Immigration and welfare

Many libertarians who support open immigration in theory argue that it is not possible in practice because the United States has a welfare state and that the immigrants would put a strain on taxpayers. This justifies excluding them, they argue.

The fact that some immigrants would impose costs on others through welfare is an argument for excluding them, but not a very good one, for the following reasons: If our goal is to reduce the level of coercion in society, giving welfare to immigrants frustrates that goal, but so does controlling immigration. Even if reducing coercion were all we cared about, the answer to the problem of immigrants on welfare is not straightforward since the solution, restriction, is itself coercive.

Immigrants are not the only people who receive money from the government. Old people, disabled people, young people and just about everyone else receives money from the government, sometimes much more than they pay in taxes. If the political climate does not permit us to cut these benefits, what more can we do to prevent these people from receiving them? Can we prevent a poor woman from having kids so we don’t have to subsidize her children’s education? Can we deport old people before they wrack up expensive medical bills? I would think not.

The fact is that not all forms of coercion are created equal. When someone goes on disability insurance, it does indeed cost someone else money. That doesn’t justify deporting them. Deporting them interferes with their freedom much more than taxing another person to pay for their insurance. That’s what proponents of immigration control should understand. Preventing immigrants from coming to the U.S. to lower taxes replaces a minor injustice with a major one.

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