These are trying times for everyone, not least for those who have opposed any role for nationalism in the modern world. In a piece for Reason, Ilya Somin attempts to reconcile the current pandemic with his support for near-open borders. As he has in the past, Somin allows that immigration is not an absolute right, but it can be denied only when confronted with “a great evil that can only be prevented by limiting migration. Impeding the spread of a deadly disease qualifies as such.” It follows that the government might justifiably bar some immigrants as it mobilizes against the Wuhan virus.
Libertarians who take Somin’s position — that almost everyone should be allowed to enter, but not terrorists or disease-carriers — need to answer a follow-up question: How do they intend to enforce the restrictions? Surely not with a border wall, which is anathema to immigration boosters. How about expanding the Border Patrol? ICE raids? A nationwide ban on sanctuary jurisdictions? To my knowledge, they oppose all of these tools for immigration enforcement.
In order to place meaningful restrictions on who enters our country, we need to have mechanisms in place to ensure that the rules are being followed. That’s true for any immigration policy short of open borders. Whether the law bars nearly every foreigner or just a handful of bad actors, enforcement is required to make it happen. And such an enforcement regime cannot instantly materialize in a crisis — it requires an existing set of institutions and procedures developed over time.
As I see it, libertarians who have no plans for enforcement can oppose the entry of terrorists and disease-carriers in theory all they like, but in practice they have no objection.