The Four Absurdities of Border Control

By Hodey Johns

Before explaining the issue that is illegal migration of humans, is is necessary to first dispel several social stigmas:


I unequivocally reject the notion that those who believe in border control are the bigots, racists, and xenophobes they are often branded as by the media. Most are justifiably concerned that an unmitigated flow of people will change the world around them.

Undoubtedly, they are correct to believe this. Since it can take 21 years or more (1) in order to get into the United States legally, allowing the 4.4 million people waiting (2) to get into the United States immediately sounds like it might funnel too many families in a tube that is not large enough. These figures do not include the portion of the planetary population that does not bother to try to legally immigrate due to the prohibitively long waiting time. The goal of this article is not to dismiss these concerns – in fact, I acknowledge their validity – but to respond to them using examples from economics, history, mathematics, and ethics, in an effort to make the intensity of information match the intensity of intention for those who are concerned.


Absurdity 1: Economical Brokenness

We should not forget that enforced borders, whether by a wall, gate, or human deployment, is a socialist agenda (3). This often seems like a petty insult aimed to infuriate the Republicans, but it is accurate nonetheless. Indeed, tax-payers at large are forced to sponsor a system and structure that does not benefit everyone equally (and is actually quite damaging to some (4)). It exists in direct opposition to capitalism as there is but a single entity that would be tasked with such enforcement, removing it from the competitive market.

The flippant response to those who favor open migration is often, “Then I hope you don’t lock your doors at night,” which is not only is a false dichotomy, but also incidentally proves the very capitalist nature of open borders. If each individual is charged with defending his or her own property, businesses will be created and they will expand and compete to protect these homes. The expectation is that monopoly on border control would look much like any other government monopoly; overly expensive and ineffective.

q1To the political philosopher, the fact that this protectionism is a mandate of socialism is hardly a shock. A system of government that taxes based on income and redistributes based on population must, by rule, have control over the incomes of the population as well as the quantity of the population in order to maintain any sort of economic stability whatsoever.

There is an oddity among the right-wing today as a result of not being well versed in political science. In general, they loathe welfare yet support limiting immigration, supporting a wall which, unbeknownst to them, is necessary to keep the welfare state alive. Their diagnosis of the situation is spot on; the model we use for welfare is not sustainable and countries that used it are falling apart one-by-one (5). Their issue is with the financial logic. Border control allows the government to continue this broken system for a few more generations, whereas countries that do not protect their borders (6) learn they must adopt policies that do not involve welfare (7).


Absurdity 2: Historical Blindness

U.S. Historians take particular note in finding that those who drafted the Constitution intended for it to pertain to all people (8) who considered themselves Americans. In fact, the authors specified when a certain qualification pertained to only legal or naturalized citizens, the rest of the document, by default, was established for everyone else. When asked to elaborate, Thomas Paine stated that anyone of “good character” (9) could call themselves an American citizen. Congress reaffirmed this through legislation in 1790, granting that anyone who had lived in the country for two years was an automatic citizen. The process would become faster to those who migrated by boat in the early 1900s, who often could have their entire family achieve citizenship after a few hours (10), after a brief screening for diseases and dangerous background. With the technology today, the processing speeds would be even quicker by the same standards.

Of course, this process had to end in order for welfare to establish itself. The first programs (11) began in the 1930s, after the Supreme Court had issued several rulings, starting in 1872 (12), that allowed Congress to crack down on the number of these opportunity seekers. History teaches that these immigrants flooded into the United States in order to build better lives for themselves and the notion of anchor babies and welfare leeches came after the borders were restricted and federal programs were established, not before them.

PHOTO BY GEORGE GRANTHAM BAIN. A group of newly-arrived immigrants arrive and pass through Ellis Island in New York.
(Wikimedia Commons)

This was already well understood by those who had heeded the situation in Europe and followed the battles of the economists that raged after the fall of feudalism. Fixed borders did not mask bad economic policy, they enabled bad economic policy. There is much written about the Germans seizing the area of Alsace-Lorraine and how this course of action led Europe and, tragically, America, into both World Wars. What is not as well researched, except by economists, is why Germany had a need to seize this land to begin with.

It is nearly forgotten in the modern era how the government needed no income tax (13) to operate. It wasn’t until 1892 that America established the first peacetime income tax to help pay for the debt. Sadly, that tax was justified by debt and, in doing so, ignored the warnings from Europe that such a course of action leads to wars over borders. The United Kingdom technically beat the Germans in the race to create an income tax, but they had natural borders as defined by an ocean around their island. Germany was not so lucky. In order to tax income, a country must know which citizens are theirs. They also have an economic incentive to take more money, which means claiming more people.

