Imagine this: a large group of refugees arrives in the town where you own a second home. Maybe you bought it as an investment or as a place to retire and enjoy life. You’re working hard to pay for this property, so you can’t get there as often as you like. Instead, you pay a management company to keep an eye on it. They make sure the pipes don’t freeze and that no one breaks in. And while you’re gone, the local government seizes your home and houses a refugee family in it.
It sounds like something out of a George Orwell novel but it’s real and it is happening in Germany. In 2015, the City of Hamburg began seizing commercial property to house refugees. Recently, it began seizing private residences that have been vacant for more than four months – and billing the owners for any renovations the city deems necessary. Referred to as “forced leasing,” the owners theoretically receive rent, despite having been deprived of any meaningful rights to manage and dispose of their property as they see fit – rights which are a cornerstone of Western democracy.
Even prior to the European refugee crisis, Germany was experiencing a housing shortage. The addition of over one million migrants only worsened real estate problems as newly admitted refugees began competing with everyday Germans for a limited pool of rental homes. However, Hamburg’s solution is virtually unprecedented. It may be the first time that a Western society has deliberately deprived its own citizens of established property rights in order to ensure the comfort and safety of foreigners.
If you think it can’t happen here, read Kelo v. New London. In that case, the Supreme Court allowed the City of New London, Connecticut, to seize private property so that it could sell it to a shopping mall developer. An American legal concept, known as “condemnation by eminent domain,” allows the government to take private property for public use, provided that the property owner is properly compensated. The Court found that New London’s economic plans trumped private property rights, constituting a valid public use under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. If building a privately owned mall is considered sufficiently “public” to justify government seizure of private property, then it would be extremely hard to argue that seizing residences to create public housing for needy immigrants isn’t.
Hamburg’s situation clearly illustrates the downside to uncontrolled mass migration. Western civilization operates on the notion that the first duty of a government is to protect the life, liberty and property of its own citizens. All other obligations are subsidiary. Hamburg decided to protect foreigners at the expense of German citizens and, in so doing, failed to fulfill the first duty of government. Let’s hope that if the U.S. government ever begins expropriating private land in response to a migrant crisis, it’s to build a border wall, not to house massive numbers of immigrants that the people of the United States never wanted here.