Immigration barriers are incompatible with a limited government that upholds individual rights and classical liberalism, but can a classical liberal justify them as a “second best” policy to deal with the injustices of an extensive welfare state? A classical liberal might countenance rights’ infringements if they met three special conditions, but those conditions do not hold in the case of immigration barriers for a welfare state.


My object in this article is to answer the following question: Can we accept the fundamental tenets of classical liberalism and at the same time support the state’s raising of immigration barriers? I argue that if we accept these tenets as essentially correct, we should regard immigration barriers as essentially illegitimate.

I do not believe, however, that a direct appeal to individuals’ property rights or other fundamental rights, such as the right to associate, is enough to establish such a conclusion because under certain conditions it is permissible to infringe on individuals’ rights. Therefore, we must determine whether such conditions validate the raising of immigration barriers. Moreover, we run the risk of ignoring important issues if we focus exclusively on how things should be in an ideal world, regardless of how things are in the world in which we actually live.