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Immigration: How Libertarians and the Tea Party Differ

Over at the New York Times, in a story entitled, Obama’s Immigration Action Reinvigorates Tea Party, Jeremy Peters describes a shift in the Tea Party’s thinking. If Peters should be right, his observation illustrates how the libertarians and the Tea Party differ:

WASHINGTON — In all its fury and unanimity, the response from the right over President Obama’s decision to change immigration policy without the consent of Congress was the manifestation of a major transformation inside the Tea Party.

What started five years ago as a groundswell of conservatives committed to curtailing the reach of the federal government, cutting the deficit and countering the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party has become largely an anti-immigration overhaul movement. The politicians, intellectual leaders and activists who consider themselves part of the Tea Party have redirected their energy from fiscal austerity and small government to stopping any changes that would legitimize people who are here illegally, either through granting them citizenship or legal status….

Libertarianism is concerned with the size of the state, concerned over the power government imperiously wields against ordinary people. Libertarians as I am have been, and always will be, concerned with the size of state power.

Simultaneously, we believe in free, cooperative transactions in capital, goods, and labor. The fewer the restrictions on people, so that they may choose unfettered where they will live, and for whom they will work, the better.

We don’t think these principles are right because we believe in them; we believe in these principles because we think they are right.

Conservatives, Republicans, Tea Party members, etc., may find anti-immigration positions their new cause, their new reason for being.

By contrast, libertarians have no new cause, no new idea – we have the old and enduring idea that people should be free to the greatest extent possible, and that the state should be small so that it can afflict people only to the smallest extent possible.

Conservatives, Republicans, and Tea Party members couch restrictions against an immigration amnesty as simply defending the rule of law. (Yet, in the immediate case, Pres. Obama has, by law, the same right to grant this amnesty as Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush had when they granted amnesties during their administrations.)

Libertarians are clear, however, that the justice of the rule of law requires a conviction that the laws being defended are just. Poll taxes and laws against interracial marriage once received a rule-of-law defense, as did even worse laws from Antiquity to the Antebellum South for the establishment of slavery.

These laws never were, and could never be, worthy of defense. In their own time or any other time, they were morally wrong although formally promulgated.

Our conservative, Republican, or Tea Party friends may have a new crusade, but we should reject the inclination to follow them. We have an old-yet-timeless philosophy of freedom, needing no modification over immigration policy.

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