Government agents lead suspects in custody during an immigration sting on June 5, 2018 in Castalia, Ohio. (Photo by John Minchillo, WIkimedia Commons)

This shattered the peace in Alsace-Lorraine, where French and German people once peacefully lived side-by-side. After changing their tax code, Germany violently seized the region. Taxation, by direct correlation, necessitated borders, which, in turn, necessitated war. The French, not yet having implemented the income tax, did not understand Germany’s sudden thirst for land, people, and violence. German Historian Heinrich von Treitschke said of the seizure in 1871, “We Germans who know Germany and France know better what is good for the Alsatians than the unfortunates themselves. In the perversion of their French life they have no exact idea of what concerns Germany.

This infection did not end there and did not end with the wars. Instead of the peace that had come under individualism, countries urged the populus to divide along racial and national lines for the purposes of paying taxes to their respective countries. This then inspired imperialism, nationalism, and the perverse propaganda (14) that countries would push against one another. Austria-Hungary, once a bastion of diversity that encompassed over twelve different ethnicities, saw itself torn apart as each ethnic subset adopted income taxation and, consequently, closed borders.

Most economists embraced the new global system. Many, like Keynes, even promoted perpetual warfare (15) and preparation for warfare as a means of job creation and thereby the generation of false income which could then be collected by government taxation. Having personally experienced the division, war, suffering, instability, and excess taxation that comes along with closed borders, the Austrian economists pushed back, theorizing that it wasn’t just happenstance that closing borders and government regulated economies came to life at the same time war, poverty, and carnage had also begun to spiral out of control. Ludwig von Mises saw the promise in a young Friedrich Hayek, who was a brilliant economist but a government socialist nonetheless. Mises did not change Hayek’s heart with economic appeal, but with history, and it was the brutal history of border control and resulting social programs that evangelized Hayek (16) into the premier opponent of Keynes in the modern age.


Absurdity 3: Mathematical Ignorance

The left loves to separate with identity politics; a favorite talking point of their once honored son, John Edwards, is that there are really two Americas. For the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s right and look at the “in” crowd and “out” crowd separately. Let’s start with legal Americans first and look at that breakdown (17). In 2019, 122 million taxpayers will lead to a federal deficit of $900 billion on the federal level and $858 billion on the state level after GDP. That’s a shortfall of $14,400 per person annually.

There are 8 million illegal immigrants (18) working in the United States right now. Illegal immigrants account for over 3% of the overall GDP (19), a bit lopsided because of the volume of production jobs they work. With the GDP almost exactly $1 trillion (20), that means these workers put $30 billion in the system.


Even when using the craziest numbers that one can find (21), even statistics that have been widely discredited because they over-inflate the problem, (22, 23, 24) illegal immigrants cost the United States $116 billion per year. This penalty towards the deficit is only $10,750 per undocumented worker after the GDP. That’s less than 75% net debt than the average American worker. What’s more, these numbers include the large sums of money (25) just trying to identify, catch, and deport them. If the deficit is the primary concern in the matter, then we’d save even more money just letting them stay.

The objection still exists that open borders will let people that are more draining than our current illegal immigration population. This is admittedly true, but it actually makes the equation more absurd when it comes to the issue of entitlement spending. (Recall that entitlement programs are non-traditional discretionary spending and therefore payouts are determined by the number of recipients in the program (26).) The amount of money given out will not increase because more people want to take advantage of it; instead, the amount of money given out will decrease. The size of the pie is fixed, it’s the size of the slice that changes.

Let me ask you this rhetorical question: is it easier to get rid of welfare if it pays out $20 per month or $2000 per month? Mathematically speaking, if the goal is to get rid of the welfare state, we’d be better off letting the most destitute immigrants in and kicking the citizens out.


Absurdity 4: Ethical Nonsense

Of course, I’m being a bit facetious. There’s an ethical dilemma at hand that outshines the math and I encourage final exploration. The final argument that can be made is, sure, they aren’t as much of a burden, but shouldn’t they not be a burden at all? After all, while one of them might not cost as much as the average American, they’re not Americans at all, so who are they to contribute even a single cent toward the national debt?

q3While this might be a natural legal argument, it is also wildly immoral. It assumes that two lives must be separated and treated unequally simply due to the location of their births. While families have an innate authority to raise their children how they see fit, political entities can make no such claim. Simply, it is discrimination to say who can enter and who can leave an imaginary line. Moreover, it is discrimination that we place in the hands of government officials to hand out as they deem necessary. I needn’t list their poor track record regarding discrimination here, there’s a word count I have to stay under.

