U.S. Immigration Policy: The Parable of the “House Guest”

Joe hired guards to protect his house around the clock, but one day he walked in to find a stranger wearing his clothes and eating his food. The guards rushed in, shocked to find the stranger had made it past them. Upon questioning, the stranger explained that while he had his own house in a neighboring town, he liked Joe’s house much better and was making it his new home.

In court, the trespasser’s court-appointed lawyer put Joe on the stand and grilled him: “I’m sick of people like you talking about your rights. What about the rights of your house guest? Is it really fair to make him move back to his own house, while you live alone in a much nicer house with better food? Doesn’t that violate the Equal Protection Clause?  Shouldn’t everyone have equal access to a house? Isn’t housing a basic civil right? Don’t you want diversity in this town? You really need to examine your motives, your greed!”

Joe tried to respond.  “But he’s not my house guest. I didn’t invite him. He’s a criminal!”

The judge slammed his gavel. “I will not have that language used in my court room. The state must balance the respective rights of the parties. Existing law is clear that a homeowner may not remove a house guest unless the owner can prove that the guest has committed three bad acts inside the house or, in rare cases, one extremely bad act. And, while the act of breaking into your house is an illegal act, it does not count as a bad enough act.”

“In addition to allowing the guest back into your house immediately, I order you to pay for his health insurance, school tuition, groceries, and cell phone. Furthermore, if your guest works, as long as he does not tell you about it, he may keep all wages he earns and is under no obligation to contribute to the expenses of the house. Finally, you must install appropriate signage in your house, all of which must be in both English and the primary language of your guest. Court is adjourned!”

The above story is fiction, but is it any different than our current reality?

If “Joe” symbolizes all taxpaying citizens, and “Joe’s House” symbolizes our nation, then yes, this story reflects how our nation currently deals with illegal immigration. While the federal government expends considerable taxpayer resources to protect our borders, it rarely prosecutes or deports people who have illegally crossed the border or overstayed a visa, except in cases where the violator has a violent criminal record or multiple non-violent convictions. Even worse, while those attempting to come here lawfully must wait years and work through mountains of paperwork, those who break the law are instantly rewarded with a variety of taxpayer-funded benefits such as public schools, health care, and food stamps, together with indirect benefits that all taxpaying citizens enjoy such as police, fire, and ambulance service, and the use of public roads, buildings, and parks. The federal government even advertises in foreign cities, like Mexico City, that immigration status does not matter when people apply for food stamps.

Critics of this flawed system seem to focus on the “protect the border” strategy. While important, that strategy does not address what happens when someone successfully and illegally remains living inside the border. We need a second layer of protection that I call the “protect the interior” strategy, adding two critical measures:

First, under existing law, a prospective employer must confirm the immigration status of any job applicant. We should mandate a similar background check at other major life events, such as when a person enrolls for school, rents or buys housing, opens a bank account, applies to vote, applies for a driver’s license, or applies for any taxpayer-funded benefits.

Second, we should eliminate any and all rewards, benefits, or privileges for those who are here illegally, so that even if they get past the border, they will not be able to conduct any basic transactions or reap any free rewards when they get here. Don’t you think the stranger in the fictional story would have stayed in his own house if he had known in advance that even if he slipped past security and locked doors to make it into Joe’s house, the inside would be protected with a motion detector alarm and the refrigerator, cupboards and bedrooms would be locked?

The federal government will need to pass additional legislation to deal with the people who get snagged “inside the house” under the new system. I’m sure the debate will be contentious, but that’s the job the self-proclaimed “public servants” are paid to do. Continuing to do nothing and turning a blind eye to the current mess isn’t “service” – and it’s not a plan, unless the goal is chaos, disorder, and the sending of a message that we have no intention of enforcing our laws. Start serving. Protect the interior. That is the least our representatives can do to protect Joe and his house.

Dave Beltrami is a lawyer and political analyst living in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws (Taxation) degrees from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.