The Dr. Zhivago Treatment: Welcome migrants, bye-bye property rights


August 25, 2023

By Matt O’Brien

There is a famous scene in the film Dr. Zhivago where the eponymous doctor returns to his private home to find that the Bolsheviks have seized it and decided to house 30 families there.

As Zhivago, who has been off fighting on behalf of Mother Russia, attempts to wrap his head around the new status quo, a socialist housing commissar scolds him for ever having had such a luxurious home in the first place. Most Americans watch that part of the movie and think, “That could never happen here!”

After all, the Third Amendment to the Constitution of the United States specifically states that, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” The Fourth Amendment forbids the unreasonable seizure of property. And the Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from depriving anyone of property without due process of law. It also states that, private property can’t be taken for public use without just compensation. 

So, American homes should be safe from the Zhivago treatment, right? Don’t be so sure.

Anti-borders politicians have created a migrant crisis all over the United States.

Despite proudly proclaiming themselves to be “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, places like New York City and Boston have proven themselves to be profoundly inept at managing the large numbers of migrants who have responded to their invitation.

What are radical, globalist mayors and lieutenant governors to do when they find themselves with egg on their faces? They expect regular Janes and Joes to clean up their mess.

In June of this year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams asked everyday New Yorkers to consider housing migrants in spare rooms in their private residences. More recently, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll jumped on the bandwagon and appealed to Bay State residents to “host” migrants in “an extra room or suite.”

The Big Apple and Beantown are two of the most expensive cities in the United States. And they have both been whining about housing crises for years. According to Zillow, a 400 square foot apartment in Manhattan goes for about $2,500 per month. And Boston rentals are cheaper, but not by much. A 400 square foot studio apartment rents for approximately $1,800 per month. So, why exactly do Adams and Driscoll think that average working people in their jurisdictions have a spare room, much less a spare suite?

The fact is, most Americans have just about enough income and enough room to house their family members. And they’re not likely to want their private space invaded by un-vetted, military aged, male migrants who have allegedly come to the U.S. fleeing violence. Especially given the way that the latest crop of migrants to New York City has consistently trashed the luxury hotel rooms that Mayor Eric Adams has so generously provided to them.

So, where are all the sanctuary city leaders going to put the aliens currently sleeping on their sidewalks? Adams has already proposed changes to zoning restrictions that would allow commercial office space to be converted into apartments. According to the mayor’s office, there are 136 million square feet of “vacant” and “underutilized” offices that could be used to house the homeless – including “unhoused migrants.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts has been putting migrants into dorms at Eastern Nazarene College and Salem State University.

So far, these measures seem to have been taken with the cooperation (and compensation) of property owners. Neither Adams nor Driscoll appear to have made any moves to seize private property and begin handing it out to recently arrived migrants.

Private property owners in the United States have the right to leave their property vacant if they wish. They may be holding out for a better rental price, amassing capital to fund renovations or waiting for a neighborhood to improve. Why the property is vacant isn’t really relevant. What the owner of private real estate wishes to do with his or her property is relevant. And apart from zoning and code enforcement concerns, the government doesn’t get a say in the decision. But, sadly, that could change.

Keep in mind that Adams and Driscoll are part of the group of state and local leaders who have regularly encouraged foreign nationals to violate the Immigration and Nationality Act by crossing the border illegally and committing a continuing trespass in the United States. They have also actively interfered with federal efforts to enforce our immigration laws. If they’re comfortable disregarding immigration laws, simply because they dislike them, what’s to stop them from disregarding private property laws that interfere with their political agenda?

So, if you own real estate in a sanctuary city, don’t be surprised if you open your door one day to find that your property is being used as a dorm for “homeless” migrants – and nobody asked you for permission. You just got the Dr. Zhivago treatment, comrade.

Matt O’Brien is the director investigations at the Immigration Reform Law Institute and the co-host of IRLI’s podcast “No Border, No Country.” Immediately prior to working for IRLI he served as an immigration judge. He has nearly 30 years of experience in immigration law and policy, having held numerous positions within the Department of Homeland Security.

Also published at American Thinker, August 25, 2023.

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