Jacob G. Hornberger – August 11, 2022
I grew up on a farm a few miles outside Laredo, Texas, which is located on the U.S.-Mexico border. Our farm was situated on the Rio Grande, so we irrigated our fields from water taken from the river. When we would drive down to the river to fix our irrigation pump, we could see Mexico and would oftentimes wave at people on the Mexican side.
The Border Patrol had the legal authority to trespass onto our farm whenever it wanted. No search warrant was required. They could drive their vehicles all over our farm, and there was nothing we could do to stop them. They never demanded to search our house, but they could have if they had wanted to. If we put a lock on our gate and did not give them a key, they would shoot off the lock and then enter our property.
A few months ago, I returned to Laredo and, along with relatives and friends, visited the place where our farm had been located. Today, it is a fully developed residential area. We drove to the river. The lower pasture is now a park owned and operated by the city. When we arrived, we saw two Border Patrol vans with agents eyeing the Rio Grande, undoubtedly looking for immigrants crossing the river and illegally entering the United States.
There is something important to note about these types of Border Patrol trespasses and warrantless searches: They take place not only on farms and ranches along the Rio Grande but are also conducted on farms and ranches miles away from the border. The federal courts sustain their constitutionality by saying that these faraway farms and ranches are the “functional equivalent of the border.”
Everyone in South Texas familiar with ranch culture knows that there is an unwritten rule that one should always leave gates to pastures the way he found them. That is, if a gate is open, you leave it open. If it’s closed, you leave it closed. When I was in high school, I often heard of instances in which the Border Patrol would enter onto ranches and violate that unwritten rule, usually by leaving gates open that had been closed. Ranchers would complain, but usually the Border Patrol would arrogantly ignore them. There was nothing the ranchers could do about it.
Domestic immigration checkpoints
One Friday afternoon when I was in high school, I was headed to Port Aransas, Texas, to spend a weekend at the beach with friends. A Border Patrol vehicle came up behind me and turned on his flashing lights. I pulled over. The Border Patrol agent got out of his vehicle, came to my vehicle, and ordered me to exit my car and open my trunk. I objected, informing him that he had no authority to issue such an order. He exclaimed: “Don’t you know about the drug problem here along the border?” I replied, “Well, that confirms that you have no authority to search my vehicle.” He responded, “Well, I’m not going to be searching your car for drugs. I’m looking to see if you’re carrying an illegal alien, but if I happen to find drugs….” Convinced that I was illegally transporting drugs or illegal immigrants, he concluded, “You can open the trunk here or follow me back to Border Patrol headquarters and open it up there. Either way, your trunk is going to be opened.” I opened the trunk. He found nothing and permitted me to go on my way.
These are what are called “roving Border Patrol checkpoints.” Technically, they’re not legal, but the federal courts have carved out so many exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches when it comes to vehicles near the border that for all practical purposes, they have become legal. Moreover, every Border Patrol agent knows that even if he stops someone without “probable cause” or even “reasonable suspicion,” nothing bad is going to happen to that agent.
On the way back from Laredo on my recent trip, we headed north on IH35. About 40 miles north of Laredo, one comes over the crest of a hill and encounters a surreal sight, one that makes you momentarily think that you’re in Mexico and approaching the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s a huge, permanent immigration inspection station, where drivers are required to stop and be subjected, at the discretion of immigration officials, to a full-scale search of one’s person and vehicle. Most of the time, they simply ask if you’re an American citizen. If you refuse to answer, they will direct you to a side station, where agents will surround your vehicle. If you still refuse to answer, they will put you under arrest. If you refuse to exit your vehicle, they will forcibly remove you. They might even beat you up, as they did a pastor in Arizona.
If the driver and his passengers are able to speak English well, and if they are in a nice, late-model car, and if they show proper deference to the immigration officials, the driver will be waved through the checkpoint. But if the driver or any of the passengers appear poor or unable to speak English well, they had better have a driver’s license or a passport with them. When we were growing up, we had a nanny living with us who never learned English. She was an American citizen but never learned to drive. When she would travel to San Antonio or Dallas via bus to visit my siblings, she would always have to carry her passport with her. If she failed to do so, immigration officials at the highway checkpoint would not permit her to continue her journey. If she were traveling by plane, she would not be permitted to board the plane without her passport.
When I was in high school, that immigration checkpoint was only temporary and periodic. Sometimes, a couple of Border Patrol vehicles would park on the side of the highway and set up cones in order to direct traffic to the side of the highway to be stopped and inspected. I’d estimate that the checkpoint was there about two or three days a week. Thus, when transporters would take illegal immigrants north, they would have a spotter vehicle go first. If the checkpoint wasn’t set up that day, the spotter would radio back to the transporting vehicle that the way was clear. I can only assume that that’s why they ultimately made the checkpoint permanent.
There are also immigration checkpoints on highways running east-west in the American Southwest. Just like the checkpoint north of Laredo, people are required to stop and be searched. Many years ago, that’s how they caught country-music singer Willie Nelson with drugs.
