There is a wide range of people associated with what is broadly called "The Right" nowadays, especially given the political wreckage of the last presidential election. There are Compassionate Conservatives, the Religious Right (often the same thing), libertarians, mere fiscal conservatives with no firm principles of liberty, Objectivists like me, and others.
The Tea Party movement, often derided by the left, which chooses only to show protest signs with poor spelling and protestors shouting racial slurs, is a similarly broad coalition with little cohesion other than a general appeal to limited government and freedom. Republicans are jockeying to gain support of tea partiers, while others like Objectivists are trying to spread principled notions of freedom, to counteract the unprincipled semi-fog that now pervades this well-intentioned movement.
One thing that seems to sort out those who have a principled approach to freedom and apply it consistently, is the issue of Arizona's recent immigration law.
On the face of it, this law may seem like an appeal to law and order, and to some extent it is. The StandWithArizona.org web site plays into this theme and has an imposing law enforcement officer on its home page, indicating a tough and unflinching stance. It suggests that if we oppose their plans, we are weak and put Arizona and the United States at risk.
Yet this appeal is an illusion. What if federal law said we had to execute every left-handed person? Would it then be a patriotic defense of law and order to support it?
What about security?
Advocates of tight borders talk about violent criminals and drug dealers. I would claim that those things have more to do with the utterly disastrous "war on drugs" than anything else. Nations always have the right to keep out those who are dangerous, but in this case, it is the nations that are creating the violent drug lords, by outlawing the sale and use of drugs. Check the history of Prohibition and the salutary effect it had on the careers of gangsters like Al Capone. If it's border violence you are worried about, then fight the drug laws.
Are illegals taking our tax money in the form of welfare? Public schools? Housing? Food stamps? If so, then end those programs, since they are wrong anyway.
Are illegals "taking" our jobs? Well, what of it? If they are willing to do the same job for less than Americans, they should get the job. This situation also shows the absurdity of wage laws and the fact that no matter how much Congress tries to legislate low labor prices out of existence, something always flows in to restore balance. Just because we have outlawed cheap labor does not mean it isn't useful and needed. Employers should be allowed to pay any wage someone will accept, and do it on American soil. To prevent it violates the rights of both employer and employee.
Being "tough" on immigration has a certain superficial appeal. However, I claim that to support bad and restrictive immigration laws, simply because they are laws and are seen as a limited solution to certain state problems (such as crime caused by drug trafficking), is a very short-sighted and misguided position.
Further, I claim that this results from not applying the principle of individual rights consistently, and being distracted by lesser issues at the cost of a real solution.
I think this is where the weakness of the conservative position (I'm not a conservative, I'm a laissez-faire capitalist) comes through clearly, precisely because the issue of immigration is colored by all sorts of inflammatory side issues such as race, law enforcement, drugs and so on. Only a principled approach will allow us to identify the correct solution to this complex issue, and the mixed bag of standard conservatism is simply unable to deal with this issue effectively.
For this reason, the Arizona law, as well as the complex issue of immigration in general, can be seen as a litmus test for principled support of individual rights.
Conservatism is typically a strange brew of Christianity, limited government, fiscal conservatism, welfare statism and corporate welfare. The religious element does not like so-called "vices", and so it cannot support legalizing drugs. The "compassionate conservative" element cannot relinquish social programs, even if it pays for them with vouchers. The fiscal conservative element clashes with compassionate conservatives' desire to be seen as their brother's keeper, and so conservatives keep voting for increases in government power in spite of claiming to generally support free markets. It is a mix that cannot arrive at a consistent solution, and I claim this conflicted nature is one reason why Republicans have been losing elections recently in spite of the fact that some of their platform points are correct and practically superior to the dismal progressive platform.
With regard to the immigration issue specifically, this means that conservatives must accept drug violence (because drugs are morally wrong), they cannot do away with the welfare programs that attract freeloaders, they cannot support free enterprise because they want to penalize employers hiring illegals, and they cannot support freedom with regard to immigration because they place law and order over the rights of peaceful individuals to travel freely. It's a complex catch-22 that has no solution, and is sending conservatives and some tea partiers down the wrong path.
If you are an advocate of freedom looking for the answers, there is one article that is very clear in its explanation of the proper stance on immigration for those who support freedom, and that is Immigration and Individual Rights at the Objective Standard. I was distressed to discover that the Tea Party Patriots support the Stand with Arizona initiative, and I hope that anyone involved in the Tea Party movement who supports freedom and limited government will read this article*.
I can understand if someone who advocates freedom currently thinks the Arizona law is a good thing; the issue is complicated, and we hear very little principled discussion of politics these days. We all make mistakes. But that's precisely what such articles are for: to expand our knowledge and hone our proper application of values and principles. I hope that tea partiers will seriously consider this essay and, if necessary, reshape their position on immigration.
Without principled and consistent positions, the Tea Party movement is in danger of being co-opted by those who do not understand freedom, but simply oppose something, and a vague something at that. America needs more; we need movements that truly stand for freedom, by defending individual rights.
*Note: I have seen a criticism of this article saying it advocates absolutely unlimited admittance into the country. That is incorrect; open immigration does not mean national suicide. Anyone who is an objective security threat is a candidate to be barred entry to the country. Exactly who that is remains to be determined based on the objective security requirements of a given nation. The point being made is that common arguments for limiting immigration are often merely thinly disguised protectionism or racism and violate the rights of peaceful individuals. Or they are a fallback position made necessary by bad foreign policy.