Immigration and Individual Rights - The Objective Standard

Every year, millions of people seek to immigrate to the United States, and with good reason: Opportunities to improve their lives abound here. Immigrants and would-be immigrants want to pursue the American dream. Whether or not they would put it in these terms, they want to be free to think and act on their best judgment; they want to produce wealth and keep and use it as they see fit; they want to make better lives for themselves and their families. In other words, foreigners want to come to America for the same reason the Founding Fathers established this republic: They want lives of liberty and happiness.

Immigration is the act of moving to a country with the intention of remaining there. Morally speaking, if a person rationally judges that immigrating to America would be good for his life, he should immigrate; a rational morality holds that one should always act on one’s best judgment. But does a foreigner have a right to move to America? And should America welcome him? Yes, he does—and yes, she should. Recognition of these facts was part and parcel of this country’s founding.

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment. 1

Unfortunately this pro-immigration attitude, expressed by George Washington in 1783, has all but vanished from American politics. Indeed, the policies of America—the republic built by and for immigrants—have become hostile to immigrants.

Although some foreigners today are fortunate enough to receive special permission to immigrate to the U.S.—via quotas (as if freedom were good only for a limited number of people) and lotteries (as if Liberty were a scratch-card game)—millions more aspiring immigrants are forbidden entry. Today, productive, life-loving immigrants such as Isaac Asimov, Irving Berlin, Andrew Carnegie, Enrico Fermi, Andrew Grove, Itzhak Perlman, Wolfgang Puck, David Sarnoff, Nikola Tesla, Arturo Toscanini, Eddie Van Halen, and Ayn Rand would likely be turned away from the land of the free. Today, the vast majority of would-be immigrants—including physicists from Israel, software engineers from India, restaurateurs from Mexico, musicians from Canada, architects from Brazil, biochemists from Japan, and countless other perfectly good people—are simply shut out of the melting pot. Immigration to the land of liberty is now largely prohibited by American law.

This prohibition, however, is un-American and immoral. The basic principle of America—the principle of individual rights—demands a policy of open immigration. . . .


Acknowledgments: I wish to thank Alan Germani for editing this article, and Joe Kroeger and John David Lewis for their helpful comments on the manuscript. —C. B.

1 The Writings of George Washington (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1938), ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, vol. 27, p. 254 (capitalization and spelling in the original).

2 Carriers of deadly contagious diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, smallpox, yellow fever, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)—who would thus pose an objective threat to the lives and health of Americans—are legitimately forbidden entry to America (unless they are being safely transported to a private facility for medical treatment). Exactly where the line should be drawn regarding the immigration of people carrying less-dangerous contagious diseases is a technical matter to be determined by medical and legal experts.

3 Regarding the principle that reason is man’s basic means of survival, see Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), esp. pp. 22–29; and Craig Biddle, Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It (Richmond: Glen Allen Press, 2002), esp. pp. 53–62.

4 Regarding the evil of initiatory force and the principle that rights can be violated only by means of force, see Rand, “Man’s Rights” and “The Nature of Government” in The Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 108–117 and 125–134 respectively; and Biddle, Loving Life, pp. 103–128.

5 The rights of children are more complex than those of adults, and there are situations in which it is morally appropriate for an adult to use force to stop a child from acting on his judgment. An article on this subject is in the works for a future issue of TOS.

6 For more on the proper purpose of government, see Rand, “The Nature of Government,” in The Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 125–134; and Biddle, Loving Life, pp. 117–128.

7 For more on the problem with “public” property and the propriety of exclusively private property, see Biddle, Loving Life, pp. 119–23.

8 Regarding the nature of free will and the choice to think as the primary choice, see Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” in The Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 22–25.

9 See note 2.

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