The Libertarian Split on Open Borders

Recently, I wrote a 2-part series titled “Razor Wire on the Rio Grande” [Part 1, Part 2] in which I went over the ongoing conflict between Texas and the Biden administration over Texas’ seizure of a roughly 2.5-mile area of the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, which for a time prevented federal immigration authorities from accessing the area.

In that series, among other things, I analyzed the current situation, pointed out the contrast between Biden’s position on immigration as a presidential candidate in 2020 and where he appears to stand now, and discussed the effect this issue is having on American politics during a presidential election year.

What I didn’t do was provide an in-depth look into my own thoughts on immigration and the border crisis. I did include some commentary, but it was primarily focused on the political environment in which this discussion is taking place. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I even have a firm position on immigration policy, as this issue is complex and I’m sympathetic to arguments from both sides of the debate, broadly speaking. However, I will say that I disagree with the way both dominant political factions in the U.S. have come to perceive and talk about this issue, particularly since it became deeply submerged in the culture war.

Generally, the American right tends to come off as indifferent to the plight of immigrants—most of whom are probably decent human beings simply seeking freedom, safety or opportunity, and many are often fleeing regions that have been destabilized by U.S. foreign policy. I’ll also add (with the risk of sounding like part of the Woke mob) that some of the American right’s rhetoric on immigration can occasionally come across as xenophobic or even somewhat racist.

The American left, on the other hand, generally comes off as indifferent to the real problems that mass, uncontrolled immigration brings to border cities and states, but they also seem to immediately (and hypocritically) acknowledge those problems once they reach blue cities and states. And while most immigrants are likely decent people, the American left tends to naively act like mass immigration carries no risk—like the very real possibility that some violent or dangerous individuals might gain entrance into the country and harm U.S. citizens, for example.

The conversation around immigration doesn’t necessarily fall along a simple left/right divide, however.

Longtime readers of Thoughts Into Words likely know that I identify as a libertarian, but that doesn’t automatically give away my position on the border crisis or on immigration more broadly. Much like the issue of abortion, libertarians are not all aligned on immigration and border policy; and ever since this conflict between Texas and the federal government began in January, that split has been continuously manifesting itself throughout libertarian corners of social media.

Twitter Feuds

The debate among libertarians over immigration—or more accurately, over “open borders”—has long existed, but the current border crisis and the ongoing spat between Texas and the Biden administration has intensified it.

The current round of this debate really took off after libertarian comedian and podcaster Dave Smith went on the Liberty Lockdown podcast in February to discuss conservative journalist Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which had just happened at the time. Toward the end of that episode, the conversation turned to immigration.

“[F]rom the most recent numbers I saw, there was approximately eight million that came across the border last year alone,” said Clint Russell, host of Liberty Lockdown. “They [the U.S. government] will not spend a dollar to try and address that issue, despite the fact that it is the number one issue amongst GOP voters and a quickly, you know, elevating issue among Democrat voters… they will still now do a stand alone bill to ship… $96 billion dollars to Ukraine.”

(Russell was referring to a recent foreign aid package that had just passed the U.S. Senate. In addition to the billions of dollars for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, the original bill contained spending to address the border crisis as well, but it was eventually stripped from the legislation. That bill has since passed the U.S. House of Representatives.)

In response, Dave Smith pointed out that the U.S. has troops “all throughout Europe, all throughout Asia, all throughout the Middle East,” and then said the “obvious answer” is “that all of our troops should come home, and be stationed around our borders.”

After acknowledging that there are many libertarians who disagree with his opposition to open borders—and maintaining that no one has been able to actually take on his arguments—Smith then said “if you believe in open borders right now under current… circumstances, you’re an insane person, and you’re as bad as a communist.”

“The answer is” Smith continued, “take our fucking entire military, and put them on our border, and secure our border.”

It was this part of the episode that began to circulate on social media and cause a flurry of heated debate among libertarians. Many different people within the liberty movement—some with fairly large followings—felt the need to respond to Smith’s statements.

One such person was Jack V. Lloyd, a libertarian content creator, music producer, and author, who got into a somewhat heated argument with Smith on X/Twitter that spanned several days.

The back-and-forth between Dave Smith and Jack Lloyd largely consisted of Lloyd offering to debate Smith, live and moderated, on the issue of immigration and open borders and Smith refusing, but throughout the days-long spat there were a few interesting moments.

One exchange that took place involved Lloyd’s wife, Pho, also known as The Pholosopher, who is herself a fairly prominent voice in the liberty movement.

