The Zero Aggression Principle and Immigration

January 7, 2022
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Imagine two neighbors living side by side on the Mexican border, with two different views about immigration. What should happen? 

By Perry Willis


The Zero Aggression Principle: Don’t aggress against others, personally or politically.

How does this principle apply to borders and immigration? Let’s find out…

Imagine that you own property on the Mexican border. One day your next-door neighbor tells you he wants to start hosting refugee families. He has humanitarian concerns and wants to take personal action. How should you react?

You have concerns

You worry that some of the refugees will be bad people. They may steal from you or throw garbage on your land. Should you try to prevent this by initiating personal aggression against your neighbors and the refugees? Should you violently drive them away or hold them in cages so that you can control them? Of course not! That would be trespassing, assault, and kidnapping! You would be violating your neighbor’s property boundaries if you did that!

Should you instead delegate those aggressive actions to others, so you don’t have to do the dirty work? To be specific, should you call ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)? This would be political, or state-mediated aggression. You could try to persuade yourself that it’s okay to do that because the immigrants crossed a political border to enter your neighbor’s property. But this only highlights for you that political borders and property boundaries really are two different things. Is the political border really more important than your neighbor’s property rights?

You try to think about this in human terms. If you call ICE they will come and violate your neighbor’s property rights, and his free association rights too! They will arrest him and deport the refugees. That will solve your concerns about the refugees, but it will also ruin your relationship with your neighbor. Is that really what you want?


You imagine how it would feel to be your neighbor facing fines and arrest.

You also imagine how the refugees would feel. What if your own family was in need, but law enforcement officers kept interfering with your attempts to help them?


You ponder key American ideals. Do human beings have inalienable rights?

If so, then those rights come before the creation of any earthly government, political border, or immigration statute.

Don’t people have a right to move freely through public spaces regardless of where they were born?

And what about your neighbor? Doesn’t he have a right to use his land as he sees fit, so long as he’s peaceful? And doesn’t he have a right to associate with whomever he wants? Must he seek your permission to have guests on his property? Should you need his permission to have people visit you? Shouldn’t your neighbor and his guests be presumed innocent until they do something that actually harms someone?

If two people live side-by-side on a border, and one wants immigrants on his property and the other does not, aren’t they both within their rights to use their property as they see fit?

Shouldn’t you and your neighbor respect each other rather than impose things on each other?

U.S. History

You also think about the subject in constitutional and historical terms.

The Constitution grants Congress the power to control who becomes a citizen (naturalization), but there’s no enumerated power to control who can work, visit, or reside here (immigration).

This explains why the U.S. had no immigration laws until 1882. And Ellis Island didn’t open until ten years later. The first immigration dictates came during a time when Congress began to ignore many constitutional limitations. And there can be no doubt that the first immigration laws were prompted by anti-Chinese racism, followed by prejudice against southern and eastern Europeans.


Reporting your neighbor to ICE seems wrong to you, both morally and constitutionally. It will also make everyone less happy – your neighbor will be less happy, the refugees will be less happy, and you will be less happy as your neighbor views you with suspicion. (Something called the Principle of Human Respect actually predicts this outcome).

Economic concerns

But what about the economic problems? Will the refugees get tax-funded support?

Your neighbor aims to provide the assistance himself, until the refugees can find work. But won’t that cost American jobs? You quickly realize that every refugee who works will also become a consumer, thereby creating jobs for others.

Even if the refugees work for less pay, that means American consumers will live better at less cost. They’ll have more money to spend in other directions. That will create new jobs.

Plus, the moment the refugees start earning money, they start paying taxes. Many refugees and undocumented immigrants use false identities to pay tax withholding, including Social Security taxes. But this means they’ll receive no future Social Security benefits. This happens right now; “illegal” immigrants help keep Social Security and Medicare solvent. And even those who work “under the table” still pay gasoline taxes to fund the roads they drive on, sales taxes when they buy something, and property taxes through their rent. They may actually be among the most heavily taxed workers in the American economy.

The only problem you can see is that politicians like to give them tax-funded benefits that could discourage work. But does that mean you should call ICE to report your neighbor, or would it make more sense to call your congressional representative to complain about the tax-funded benefits? ICE can’t remove the tax-funded benefits, but Congress could. It seems like a no-brainer to call your reps instead.