This is not how a beacon of light to the world is supposed to operate. While we place the task of which refugees are allowed to escape here and which ones are condemned to die in the hands of the presidency, we would do well to remember how badly this betrays the value of diversity. While some supercomputer someplace is determining which visas are approved based on how much money they might be able to raise for us, emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty is a reminder that we were supposed to let people in based on how much they could help themselves:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! (27)

This poem boldly declares that nothing is special about “ancient” and “storied” lands and that should include America. It shouldn’t matter where someone is from. We value people above property. At least, we used to.

PHOTO BY TOMAS CASTELAZO. Decorated coffins line the US-Mexico border fence as a memorial to migrants who have died trying to cross the border. The year and number of dead are marked on each coffin. (Wikimedia Commons).

America is at a crossroads. We have a choice to make. On one hand, we can clean our home so that guests can arrive. We have plenty of rooms, we just need to fix them up a bit. We have policies bankrupting our home that we need to look at. We have regulations against defending ourselves that we should examine. If we take care of these problems that we are already facing, more guests bringing their talents will only help us.

On the other hand, we can bar the door. Reinforce it. Add concrete to the walls. Paint over the windows. Hire snipers. Put up razor wire. If we do all this, we can live in our dirty home and pretend there’s no problem for another few years at least.

At every level, this is an absurd choice to make. Let us hope that we choose wisely.

Hodey Johns is the host and coordinator of the We Are Libertarians Presidential Candidates debate series, a regular host of the WAL Daily podcast, a member of the WAL research team, and a regular guest on the We Are Libertarians podcast.

(1) Alvarez, Priscilla. What the Long Waiting List for Legal Residency Actually Looks Like. The Atlantic. September 21, 2017.
(2) Vaughan, Jessica M. Waiting List for Legal Immigrant Visas Keeps Growing. Center for Immigration Studies. April 16, 2015.
(3) Arthur, Will. If You Want a Border Wall Funded by the Government You Are the Socialist You Despise. 71Republic. January 22, 2018.
(4) Allen, Treb, et al. Border Walls. Dartmouth College & NBER. November, 2018.
(5) Finland's Government Resigns Over Failed Healthcare Reform. BBC. March 8, 2019.
(6) Sweden Extends Border Controls, Citing Continued 'Threat'. The Local Sweden. February 7, 2019.
(7) Sanadaji, Nima. So Long Swedish Welfare State? Foreign Policy. September 5, 2018.
(8) Stone, Geoffrey, et al. The Framers' Constitution. Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. 2011.
(9) U.S. Immigration Timeline. History Channel. December 21, 2018.
(10) Bein, Jackie. Becoming a Citizen in the Late 18th and Early 20th Centuries. Museum at Eldridge Street. November 2, 2016.
(11) BRIA 14:3 How Welfare Began in the United States. Constitutional Rights Foundation. 1998.
(12) Chy Lung v. Freeman. Wikipedia. June 28, 2019.
(13) Gabriel, Brian. How Was the United States Government Funded Prior to the Income Tax? PocketSense. November 21, 2018.
(14) Welch, David. Propaganda for Patriotism and Nationalism. British Library. January 29, 2014.
(15) Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Howe. 1920. 
(16) Rose, Jim. Mises Converted Hayek from Socialism. Utopia, You are Standing in It! June 29, 2017.
(17) U.S. Debt Clock. 2019.
(18) Jordan, Miriam. 8 Million People are Working Illegally in the U.S. Here's Why That's Unlikely to Change. New York Times. December 11, 2018.
(19) Creighton, Adam. How an Illegal-Immigrant Crackdown Could Hit U.S. Economic Growth. Wall Street Journal November 22, 2016.
(20) Amadeo, Kimberly. U.S. GDP by Year Compared to Recessions and Events. The Balance. June 25, 2019.
(21) O'Brien, Matt. The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers. Federation for American Immigration Reform. September 27, 2017.
(22) Valverde, Miriam. Donald Trump's False Claim About the Cost of Illegal Immigration. Politifact. December 5, 2018.
(23) Colvin, Jill. AP Fact Check: Trump Wrong About Illegal Immigration Costs. Associated Press. December 5, 2018.
(24) Athey, Philip. Does Illegal Immigration Cost the United States More than $100 Billion a Year?. Arizona Republic. June 26, 2018.
(25) Farcaster. Both the Population of Unauthorized Immigrants in the U.S. and Southwestern Border Apprehensions have Declined Significantly Over the Past Decade. Wikimedia Commons. January 13, 2019.
(26) U.C. Mandal. Dictionary of Public Administration. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. 2007 p.140
(27) What is the Quote on the Statue of Liberty? How Tall is the Statue of Liberty? July 3, 2019.
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