In that instance, Lloyd was trying to convince Smith to debate him on immigration, to which Smith told Lloyd “tell me what you want to debate and make a compelling point. If you want to debate borders, do you understand my position? What am I getting wrong? If you make a compelling point, maybe I’ll do it.”

Lloyd’s response goes as follows:

“Okay: Collectivist rhetoric using ‘will of the people’ causes major confusion among your followers and leads them to rationalize more state control out of a fear-based mindset. There are better ways to talk about common problems due to state incentive distortions, and those ways involve privatization as the focus. No need for half-wayisms or rationalizations for state force, such as a call for putting all U.S. troops on the border. Straightforward?”

“Yeah it’s straightforward. Simple even,” Smith replied. “The issue comes with the fact that government property exists. Is it still your position that there should be zero restrictions on public property? The drug addict should be allowed in public schools?”

Instead of answering the question, Lloyd once again told Smith to debate him. Smith responded by saying that both Lloyd and his wife Pho had previously stated that they don’t believe drug addicts should be restricted from public schools. This is where Pho entered the conversation. In her response, she said “my answer is ‘No’ – when it comes to ‘public’ or government property, the principles of individual liberty should still be applied and limitations on government power should be applied as to maximize individual liberty.”

“People should not be criminalized over victimless actions, such as being addicted to drugs or not paying taxes,” she concluded.

I’m willing to bet that Smith would agree with the last part of Pho’s response, but it doesn’t really pertain to what he was arguing. Smith wasn’t saying that anyone suffering from addiction—like a student or a parent of a student, for example—should be thrown in jail or barred from ever entering public schools. While his use of the term “drug addict” could seem overly broad, I thought it was obvious he was referring to a random drug addict wandering into a public elementary school from off the street. In which case, I personally think it’s entirely reasonable for that person to be forcefully removed if they refuse to leave voluntarily.

“So, just be clear, you believe that a 55 year old crack head has a right to enter a public elementary school and it would be immoral to force him to leave. A violation of HIS rights,” Smith said in response to Pho. “You are willing to put other people’s young children in danger because you believe that is consistent with your ideology.”

Smith then said that he views Pho “as being as evil as a communist or a Nazi. Maybe worse since you wrap this evil in the language of liberty.”

Personally, I think it’s hyperbolic to equate Lloyd or Pho—both of whom have had a considerable impact on spreading the message of liberty over the years—to communists or Nazis, but as a parent myself, I can understand Smith’s frustration. Petty remarks and accusations have been thrown both ways, however. Lloyd and Pho have both insinuated that the reason Smith has taken the stance that he has is not because of his interpretation of libertarian theory, but it is instead a ploy to appeal to conservatives. I think that is a mischaracterization of Smith’s position, who is also a fairly prominent voice within the liberty movement.

Crackheads in Public Schools

Shortly after this exchange on X/Twitter, Lloyd went on The Free Thought Project Podcast to discuss the controversy. That episode also featured another guest, which was libertarian podcaster and entrepreneur Patrick Smith.

When the hypothetical of a homeless drug addict entering a public school came up, Patrick went on for several minutes about how such a situation would be properly handled according to his interpretation of libertarian theory. Patrick’s version of the hypothetical included a crackhead using drugs inside a school and Dave Smith arguing with an arbiter over how to have the crackhead removed. It ends with Dave being unable to take any action against a homeless drug addict smoking crack inside his child’s school.

Patrick’s version of this hypothetical is completely irrelevant to how the world currently operates, but I think it highlights a problem in how far too many libertarians perceive the world. Libertarians often get caught up in how they think the world should work—how it would work in a purely libertarian society—instead of how to reasonably address the issues we face right now, in the current moment, within a system that is far from the libertarian ideal.

In a purely libertarian society, all schools—and all borders—would be private, and it would be up to the property owners to set the rules and decide who’s allowed to enter or use the property. In that world, if a homeless drug addict was permitted to smoke crack inside a school, parents who object to such a policy (as almost any parent would) could simply choose to put their children in a different school without being forced to continue funding the school that allows drug addicts to use drugs near the students.

The problem is that, in the world we currently live in, government schools exist, and taxpayers are forced to fund them whether they choose to place their children in them or not—even if someone doesn’t have children, they’re still forced to fund public schools. This means that those schools are “public property,” which is why some libertarians have this idea that random drug addicts should be allowed to enter them from off the street, but frankly, that’s a ridiculous stance to take.

