individuals had no reason to hide from immigration officials and were given the opportunity to enter the United States simply and legally, the overwhelming majority of them would very likely do so. Most only want to pursue a better life in the United States, and a system that would allow them to do so by entering the front door rather than jumping a fence would seem, to any rational individual, vastly superior.
Of course, there are some who would attempt to subvert such a system. Some with backgrounds that would cause custom officials to turn them away (e.g., violent felons, someone with terrorist ties, etc.), those attempting to smuggle contraband, and all other criminal sorts would still seek ways to enter the United States. And here is where a capitalist immigration system truly enhances border security.
Where once criminals were able to slip across the border amidst the white noise of hundreds of thousands of others doing the same, their job is now immensely more difficult. They no longer have the masses of other undocumented immigrants to hide among, as the law-abiding ones have already checked in with authorities and remain in good standing. Additionally, resources are no longer being wasted to track down an honest migrant worker and his family to deport them without cause. Instead, those same resources can be refocused on the smaller number of legitimate threats to the security of the United States and its citizens. With a lack of cover and with more focused efforts by law enforcement officials, securing the borders from real threats becomes much more feasible (and, very likely, less expensive) than is the current state of affairs.
This argument is simple, but nevertheless potent against those who claim to be advocates of a safe and secure border. Would permitting otherwise honest men and women to enter the United States through a straightforward set of legal procedures not produce a securer border than if we tried the impossible of stopping, arresting, and deporting immense numbers of the same? Would our immigration enforcement officials not benefit from being freed of laboring to track down millions of people who are living otherwise normal lives in the United States? The reasoned answer to both questions should be apparent.
Of course, such arguments have been made before, and in greater depth than this one here. Still, there are some who fight against all reason and demand that we “enforce the laws we already have.” But such laws are failures. They do not keep us safe. They do not secure the border. In fact, they injure both ends, and they need reforming. A securer border is but one justification. A respect for the individual rights of immigrants and American citizens alike, however, is the only justification needed, and it is the one that the opponents of immigration reform must accept if they are to truly call themselves defenders of a rationally limited government.