My Recent Experience with Immigration Control Tyranny

Over Christmas, I visited my hometown of Laredo, Texas, which is situated on the U.S.-Mexico border. As I was leaving the city and driving north on IH35 toward San Antonio, I was reminded of the tyranny that comes with a system of immigration controls. The tyranny came in the form of a domestic—i.e., inside the United States—checkpoint, one in which U.S. officials wield omnipotent, totalitarian power over people who drive through it.

About 30 miles north of Laredo, a driver goes over the crest of a hill and encounters an amazing and surreal site. At first, it seems like you’re still in Mexico because up ahead is a permanent government highway checkpoint, one that you find on the border itself.

But this isn’t the border. This is some 30 miles north of the border. It stands to reason that in a system of immigration controls, officials would have an immigration checkpoint at the border to control entry into the United States. In Laredo, there are international bridges that connect Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo. They span the Rio Grande, which is the official border between Mexico and the United States.

Thus, when a person crosses the bridge from Nuevo Laredo into Laredo, he encounters a big permanent immigration (and customs) checkpoint. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the way a system of immigration of border controls work.

At that border checkpoint, an entrant has virtually no rights. He is required to answer whatever questions the immigration official asks him. He is expected to comply with whatever orders the federal officials issue. He is subject to a complete search of his person and his automobile. Officials can order him to a private room and then order him to completely disrobe for a more intrusive complete body search by officials, including all body cavities. He is also subject to having his cell phone searched. If it is protected by password, he is required to divulge the password. He is also required to open the trunk of his car and the glove box. Officials have the authority to search the entire vehicle, even if they have to remove parts to do so.

It goes without saying that if a person refuses to obey any of these orders or commands, he will be arrested and charged with a federal criminal offense.

Like I say, most everyone would not be surprised over the loss of their rights at the border. Most everyone has become accustomed to the fact that this is what happens under a system of immigration controls. People have come to simply accept it as a fact of life.

But that border checkpoint north of Laredo isn’t at the border. It’s located some 30 miles north of the border. Nonetheless, U.S. officials wield many of the same powers at that inside-the-United States checkpoint that they do at the border checkpoint.

Mind you, in my recent visit to Laredo, I drove to Laredo and never left Laredo except to drive north toward San Antonio. I never entered Mexico. Yet, at that highway checkpoint north of town, I was subjected to the same omnipotent, totalitarian powers over my person and my vehicle as people who cross the bridge over the Rio Grande Into Laredo.

How is this type of thing legally justified? Many years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that these types of domestic immigration checkpoints were the “functional equivalent” of the border. If that isn’t the most ludicrous judicial doctrine, it certainly has to rank In the top 10. A border is a border. How can something that is not the border be the same as the border? Isn’t that just a fancy phrase to for a court to rationalize its deference to the authority of immigration officials?

Need I mention that domestic highway checkpoints are used in communist and other totalitarian countries? I know this from experience. Many years ago, I visited Cuba. They have domestic highway checkpoints there too. They don’t try to rationalize them as being the “functional equivalent” of anything. They just impose them.

This is a point I have been trying to get across to libertarian proponents of immigration controls for years. With immigration controls come tyrannical measures to enforce immigration controls. There is no way to reconcile immigration enforcement measures with the libertarian non-aggression principle. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, when a U.S. officials stops a peaceful domestic traveler and forces him to answer intrusive questions, exit his vehicle, disrobe, and be carefully searched, that is the very essence of the initiation of force, a grave violation of the central principle of libertarianism.

It is sometimes said that there are two positions on immigration within the libertarian philosophy. That is incorrect. Libertarianism is an internally consistent philosophy. There is only one position on immigration within libertarianism. That position is open borders — i.e., the free, unimpeded movement of goods, services, and people across borders. In other words, no checkpoints at all, either at the border or inside the border.

Now, there is no doubt that there are conservative-oriented libertarians who favor the immigration-control system favored by both conservatives and progressives. But that’s only because such libertarians have been unable to leave some of their conservative baggage behind when they joined the libertarian movement. But the fact that such libertarians continue to hew to conservative principles in some areas does not make such conservative principles part of the libertarian philosophy. Libertarianism continues to be an internally consistent philosophy that adheres to freedom principles, especially the principle that opposes the initiation of force against others.

This column first appeared on FFF.