I’m almost certain that everyone who has been mentioned in this article supports the idea of getting government out of education, but until that happens, it’s not unreasonable for public schools to have certain restrictions. Libertarians would have no objections to a private school with private security preventing homeless drug addicts from entering the property or even forcefully removing them if they do, so why shouldn’t public schools be allowed to have a similar standard? Because the school is funded by taxes, anyone who has ever paid taxes at any point in their life is now allowed to do whatever they want on that public property?

If public schools were to make that position the official policy, it would inevitably lead to many children being put into dangerous situations. Because of that, those who advocate for this position do tend to come across as if they’re placing their idealized version of a political theory over the safety of real children who currently attend public schools.

Many libertarians take a similar stance on borders and immigration. The government controls the borders, and libertarians believe that the government should either be significantly decreased in size or cease to exist at all, and therefore, the government enforcing restrictions on immigration in any form is a violation of individual liberty.

To some extent, I can understand that argument, as I think people should be allowed to move around the world as freely as possible so long as they’re not harming anyone in the process. However, in the system we currently live under where private property owners are not always allowed to maintain their own private borders, and where the government doesn’t simply allow migrants to enter the country but often facilitates immigration by offering migrants various forms of taxpayer-funded handouts, allowing anyone and everyone to enter the country does come with potential risks.

Because of those risks, I think it’s reasonable for there to be some restrictions at the border for the time being, as we work to create a more libertarian society where all borders are private and property owners aren’t forced to associate with immigrants when they don’t want to, and won’t get caught up in red tape when they do.

The Libertarian Split

The way I see it, the argument over open borders among libertarians comes down to a dispute over how to interpret property rights, particularly when it comes to public property.

Libertarians who support open borders believe that public property—property paid for by taxpayers—is essentially everyone’s property, since the ownership of that property is claimed by the government and the government’s authority is seen as illegitimate. With that perspective, migrants should be allowed to access our borders unimpeded because the state has no real authority over anyone, including illegal immigrants.

Libertarians who oppose open borders also view the government as illegitimate, but argue that public property does not belong to everyone. Instead, it actually belongs to the people who have been taxed (i.e. robbed) to pay for it. According to this line of thinking, immigrants who only recently came to this country (especially those who came here illegally and are unlikely to begin paying into the system anytime soon) don’t have an inherent right to immediately begin utilizing public property, including our borders, because those who have been forced to pay taxes have a more legitimate claim to that property than migrants do.

In a purely libertarian society, this argument would likely cease to exist, as private property owners would be able to voluntarily invite, trade with, or otherwise peacefully associate with anyone they want from anywhere in the world. I think libertarians on both sides of this debate would likely agree with that, so the argument isn’t so much over immigration itself, it’s actually over which immigration policies libertarians should advocate for under our current system, while still maintaining libertarian principles.

The hypothetical of how libertarians should deal with a random drug addict entering a public school is a relevant analogy to the argument over open borders because they both deal with this issue of public property.

According to libertarians, all individuals have self-ownership and should have the freedom to use any substance they choose, move anywhere they choose, and associate with whoever they choose, so long as they don’t harm anyone or violate anyone’s rights in the process.

I personally think that a drug addict being allowed to smoke crack inside of a public school is an obvious example of someone’s choices violating the rights of other people, as it would put the students, and even the school faculty, in harm’s way. It would also force the students, their parents, and the faculty to associate with an individual the majority of them would most likely rather not associate with under normal circumstances.

In a similar sense, the government allowing—and even facilitating—mass immigration could also be viewed as a violation of American’s rights, as they could possibly be put in harm’s way if dangerous individuals are allowed to easily enter the country. It also forces U.S. citizens to associate with people they might not choose to associate with on their own. And if the government offers immigrants various forms of welfare (which it does) it also violates American’s rights by forcing people—even the many Americans who oppose such a policy—to essentially fund immigration.

Obviously, the libertarian solution is to minimize or abolish the state and allow individuals to make their own decisions on who they would and would not like to associate with, but until that happens, I think it’s necessary for there to be some basic restrictions at our border. Much like the crackhead who shouldn’t be allowed to use drugs inside a public school, there are some people who shouldn’t be allowed to just walk across our border.

Militarized Border

One aspect of what Dave Smith said during his appearance on Liberty Lockdown earlier this year that I think deserves some scrutiny is his call to place the entire U.S. military on our borders. While I understand the sentiment—our military is spread all over the globe engaging in unconstitutional wars that only serve the interests of the U.S. empire, not the average U.S. citizen actually living in this country, and a better use for our military would be national defense—there are some problems with that proposition.