The refugee camp next door

So what’s it like to live next door to refugees?

You look out your window and you see four large tents – one tent per family. It used to be that when a family left your neighbor’s care, and headed North for work, or to join other family members who migrated earlier, your neighbor would scour the nearby Mexican desert for a replacement family in need. But word soon spread. Refugees started coming to him directly. He can only take a few at a time, but he lets the others pass through his property on their way North.

The constant flow makes you nervous, but you suspend judgment. Instead, you make an effort to meet these people. They seem nice. You would feel bad doing anything to harm them. You’re glad you haven’t called ICE, so far, but can that continue?

Something bad happens

Every American has horror stories about bad neighbors — people who were too loud, too dirty, too criminal, or all three. And what can happen with American neighbors can also happen with refugee neighbors. Eventually, with a constant flow of new people through the property next door, something bad is bound to happen, and it does. Your house is burglarized. Was it the refugees, or one of your rural neighbors?

It’s natural to suspect the newcomers and probably correct. You’ve known your other neighbors for years. This is your first home invasion. So you walk next door to tell your refugee-hosting neighbor what happened. He greets the news with chagrin. He promises to help compensate for your losses. You thank him, but tell him your true concern is that other people will be victimized. You want to prevent that. The two of you discuss potential solutions.

Calling the police would harm both the guilty and the innocent. Everyone would be deported. Your neighbor would be arrested. If free human movement was legal you wouldn’t have to worry about that. The police would focus on discovering and arresting the guilty party. They would leave the other refugees alone. The refugees might even help the police solve the case, because they wouldn’t have to fear deportation. But as it stands now the refugees have an incentive to keep quiet, or perhaps melt away into the surrounding territory to avoid police scrutiny. That would harm everyone involved but still leave the burglar free to victimize more people.

You suggest a different approach. Let the refugees do the enforcement. They need to identify the culprit and retrieve your stolen goods. If they do that, and no more burglaries occur, then the matter will be forgotten. Otherwise, everyone will be evicted. Your suggested approach might leave the culprit unpunished, except perhaps by his refugee companions, but it’s the procedure that seems to achieve the most benefits and the least harm.

This is what mutual human respect looks like

You respect the peaceful pursuit of happiness by other people, and they return the same respect to you. You don’t impose your preferences using either politics or the police. Even where there are damages or injuries, you look to make things whole again rather than seeking revenge and punishment. Such a Philosophy of Human Respect enhances happiness for everyone. This is what a society based on the Zero Aggression Principle would look like. By contrast…

This is what disrespect looks like

You come home one day to see your neighbor’s property swarming with heavily armed ICE agents. The agents are herding the families into vans. The children are crying. Agents are tearing down the tents. This is what aggression looks like.

You spot your neighbor and approach him. He tells you that someone reported him. He knows it wasn’t you. Another neighbor, who opposes undocumented immigrants, warned him that he’d call ICE. While your neighbor is telling you this, an ICE agent approaches him and cuffs him. He will face federal charges.

Everywhere you look you see fear and unhappiness. This is what aggression feels like. What will be gained from this? It will cost the taxpayers money. It may ruin your neighbor’s life. The refugees will be imprisoned and then deported. Children may be separated from their parents. Who does any of that benefit? You can see no benefit. But clearly, the person who called ICE felt differently. Why?

Why is immigration considered an important issue?

Millions have come to our country over the past two centuries, both legally and illegally, yet America has only grown more prosperous! So why is immigration a front-burner issue? Why do so many people care about it so much?

To be sure, demagogues have always told us to fear immigrants. They said the Chinese were an insidious presence. They said the Irish and Italians were criminals. They said Jews were greedy and manipulative. But we now view those claims as insane or evil. Should we really expect current concerns about Mexicans and South Americans to turn out differently?

Can we really learn nothing from our sad history of fearing immigrants? Are we doomed to repeat past errors?

Perhaps you’ve heard from people who claim it’s only illegal immigrants they reject, not legal ones. But this begs the question as to why any form of immigration should be illegal? And why should any American be prohibited from associating with foreign visitors?