There is something important to note about all this: People are subjected to searches at these highway checkpoints without ever having entered Mexico. In Laredo, which, of course, was once part of Mexico, a large percentage of the populace, like our nanny, still cannot speak English. They cannot travel to other parts of the United States without carrying their passport.
An immigration police state
This is what an immigration police state is all about. Many years ago, I traveled to Cuba, which most everyone would acknowledge is a police state. They have these types of highway checkpoints in Cuba. If someone is unable to show proper identification, he is taken into custody and incarcerated.
This kind of police state is also part and parcel of America’s system of immigration controls. Thus, when one advocates or endorses a system of immigration controls, he simultaneously advocates or endorses an immigration police state. Claiming that one supports a system of immigration controls while, at the same time, opposing an immigration police state is like supporting lightning but opposing thunder.
The war on drugs
America’s immigration police state is aggravated by the federal war on drugs. When I was in high school, Laredo was inundated with DEA agents, including undercover ones. With the war on drugs and the war on illegal immigration, people along the border truly live in a federal police state.
After I got my law degree, I moved back to Laredo to practice law. One evening, I was in a local bar having a beer. A guy struck up a friendly conversation with me. During the course of the conversation, I asked him what kind of work he did. He answered that he was a salesman. I innocently asked him what he sold. He smiled at me and responded, “Just a salesman.”
Several months later, I happened to be in federal court on a case. Lo and behold, I saw that guy testifying in a hearing. It turned out that he was an undercover federal narc. If I had purchased some marijuana from this “salesman,” I would have been busted, sent to prison, and lost my law license. That’s what it’s like to live in a police state.
When I was in high school, one of my classmates went into Nuevo Laredo and purchased an ounce of marijuana. As he crossed the international bridge back into Laredo, he dropped his package of grass into the high weeds below the bridge on the U.S. side of the river. When he returned that night to retrieve it, federal agents were waiting for him. They busted him. He got hit with a federal felony conviction at 18 years of age. He wasn’t the only one. I also had another friend who got busted on a federal felony marijuana charge and sent away to a federal penitentiary. Another friend had a nationwide marijuana business. When they couldn’t catch him, they sent the IRS after him. Knowing he couldn’t beat the income-tax charge, my friend ended up committing suicide. He was about 23 years old.
The futility of immigration controls and drug laws
That was about 50 years ago. There is something else worth noting about all this immigration-war and drug-war nonsense: It’s still going on. Nothing has changed at all, except the identities of the enforcers and the victims. Despite all the people they have put into jail and whose lives have been ruined by felony drug charges, the drug war has never been won. In fact, there are more illegal drugs than ever being brought into the United States.
It’s no different with immigration. No matter how many immigration busts they have made over the years, and no matter how many police-state measures they have enacted, nothing has changed except the identities of the enforcers and the victims. They continue to enforce their immigration police state along the border, notwithstanding the fact that all it does is mean more immigration busts and expanded budgets for the immigration police-state enforcers.
When I was growing up, it wasn’t illegal for American employers to hire illegal immigrants. American employers loved hiring them because they worked so hard. We hired illegal immigrants on our farm, and they were the hardest working people I’ve ever seen.
Then someone got the bright idea that if they made it illegal to hire illegal immigrants, the immigrants would no longer illegally come to the United States. The law accomplished nothing, except convert countless American employers into felons. When it became apparent that the new law had done nothing to resolve America’s immigration “crisis,” the law prohibiting the hiring of illegal immigrants wasn’t repealed. It became part and parcel of the immigrant police state.
It’s been the same with the drug war. At some point, federal officials acquired the power to seize large amounts of cash from vehicles traveling down the highway. They didn’t have to charge the owner of the money with any criminal offense. They needed no probable cause or reasonable suspicion that the cash was acquired through illegal drug sales. They could now just seize the money and use it for their own purposes. Once it became apparent that this asset-forfeiture law did not result in winning the drug war, it was not repealed. It remained on the books as part and parcel of America’s decades-old, never-ending war on drugs.
Crisis, chaos, and death
Ever since I was a kid, there has been an immigration crisis. There is a good reason for that. America’s immigration system is a socialist system because it is based on the socialist principle of central planning. Federal officials plan, in a top-down, command-and-control manner, the movements into the United States of millions of people. They determine the qualifications of immigrants and how many should be allocated to each country. They also look at job requirements and employment needs in the United States.
There is a big problem with this type of socialist central planning: It cannot succeed. That’s because socialism is an inherently defective economic system. No one can ever make it succeed. No matter how brilliant the immigration planners might be, they simply are unable to come up with an immigration plan that will not result in crisis and chaos. That’s because it is impossible for the central planner to come up with the right number of immigrants, the right qualifications of immigrants, and the needs of American employers. It just cannot be done. Socialist central planning is characterized by what Friedrich Hayek called “the fatal conceit” — the conceit of the central planner, who honestly thinks that he has the requisite wisdom and insight to plan something as complex as a labor market involving millions of people in constantly changing conditions and circumstances. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that America’s immigration-control system has produced a never-ending, perpetual environment of crisis and chaos. The term that Ludwig von Mises used — “planned chaos” — perfectly describes the immigration system in American for the past 75 years.