One criticism that Smith has received over this is the claim that he’s suggesting we grow the government rather than shrink it, but I think there’s a flaw in that criticism. Bringing every U.S. troop stationed abroad home and then placing them on our border would not grow the government, it would simply move government-controlled resources and personnel from one place to another. In fact, I would argue it would actually shrink the U.S. government, because without our military scattered across the globe there could be no U.S. empire, and the maintenance of that empire is the main reason the U.S. government has grown to the size that it has.

However, that isn’t to say there’s nothing that could go wrong by placing our entire military—the largest military the world has ever known—on our borders. While it wouldn’t necessarily make the government larger, it would significantly increase the government’s ability to encroach on civil liberties domestically.

In response to Smith’s statement, The Free Thought Project co-founder Jason Bassler posted on X/Twitter asking “If some Libertarians got their way and the gov’t put ‘military on our borders,’ do you really think when the ‘border crisis’ subsided, the military and police state apparatus created to prevent it would just relinquish their authority & walk away? Is that how government works?”

This is a fair critique. To some, placing our military on our borders might sound like a reasonable solution to the border crisis right now, but I have to agree with Bassler’s presumption that a militarized border would continue long after the current crisis ends.

Any policy the U.S. government puts in place in the name of fighting foreign threats can always been turned inward and used against Americans. In fact, as journalist Whitney Webb has written about for Unlimited Hangout, the border crisis is already being exploited to increase surveillance on anyone entering or exiting the country, which inevitably includes U.S. citizens as well as migrants.

Clearly, militarizing our borders even further would only exacerbate our government’s tendency to abuse its authority. So while our borders are an objectively better place for U.S. soldiers to be than various countries all over the world, the policy of placing our military along our borders would come with its own set of problems.

(To be fair to Dave Smith, I heard him clarify his position—at least somewhat—during a recent episode of Just Asking Questions, a podcast put out by Reason, where he debated Chris Freiman on open borders. Smith said that, ideally, all the soldiers would “be discharged” and then “rehired as border security”.)


Immigration is not a problem in and of itself. People who have not harmed anyone—regardless of where they’re from—deserve to be free to lead their own lives. If that means they decide to immigrate to the U.S., then they should be able to do so with relative ease.

With that being said, the chaotic nature of the U.S.’s southern border is leading to problems for both migrants and U.S. citizens, and as long as the U.S. government exists in its current form, it has an obligation to handle immigration in an orderly way rather than creating, incentivizing and fomenting that chaos.

As I said at the top of this article, this issue is complex, and under our current circumstances, I’m not sure a perfectly libertarian solution exists. There are certainly policies that are more in line with libertarian principles than others, but libertarians could take issue with anything the government does, whether it tries to ignore the issue or address it.

There are policies libertarians can advocate for, however, some that are seemingly unrelated to immigration at first glance, which would help alleviate the border crisis and correct some of the distorted incentives that helped create it in the first place.

Some of those policies are:

  • End the U.S. empire and our involvement in foreign conflicts, which destabilizes entire regions and causes the waves of immigration that typically follow such events.
  • End the War on Drugs, which would significantly reduce the power criminal organizations have gained through the drug trade, particularly in Latin America. The violence and criminality of those organizations is a leading driver of immigration into the U.S. from that region.
  • End the welfare state, which creates an incentive for people to depend on the government once they immigrate to the U.S. (that same incentive applies to U.S. citizens as well).
  • Reduce or abolish the bureaucratic red tape that causes legal immigration to be time-consuming, complicated, and burdensome. The complex nature of that process creates an incentive for people to immigrate illegally, which further empowers criminal organizations and puts both migrants and U.S. citizens in danger.

Regardless of where one stands on “open borders” as a libertarian, all of these policy proposals will address the border crisis in some way or another, and they’re all in line with libertarian principles. Rather than arguing over whether there should be no restrictions or some reasonable restrictions at the border, libertarians of all kinds should instead focus on the solutions that we can all agree on.

We can sort out what the ideal libertarian world will look like once we get much closer to making that world a reality.

This article was originally published on Thoughts Into Words.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Steven Craddock

Steven Craddock is a Utah based writer. His writing touches on topics such as politics, economics and culture. You can follow his writing on Substack at stevencraddock.substack.com.

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