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Closed Minds on Open Borders, Part 1

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The core principle of libertarianism is a simple one: the noninitiation of force by one person against another. The libertarian philosophy holds that a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life as long as his conduct is peaceful. In other words, as long as a person does not murder, rape, steal, rob, trespass, defraud, burglarize, or engage in similar-type conduct, he should be free to do whatever he wants. The limited power of government, then, should include apprehending, prosecuting, and punishing the antisocial, violent people in society.

Unfortunately, however, there is a small group of libertarians claiming that libertarians should carve out an exception to the libertarian nonaggression principle when it comes to the issue of immigration. They are saying that the U.S. government — the national organized means of coercion and compulsion — should be used to prevent immigrants from entering the United States and, when necessary, to punish them with force for doing so.

The libertarian controllers argue that in a libertarian society, immigrants would not be able to enter the United States because no private landowner would ever give them permission to do so. The libertarian controllers also argue that governments have the sovereign right to control their borders. Since the United States government is the owner of the borders surrounding the United States, they argue, it has the legitimate power to exclude any foreigner from crossing that border.

Thus, since in a libertarian society, private owners would obviously prevent immigrants from traveling on their land, it is entirely legitimate, the libertarian controllers argue, for government to achieve the same result with a policy of closed borders.

It would be difficult to find more wrong-headed reasoning to justify an abandonment of libertarian philosophy. Let’s examine why.

Assume that an American citizen owns a ranch in New Mexico that adjoins the Mexican border. Assume that he has a Mexican brother who owns an adjoining ranch on the Mexican side of the border. There might be a fence that separates the two ranches, but then again, there might not be. After all, the two brothers might very well have a joint ranching operation.

To assume that the American would not want his brother to cross the border and visit him is patently ludicrous. Yet, this is what the libertarian controllers are actually claiming — that under no circumstances would an American property owner ever want a Mexican to come onto his property.

So, what do the libertarian immigration controllers suggest should be done in this type of example? They favor a fortified and strengthened U.S. government immigration service with full, omnipotent power to “control the borders.”

This means that the government officials would have the power to arbitrarily come onto the American rancher’s property — without a warrant or other court order — in order to prevent the Mexican brother from accepting the invitation to come onto his American brother’s property. If the Mexican brother were to ignore the edicts of the immigration officials, the libertarian controllers suggest that law enforcement officers should have the power to incarcerate him or even kill him if he resisted arrest.

Why do libertarian immigration controllers believe that all American property owners along the border would automatically exclude Latin Americans from crossing the border and entering onto their property? Because many of the libertarian controllers, like so many conservative right-wing extremists, have a stereotypical image of Latin American people — that they are lazy, good-for-nothing people who are only interested in robbing, stealing, raping, and assaulting people, going on welfare, engaging in gang warfare, pushing drugs, and polluting pure, white American culture with enchiladas, tacos, and Latin American music. Thus, in the minds of the libertarian controllers, many of whom have a deep-seated fantasy of making America pure, white, blue-eyed and blond, no rational American would ever voluntarily let any black or brown Latin American onto his property.

I have some personal experience with the issues involved here. I grew up on a farm adjoining the Rio Grande near Laredo, Texas. Laredo had a population at that time of about 50,000. Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which was just across the international bridge, probably had a population of about 100,000.

Since we irrigated our fields from water taken from the river, I spent lots of my time checking and repairing the pump at the river. Oftentimes, my brothers and I would wave at kids on the other side of the river who were living on their farms. As property owners along the border, we never felt any of the animosity against Mexicans that the libertarian controllers say would result in a libertarian society.

But perhaps part of the reason is personal — that I’m Hispanic myself. My maternal grandfather, Matias de Llano, immigrated to Laredo from Monterrey, Mexico. One of his first jobs was delivering newspapers to the people of Laredo; he did it on horseback. He never received a formal education, and he never lost his Spanish accent. He later created a successful business in Laredo involving the sale of straw hats and the importation and sale of Mexican products.

My maternal grandmother — Dolores Villarreal — immigrated from a small, lovely Mexican town named Lampasos, which, like Monterrey, is in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. (The house in which she grew up is still located in the middle of town and, horror of horrors, is now the city hall.) As a child, her parents sent her to boarding school in San Antonio, but ultimately the entire family was forced to immigrate to Laredo to escape the ravages of the Mexican Revolution.

My father, Jacob Hornberger, of German descent, was a gringo; he hardly spoke any Spanish at all. My mother, Cordelia de Llano Hornberger, spoke fluent Spanish as well as fluent English. Countless times during my childhood, I would hear her speaking to friends on the telephone in “Tex-Mex” — half Spanish and half English.

And my situation is not unusual. Many, many American families along the southern border have their roots in Mexico. Grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends transcend the artificial political line known as “the border.”