A litany of excuses

The anti-immigration people will say immigration must be limited because of crime, disease, drugs, sex trafficking, over-population, tax-funded welfare, overcrowded emergency rooms, or because new arrivals will vote for the wrong political party. But none of these reasons stand up to scrutiny.

Immigrants commit fewer crimes than natives.

Immigrants have no more ability to transmit diseases than do the millions of tourists who come here each year. But immigrants help our economy more than tourists do.

Drug prohibition should be ended. It doesn’t work any better than alcohol prohibition did. It should not be used as an excuse to enact “people prohibition,” which tramples on human happiness and prosperity by restricting movement and association.

Sex trafficking is mostly a myth. If it was a real problem we would see lots of trials making big headlines, but that doesn’t happen because actual sex trafficking is rare. It makes no sense to kidnap people to do sex work when they can escape so easily, the penalties are so high, and, most importantly, willing sex workers are readily available.

Over-population is a non-problem. You could fit the entire population of the world in just the state of Texas, at a population density equal to New York City, leaving the rest of the country empty. If anything, we Americans need a bigger population to compete with China, and more young people to keep Social Security and Medicare afloat (or even to gradually reform it).

If you want to deny immigrants access to tax-funded welfare programs, DO THAT! Tell your representatives to restrict such programs to citizens. That’s a lot easier to achieve than preventing people from coming here. It’s also more moral.

The same goes for voting. If you worry that immigrants will vote for the wrong party, then work to pass a law that will delay full citizenship. The Constitution’s naturalization clause provides authority to do this. There is, however, no constitutional authority for restrictive immigration laws. Read the Constitution yourself, if you don’t believe it, but make sure you keep the distinction between immigration and naturalization clear in your mind. Remember, the Constitution controls naturalization, but not immigration.

You could solve the emergency room problem by allowing hospitals to set their own admittance policies. Without legally mandated emergency room admittance immigrants would be more likely to buy health insurance. They would also have more money to do that if they didn’t have to pay huge sums for “coyotes” to smuggle them into the country.

But please notice, neither the media nor the politicians are promoting any of these superior Zero Aggression policies. Why? The answer is simple…

You are being manipulated.

Immigration is NOT an important issue. Many issues that receive zero attention are vastly more important.

Pending national insolvency is a prime example. But the aggressive political Conflict Machine (the political-industrial complex) doesn’t pay much attention to that issue. Perhaps that’s because the politicians haven’t figured out how to use the coming insolvency to manipulate and exploit you. And the media can’t use it to foment fear and drama to attract an audience. Scare-mongering about immigrants works much better for those purposes.

The Republicans can tell you to fear immigrants in general, and to resent illegal immigrants in particular. The Democrats can then manipulate their followers by telling them something they want to hear – that Republicans are bigots. The Republicans then get angry about that because they aren’t bigots (mostly), and we’re off to the races. We have a conflict – two sides pitted against each other in mutual hatred, over an issue that has little importance, and that can never really be solved by a wall or any other political means, given that most illegals get here by overstaying legal visas.

The immigration issue is tailor-made for the Conflict Machine. It’s a gift that will keep on giving year after year. The politicians can keep their constituents distracted while they proceed to fleece them. And the media can keep people tuned into the conflict.

But what do you get from this conflict? You get stress and resentment toward fellow human beings.

You also lose power and money to the permanent political class while more important problems are neglected.

Of course, human flourishing and happiness diminish.

How can you avoid this manipulation?

We recommend you exit the Conflict Machine.

Turn off TV news and talk radio. Put down the newspaper. Abandon the circular firing squad known as the Democrats and Republicans. Become a party of one. Focus on yourself. How can you improve yourself and your relationships? Adopt the Zero Aggression Principle and spread it to others. Learn how to live by the Philosophy of Human Respect. Change the culture by changing yourself.

Recognize that there is an inalienable right for all humans to move freely through public spaces, and for any American to associate with any foreigner in any way, even if some other Americans disapprove. Recognize that political borders are not the same as property boundaries, and that confusing the two actually violates property rights.

Above all, be a good neighbor. Don’t use politics and The State to impose your personal preferences on peaceful people against their will.







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