Donald Trump, the most anti-immigrant president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is running against a Democratic presidential field that almost unanimously favors providing government-run health insurance to illegal immigrants. Surely there is some middle ground between Stephen Miller-style family separation and a massive expansion of the welfare state to millions living outside the law?
"Libertarians believe that people should be able to travel freely as long as they are peaceful," the party's immigration plank reads. "A truly free market requires the free movement of people, not just products and ideas….Of course, if someone has a record of violence, credible plans for violence, or acts violently, then Libertarians support blocking their entry, deporting, and/or prosecuting and imprisoning them, depending on the offense."
Bottom line: "Libertarians do not support classifying undocumented immigrants as criminals. Our current immigration system is an embarrassment. People who would like to follow the legal procedures are unable to because these procedures are so complex and expensive and lengthy. If Americans want immigrants to enter through legal channels, we need to make those channels fair, reasonable, and accessible."
To a notable degree, the L.P.'s top 2020 presidential candidates are hewing to the party's radical-for-American-politics immigration platform.
"One of the proudest positions that we have in this party is our open-border plank," Future of Freedom Foundation founder Jacob Hornberger, who won the party's non-binding presidential caucuses in Iowa and Minnesota this month, said during a California debate that I moderated Feb. 16. "I grew up on a farm on the Rio Grande. We hired illegal immigrants….Y'all know about the checkpoints. We got 'em over there. I've been stopped by the Border Patrol myself when I was in high school, 'Open up your trunk!' Warrantless searches onto our farm to bust our workers. It's a police state, and there's only one solution to it: Dismantle it all. People have a fundamental, God-given right to cross borders like human beings and not die of thirst and dehydration in the desert and on the back of 18-wheelers."
There were five other candidates on stage that night, and each said similar things.
Media entrepreneur and current fundraising leader Adam Kokesh, whose big campaign idea is signing an executive order on day one that dissolves the federal government, posited that "Government borders are not legitimate," and that "only private property borders" deserve respect. Kokesh then added: "And if being American means anything about standing up to unjust authority and employing civil disobedience, I would dare say most who come here illegally are more American than the average apathetic American today."
Performance artist and serial candidate Vermin Supreme, who won the party's only other early-state contest so far (New Hampshire), quipped that "You cannot outlaw people. If you outlaw people, only people will be outlaws."
Deep-pocketed race newcomer Mark Whitney, an ex-convict comedy enthusiast who founded THELAWNET, said of undocumented immigrants, "I not only want them to be citizens, I want them working on my campaign."
Academic and 1996 L.P. vice presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen complained that, "Right now, we've got a system in which we keep everybody out, except we just let a few people in. What we need to do is flip it and just let everybody in."
And bipartisan former Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator Lincoln Chafee stressed the political expediency of it all: "I see this as a political advantage that with our open-border policy and libertarian views on immigration, especially the fastest-growing voting bloc in the United States, the Hispanics, are going to have the opportunity in 2020 to look at our platform and come to our side."
Among the eight other presidential candidates who attended the California L.P. convention but didn't convince enough delegates to send them to the debate stage, only one, Phil Gray, even mentioned immigration during his allotted three-minute speech the night before, and that was in service to Gray's unusual idea of having undocumented workers pay down the country's $23 trillion debt.
Among the more than two dozen candidates currently vying for the Libertarian presidential nomination, you can find the occasional balking at open borders: New Hampshire state Rep. Max Abramson ("Go after companies that replace American workers and Green Card holders with illegal immigrants and stop enticing opportunists to come into the country illegally"), business consultant and recent party-switcher Blake Ashby ("I do not believe in an open border, or an open commitment to accept refugees"), pipe welder/fitter and outdoorsman Kenneth Blevins ("I fully support legal and vetted immigration"), FedEx Hawaiian Steven Richey ("owning property and sending remittances should be reserved for citizens"), "business owner, singer, minister, lover of people" Demetra Jefferson Wysinger ("entering our nation illegally is NOT immigration it is an invasion and a crime"), and "alchemist jedi" Jedidiah Hill ("Integrate the people into society have them learn English and put them to work").
But with the exception of Abramson, none of these candidates have made a noticeable splash during primary season, and even Abramson finished a desultory 14th in the primary balloting in his home state.
The bigger story is the story that isn't there. Which is to say, while immigration politics tends to at least somewhat divide all political blocs, including both libertarians and Libertarians, that particular dog is just not hunting in this principle-driven L.P. presidential cycle.
A key figure in that development is Jacob Hornberger, who is not only the most well-known libertarian intellectual running, but also has the backing of the party's growing Mises Caucus, which adheres to the Austrian school of economics and affiliates positively with members of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. (LvMI Senior Fellow and popular podcaster Tom Woods sits on the Mises Caucus's advisory board, and has endorsed Hornberger, as has comic Dave Smith.)
Leadership figures in the Libertarian Party and Mises Institute have been sniping periodically at one another since 2017, in part over the perceived politically correct "identity politics" in the L.P. versus the perceived politically incorrect "blood and soil" enthusiasms at LvMI. (Read my account of their clash at the 2018 Libertarian National Convention.) Some Libertarians never tire of pointing out LvMI's hospitality toward nationalists like Hans-Hermann Hoppe; the Misesites, in turn, rarely miss an opportunity to mock L.P. National types for "virtue signaling."
Yet both sides have stayed in the same party tent, with Woods and Smith, in particular, helping whip up new recruits on their podcasts. And in Hornberger, a longtime friend of Ron Paul, the Mises enthusiasts have someone who is both unimpeachably anti-war (the issue that, along with ending the Federal Reserve, the Austrians elevate above all) and unapologetically open borders. No blood and soil on this Texan's watch.
At the Massachusetts state Libertarian convention last July, months before he jumped into the race, Hornberger gave a fire-and-brimstone defense of open immigration as essential to a free society.
"One of the most glorious, honorable positions that this party has ever taken is open borders," he said. "Oh I know, Libertarians will say 'Oh my God, this is an albatross, Jacob! This is a liability! This is costing votes! We need to join up with Republicans and Democrats on this issue!' Perish the thought. There are people dying in the American Southwest in deserts from dehydration and thirst. They're dying crossing the Rio Grande, including children. They're dying in the back of 18-wheelers. They're having children taken away from their families. You have a police state all along the border in the Southwest, and in Texas. There is no way to reconcile all of this police-state action and death and suffering—and for Libertarians to ever align themselves would be a moral abomination."
Part of what makes Hornberger's immigration message saleable to Libertarians is that he couples it with obliterating, not expanding, the welfare state.
"We live in a society that is based on massive mandatory charity," he said in Massachusetts. "With the crown jewels of this system being Social Security and Medicare, along with a host of others. There is no way to reconcile a genuinely free society with mandatory charity. No way at all. Because people have a natural, God-given right to keep everything they earn, and decide for themselves what to do with it….And so if we are going to achieve a free society it necessarily presupposes a dismantling of infringements on liberty, and that includes Social Security and Medicare. You have to repeal, abolish, dismantle infringements on liberty in order to achieve the free society."
The L.P. presidential race, which will be settled at the national convention in Austin, Texas, May 21-25, has so far been a battle to see who can best represent the libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party. As such it is striking, in this moment of major-party polarization and deep immigration-policy divides, to see a principled Libertarian immigration message emerging: Mr. Trump, tear down this wall.
You can watch the whole California Libertarian presidential debate below; the immigration stuff starts at 27:45: