On July 12, news broke that the Trump administration is implementing a new asylum policy that gives greater weight to whether an asylum seeker crossed the border illegally and automatically rejects claims based on "fear of gang and domestic violence." The policy instructs officials to consider whether the seeker showed any "ulterior motives" while applying for asylum in the U.S. While not referenced in the order, many conservatives view a specific ulterior motive as an objection to liberal immigration policy: immigrants vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.
Some conservatives contend that opening the door to more people will lead to more Democratic policies and lawmakers over time as some immigrants will eventually earn the right to vote. As a result, they worry our constitutional liberties as Americans may suffer. Americans who truly believe in individual rights understand that when it comes to immigration, freedom takes precedence over this objection.
Noted immigration restrictionist Jason Richwine presented this opposing viewpoint in an article for National Review:
One need not be a partisan or a cynic to believe that the term "undocumented Democrat" is not merely a conservative epithet but in fact exactly the way Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders look on illegal immigrants in the U.S. today.
Later in the same article, Richwine called it a "suicide pact" to let in more potential Democrats. Fox News host Tucker Carlson spoke to a similar fear by arguing that immigration freedom is a way for Democrats to "obtain power and hold it forever." For some conservatives, preserving political power is reason enough to support barriers at the border.
However, this position doesn't reflect conservative principles or values — it's an argument explicitly about influence. Those who argue against immigration on these grounds ignore the important moral questions surrounding immigration restrictions, such as whether there is a fundamental human right of movement or whether national security or freedom should be a priority. For them, if fewer immigrants might prevent Democrats from winning elections, that's enough to make it a conservative policy.
The way in which an immigrant exercises their right to vote after earning it should not have an effect on their ability to enter this country.
Yet this argument merits a response. It's true immigrants are more likely to support Democrats. And Democratic policies often undermine conservative values: limited government, strict constitutionalism and individual rights. But freedom of movement between countries with minimal limits is a fundamental right which takes precedence over Republicans winning elections. The way in which an immigrant exercises their right to vote after earning it should not have an effect on their ability to enter this country.
One of the complaints directed at King George in the Declaration of Independence was that he was "obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners" in the colonies. Americans were upset that the British government was overriding state policies allowing relatively free immigration. This was because our Founding Fathers viewed freedom of movement not only as a boon to the colonial economy, but an individual, God-given right. Thomas Jefferson wrote that "nature has given to all men" a right "of departing from the country in which chance, not choice has placed them."
As Cato scholar Alex Nowrasteh pointed out, fresh off the ratification of the Constitution, the very first Congress passed an immigration law that set only nominal requirements for naturalization. The bill did not regulate immigration at all. It was not for several generations that the federal government began to place serious restrictions on who was allowed to enter. Even Richwine in National Review conceded that immigration freedom is "a persuasive argument for those who believe that foreigners have a fundamental right to immigrate to the United States." It sure seems like the drafters of our Constitution were persuaded by the idea that foreigners have a fundamental right to immigrate insofar as it was a part of their natural liberty, regardless of how they voted.
Freedom of movement is not only an individual right, but also an exercise of political rights. Law professor Ilya Somin has helped develop the idea of "voting with your feet." By moving to the United States from an authoritarian nation, you are exercising your right of choosing what kind of government you want to live under. All individuals are created with that right — even those who may end up supporting Democratic policies.
Freedom of movement is not only an individual right, but also an exercise of political rights.
It's a far cry from what President Reagan saw when he outlined America as a "shining city on a hill" whose walls should be "open to anyone" with the "heart" to arrive. Assuming you are not violating the rights of others, rights are not contingent on what you choose to do with them. This principle applies to immigration freedom in the same way that it applies to free speech. If someone calls for censorship of an idea they don't like, we should react with counter arguments — not with shutting down their right to express that idea.
While there are certainly legitimate conversations to be had on the limits of immigration, by denying immigrants the freedom to move to the U.S. for not embracing conservatism, conservatives will only dissuade newcomers from believing conservative ideas have merit. Take the advice of the Founding Fathers — putting a political litmus test on immigration is downright un-American.