When I was in junior high, I was intrigued when my social studies teacher showed us a film about Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the influx of immigrants to America in the last two centuries.
What a noble role our country played, I thought, welcoming the poor and downtrodden from all over the world, giving them a chance at a better life.
Now I see our country turning in a much different direction, with a hardcore political minority trying to turn immigrants into villains. They would throw out many who are already here and shut our doors to all but a select few newcomers.
What’s worse, some government jurisdictions seem intent on achieving their anti-immigrant goals on the backs of apartment owners and managers. In several cities across the country, local officials have enacted or are considering laws that would put apartment owners at the front lines of enforcing anti-immigrant laws.
In Hazleton, Pa., the city council approved a new law prohibiting apartment owners from knowingly renting to undocumented individuals. The measure calls for a $1,000 fine for each violation and $100 per day per resident for continued occupancy by that person. Efforts have been made to enact similar laws in San Bernardino and Escondido, Calif.
I am not defending illegal immigration. I do think immigration laws should be better enforced. But I think the extremists who want to send illegals already living here back to their original countries are engaging in a dangerous fantasy. The fact is, we can’t get rid of all the illegal immigrants in the United States. Nor should we. They are an integral part of our economy, and if members of Congress ever had to run a business, they would know that.
If undocumented immigrants were kicked out of the country, it would really hurt the home building industry as well as the apartment management business. It would also hurt apartment occupancy, since immigrants generally rent rather than own.
According to the National Multi Housing Council, the best estimate is that there are 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 more flow into this country each year.
It’s unlikely that the government could ever pull off a mass eviction of undocumented immigrants.
But don’t underestimate the ability of politicians to enact unenforceable laws and then ask someone else (employers or landlords or both) to enforce them. If the economy slips into recession, or if there’s another terrorist attack on our soil, Hazleton’s law could quickly become a prototype for other cities to follow.
Either way, it’s in our industry’s interest to lobby for sensible immigration policies and to fight like hell against new government mandates that turn apartment owners into policemen.
If Hazleton is allowed to prohibit apartment owners from leasing to undocumented immigrants, what’s next? Will landlords become the enforcers of every law? Will they be required to spy on their tenants?
It may sound ridiculous, but don’t forget, no one ever lost any votes by beating up on landlords. So speak up before it’s too late—let your elected officials know where you stand, and let us know if you’ve heard of any other jurisdictions following Hazleton’s lead.