Do Immigrants Have a Human Right to Enter the US? How About Your Home?

By Dennis Teti Published on July 16, 2018

Mankind has been arguing about the migration of peoples from one society into another from the beginning of recorded time. There are lots of arguments pro and con:

  • Freedom to abandon vs. duty to be loyal.
  • Generosity to aliens vs. job stealing.
  • Autarchy vs. interdependence.
  • Compassion vs. welfare increases.
  • Extending freedom here vs. reforming your own government.

All legitimate debating points.

A Human Right?

One claim, though, isn’t legitimate: a pretended human right to immigrate. It doesn’t exist in theory or in practice.

Human history tells of thousands of societies. Not one opened its borders to foreigners asserting a “human right” to enter. The Roman Empire let in thousands of foreigners (calling them “invaders”). Caesar didn’t proclaim a “right to immigrate.” His legions had lost the power to stop them. No serious political thinker or historian has ever discovered a human right to immigrate. Not till muddleheadedness replaced thought in the 20th century.

No one has a “human right” to enter your house uninvited.

Even the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights failed to find a right to enter a foreign country. The Declaration confirms what thinkers and statesmen have always said. A person has the human right to emigrate from his country and to travel “within the borders” [Art. 14]. People sometimes use the weasel word “migrate” to cover up this critical distinction. But “immigration” and “emigration” are opposites.

The Right to Leave, Not to Enter

President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev once had a revealing conversation about this. Reagan said anyone can leave the U.S., and few nations restrict that right. Gorbachev replied that all countries have laws regarding immigration and emigration. It was undemocratic, he charged, for the U.S. to guard its Mexican border with fences and guns. Reagan countered that the situation was reversed along the Soviet border. Too many people want to immigrate into the U.S. We can’t absorb them all. Many Russians want to emigrate from the Soviet Union. You won’t let them leave. Gorby changed the subject.

Everyone knows that homeowners have the right to decide who may come into their (private) homes. In other words, no one has a “human right” to enter your house uninvited. Nor appeal to a police officer or a judge to let you in. Nor to consume or destroy your property — even if he pays you back with interest. An uninvited stranger who breaks and lives in your home violates justice, the natural law. If the owner asks the stranger in, it’s only because she judges it’s in the interest of her household.

The owner might deny entry fearing the stranger will harm her kids or assault her sick mother. Or the owner might let him in to model charity, or admire the stranger’s physical features or ideas, his skin color or religious beliefs. The stranger can’t claim a right. He can only ask. There’s only one human right in play: the owner’s right to close or open her door.

The Right to Rule Ourselves

Society is a household writ large. Its owner is the body of citizens represented by their “sovereign” government — the persons who pass and enforce the laws the people desire to govern their society. These citizens have a conclusive right to rule themselves. They have no human right to rule others beyond their nation’s boundaries. The people next door do that for themselves. If anyone really has a human right to enter another country’s borders without permission, thousands must have that same right — wearing uniforms, carrying weapons and imposing their laws on that society. Young Congressman Abe Lincoln denounced the U.S. invasion of Mexico for acting like this. For speaking out, he lost his seat in Congress.

If there’s really a “human right” to immigrate, no society can have borders. Nations and their governments must be abolished.

Every society’s policies are supposed to promote its own common good. If a community thinks it needs immigrants, it invites them in. To people its empty land … make up for falling national birth rates … stimulate its economy … bolster its ethnic and religious heritage … strengthen its national character … or any other reason. We did this from the early days until well after the Western frontier closed.

An Example, Not a Magnet

Such policies may be wise or foolish. In either case, each society has the exclusive right to decide what’s best. Denying admittance does no injustice to foreigners. Society fulfills its duty to every human being outside its boundaries by leaving him alone. A good society benefits non-citizens more by modeling self-government for them to imitate. (See Pope St. John XXIII’s tacit recommendation of the American constitutional form in Pacem in Terris, 68.)

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Recent popes have asserted a supposed human right to “immigrate,” none more so than Francis. Yet he has admitted that societies have a supervening duty to limit immigration or even close its borders. If refugees and migrants cannot “find schools, homes, employment, and learn the language,” immigrants end up in “ghettoes.” This harms them since they can’t be integrated into society. “Prudence has to make this calculation,” the Pope said (see his first answer).

Think about these concerns expressed by Pope Francis. By definition, all human rights are indefeasible. Governments cannot morally deny them to anyone who uses them innocently. Which means if there’s really a “human right” to immigrate, no society can have borders. Nations and their governments must be abolished. Only one government can rightfully exist. It would be a global empire. Good luck getting the world emperor to guarantee your human rights.

Loose talk of a “human right to immigrate” is no way to think about what’s best for any person, foreign or domestic.

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