I always laugh when I read someone in the mainstream press say that Congress needs to enact “comprehensive immigration reform.” Don’t you just love that phrase? The big problem, of course, is that there is no immigration reform that will ever end America’s immigration crisis. That’s because the crisis is rooted in America’s system of immigration controls. No matter what reform is adopted and no matter how “comprehensive” it is, the crisis and the chaos will continue.
Of course, it’s no different with the drug war. Decades of violence, corruption, crisis, and chaos, with no end in sight. That’s what happens when government attempts to control and regulate peaceful behavior. Recall Prohibition.
There is something else that is extremely important to note about America’s system of immigration controls and its war on drugs: death. Both systems are notorious for bringing about the deaths of innocent people — lots of innocent people.
Just a few months ago, a Texas National Guardsman drowned in the Rio Grande trying to save a migrant woman who was trying to illegally enter the United States. A few years ago, a Mexican father and his young toddler daughter drowned in the same way.
Americans have become accustomed to the deaths of innocent people arising from the drug war. But the number of drug-war deaths arising in the United States pales in comparison to Mexico, where tens of thousands of people have been killed because of the drug war.
Only one solution
There is but one solution to all this death, suffering, crisis, chaos, and mayhem. Let me repeat that for emphasis: only one solution! That solution is liberty, free markets, and limited government. I repeat: There is no other solution. For anyone who wants peace, prosperity, life, and harmony, necessary prerequisites are open borders and drug legalization. There is no other way. There is no “comprehensive immigration reform” that will work. There is also no drug-war “reform” that will work. The only thing that will work is open borders and drug legalization.
Think about the domestic United States. Think about how people are free to cross state borders, in both directions. There are no immigration-control agents at state borders. There is nobody keeping count of people who are crossing from state to state. No one is checking IDs or health certificates. Anyone — including murderers, rapists, terrorists, people with COVID-19, thieves, or simply people wanting to sell or buy goods, open businesses, or seeking employment — is free to cross state borders without control or restriction. No one asks where people are from or what their citizenship is. No one cares.
That is the solution to America’s never-ending, perpetual immigration crisis — the application of America’s system of domestic open borders to America’s international borders. No more deaths. No more immigration police state. Simply the free movements of people back and forth, just like across the domestic state borders.
Moreover, the total legalization of drugs — all drugs — is the only — repeat only — solution to America’s decades-long, never-ending drug-war crisis. Drug-war reform will simply not cut it. Any reform solution will continue to produce death, suffering, crisis, mayhem, and chaos.
Adhering to principles
One of the popular objections that both conservatives and conservative-oriented libertarians present in opposition to the libertarian case for open borders is that immigrants will come to the United States to get on welfare. In my entire life, I have never met one immigrant, legal or illegal, who has come to the United States to get on welfare. They have all — without exception — come here to work — to make money — to get rich.
But let’s assume that with a system of open borders 5 percent come to get on welfare. What conservatives and conservative-oriented libertarians are saying is that those welfare recipients will cause taxes to go up. Conservatives and conservative-oriented libertarians do not want to pay higher taxes to fund that additional welfare. Therefore, they support America’s socialist system of immigration controls and the immigration police state that comes with it.
However, where is the justice of preventing the 95 percent of people who want to work from freely coming to the United States just because 5 percent might go on welfare? Is it really fair to destroy their fundamental, natural, God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because some others might go on welfare? Moreover, it’s not at all clear that the 5 percent going on welfare will result in higher taxes, given that the economic prosperity brought by the other 95 percent might far outweigh the higher taxes from those coming to get on welfare.
Most important, why should we libertarians abandon our principles simply because adhering to them might result in the payment of higher taxes? If we abandon our principles for the sake of expediency, then how are we different from conservatives and liberals (i.e., progressives) who do that all the time? I say: Let us libertarians continue to adhere to principle and continue to focus on ending welfare for everyone, including Americans.
After all, it’s a virtual certainty that when drugs are legalized, some drug addicts will use Medicaid to seek treatment. Should we libertarians endorse the drug war until Medicaid is abolished? Perish the thought! That would bring a speedy end to our movement. We must continue to adhere to principle by advocating the complete legalization of all drugs and focus on ending Medicaid and all other welfare programs (including Social Security, Medicare, public schooling, school vouchers, farm subsidies, etc.)
Today, the world is mired in violence, death, suffering, crisis, and chaos. Libertarianism is the only way out of this morass. The world needs leadership, and the American people have the opportunity to do it. A great place to start is through the libertarian concepts of open borders and drug legalization.
Originally published at FFF.org. Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch.