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Columnists

Who Exactly Are the “People” in “We the People of the United States”?

Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, governors of Texas and Florida, respectively, recently made headlines by sending busloads of Persons Here Illegally (PHIs) to locations likely to attract Democrats’ attention. Abbott sent PHIs to Vice President Kamala Harris’ house and DeSantis sent some to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island considered a vacation haven for the Obamas and other high-profile Democrats.

The two Republican governors arranged for these bus trips – derided as political stunts by their detractors – in order to underscore the problem of PHIs and to raise the national consciousness of those who are geographically sheltered from exposure to the phenomenon of illegal entry and stay.

More pointedly, the governors sought to expose the hypocrisy of those openly welcoming PHIs but not willing to accept them into their own communities.

How this will affect them politically – and particularly DeSantis, who is up for reelection in a few weeks and the leading Republican alternative to a 2024 Trump presidential candidacy – remains to be seen.

Legally, though, some of these PHIs have taken action, suing DeSantis for luring them (they boarded the buses voluntarily) to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses. The question is: if they are in the United States illegally, should they have the right to sue?

I have long maintained that the U.S. Constitution was written by, and for, the “People of the United States,” which is a smaller subset than all of the people ‘in’ the United States. Constitutional rights are afforded to the former, not the entirety of the latter.
Notable exceptions ought to include that all persons in the United States should be given emergency medical treatment and be protected from physical danger. PHIs hit by trucks should not be left on the side of the road. Those in danger of impending bodily harm – whether by human beings or natural disasters – should be protected. But that’s where it ought to end.

The 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe guaranteed the right of PHI children not to be denied a public school education. This is the law of the land and everyone is obliged to follow it. Nonetheless, Congress – when it is back in Republican control at some point – ought to pass a federal statute prohibiting PHI children from being enrolled in schools.
At first glance, that may sound like a cold and heartless indifference toward foreign-born families in the United States. That I am the child of immigrants makes it seem all the more bizarre.

As many longtime readers know, I am not ‘anti-immigrant’ at all. In fact, of the people in this world most important to me, most of them are either immigrants themselves or, like me, first-generation born in the United States. Moreover, I practiced immigration law for years, helping people of many nationalities and religions gain lawful immigration status.

I also believe that some of the biggest supporters of the American Dream and American ideals and values are immigrants. For every foreign-born person who comes here to deal drugs or traffic humans, or who doesn’t give a hoot about our country other than how it can benefit him or her, there are droves of those who are thrilled and honored to be part of what they consider the greatest nation on Earth.
This, then, is not about foreigners. It’s about law and order. It’s about respecting boundaries and acknowledging that although people have the freedom to travel from state to state, they need permission to be here in the first place. When we begin to appreciate that the United States is private property, belonging to the People of the United States, we can see the similarities between those who trespass into countries and those who trespass into homes.
For instance, suppose you travel to Greece for the summer and some homeless persons pick the lock and enter your house, figuring they can spend a few days or a few weeks with a roof over their heads and nice, comfortable furniture on which to sit and sleep. Suppose one of them slips and falls on a small rug in the hallway and breaks his ankle. Should he have the right to sue you? What if you had a guard dog in the house (your neighbor would stop by regularly and feed it, walk it, etc.) and the dog attacked the first trespasser. Should that person have the right to sue you for his or her injuries?

If we make life easier for PHIs to be here than in their home countries, how on Earth do we expect to curb illegal entry and stay?
That said, persons who arrive at the border seeking asylum and are lawfully admitted into the United States pending an asylum hearing are not here illegally. Though if they fail to show up at their hearing – as many do – they become illegal at that point, even though they are documented, thus rendering ‘undocumented’ incorrect to describe many PHIs and ‘immigrant’ incorrect to describe any of them.

Perhaps more busloads of PHIs will alert more Americans as to the multifaceted negative consequences of illegal entry and stay for everyone, including PHIs themselves.

There are plenty of opportunities for foreign-born persons to be in the United States legally; in some cases temporarily, in others permanently. Just as you many choose to sell your house, rent it, or invite houseguests to stay there. But you wouldn’t want anyone occupying it without your knowledge and consent, would you? Because that’s what’s happening on a large-scale basis. Just like our national economy is all of our household and business economies combined, our national house is all of our houses put together.

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