I don’t know what the exact percentage would be, but I would say that when I was growing up, at least 95 percent of Laredoans had a Spanish surname. Classmates in the public schools that I was unfortunately forced to attend would often speak Spanish during recess. The gringos from the local air force base were clearly the minority. Half-breeds such as myself were also a small minority. Despite the occasional fight that inevitably occurs in every public school, everyone got along well. Hispanics dated Anglos, and everybody hung out together. Retail stores thrived on Mexican customers and many of the transactions were conducted in Spanish. No one ever talked about civil rights and race relations.

And the situation was the same all along the border — in Brownsville, McAllen, Edinburg, Zapata, Eagle Pass, El Paso, and many more.

When I returned to Laredo to practice law, there were always about 20 percent of the prospective jurors called for a case who would be disqualified from jury service because they could not read or write the English language. No one, and especially not the judge, who himself would be likely to be part Mexican, would ever even think of making a big deal out of this. The thought never entered anyone’s mind that just because a person couldn’t speak English, he was unethical, unintelligent, lazy, or immoral. It simply meant that he spoke a different language — something that people do all over the world.

Another justification that libertarian controllers use for immigration control is that they want to keep the United States “white and pure.” They say that the United States has traditionally had a Northern European culture or a white Anglo-Saxon culture and that it is imperative that this culture be protected from cultural pollution from either black or brown Latin Americans.

Those of us who grew up along the Mexican border have a difficult time relating to this reasoning. Sure, today, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California are part of the United States. But it’s important to remember that they were once the northern part of Mexico. When these lands became part of the United States, most of the Mexicans living in them remained right where they were. There was certainly no requirement that they become “pure, white” Americans just because the U.S. government had just taken jurisdiction over their lands. Even if there had been such a requirement, what would the former Mexicans have been expected to do — rub white flour all over their skin?

After the new political lines were drawn, Mexicans stayed where they were — and they maintained their culture, their traditions, their heritage, and their family and business ties across the newly established political borders. For example, while my grandmother could speak English (with a Spanish accent), my great-grandmother could speak only Spanish until the day she died. In Laredo, which had been artificially separated from Nuevo Laredo, city council meetings continued to be conducted in Spanish for many years after Texas joined the United States.

For the first 20 years of my growing up in the United States, I didn’t know anything about the white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, Anglo-Saxon culture that libertarian controllers and right-wing extremists fantasize about. Heck, I don’t think I even heard of a bagel until I was well into my 30s. The culture I grew up in was a Mexican one. We ate enchiladas, tacos, chiles rellenos, nachos, and occasionally some American food as well. Sure, we listened to Elvis and the Beatles, but we also took our dates across the border to Mexican nightclubs where we ate flautas, drank Corona cerveza, listened to Mexican music, and watched Mexican floor shows. (No, our parents didn’t approve, since we were only 15 or 16, but heck, everybody did it, and, anyway, we hardly ever got caught. And the only fun alternatives were the drive-in, the skating rink, and the bowling alley, and those things got old after a while.)

The highlight of our childhood birthday parties was the piñata that poured forth its goodies when a blindfolded kid would hit it with a broomstick in the right spot. And Laredoans were just as apt to take a vacation in Mexico as they were in the United States.

Thus, I am amused when I hear libertarian controllers and right-wing extremists talking about how we need to establish only one culture in America — one based on pure, Northern European traditions.

My preference is a culture of freedom — one in which everyone is free to pursue any culture he wants.

But if there has to be only one culture for every American — as the extremists propose — why in the world must it be a New York culture? Why not put it to a national vote? After all, many of us Americans (and like it or not, Texans, New Mexicans, Arizonans, and Californians are Americans), would prefer the wonderful, marvelous, colorful, happy Hispanic culture to the drab, dark, foreboding, boring, abusive, rude New York culture. And since there are now 20 million Hispanics in the United States, we might just win such an election. Just think, if we were to win, everyone would be eating enchiladas, drinking Mexican cerveza, listening to Gloria Estefan (in Spanish), and dancing salsa and merengue. Hey, life doesn’t get any better than that!

The libertarian controllers also have it wrong when they suggest that Latin Americans are just a bunch of thieves and murderers or who are lazy or who just come here to go on welfare. We hired illegal aliens on our farm. I worked in the fields with them. I ate with them. I played with them. I also represented many of them when I later returned to Laredo to practice law. I have never encountered more hard-working, more honorable, more ethical, more religious, more moral, more compassionate people in my entire life.

In fact, I can’t help but frown when I hear libertarian controllers suggest that U.S. immigration officials should have the right to control “our” borders. I’ll never forget the sight of those pea-green immigration cars coming onto our privately owned farm without permission in order to “control our borders” by searching for illegal aliens. Some of my fondest memories as a teenager entail giving an early warning to our workers: “Hay viene la migra.” And I still smile when I remember how I’d hide with them, shivering in fear, until the immigration officials had gone. I also will never forget my anger and my tears when our workers would be caught and taken away from us. After all, they were our friends, our employees, our playmates.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.