The Government Gives, Thus, The Government Can Take
This bothers me:
Members of a House committee Wednesday appeared to be leaning toward passage of a bill that would allow law enforcement officials in Alabama to seize the property of illegal aliens. . . .
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, is modeled on laws allowing police to seize the property of drug dealers. The legislation allows law enforcement to seize from illegal immigrants any property not needed for “basic living necessities,” but gives law enforcement agencies broad scope in determining what is and isn’t necessary.
The bill is HB290:
Property of a person present in this state who is in violation of the immigration laws of the United States, except property needed for the basic living necessities of the person as determined by the local law enforcement agency, acquired by the person directly or indirectly while in violation of the immigration laws of the United States shall be subject to forfeiture . . . .
I hate forfeiture laws. They give the state the power to summarily seize your property without having to so much as get a warrant prior to the seizure. And then when the judicial proceedings do occur, they’re governed by the rules of civil procedure. That means: 1) the state gets to take your property if it can prove that it’s more likely than not that it is subject to forfeiture; forget about beyond a reasonable doubt; 2) you have no right to an attorney; 3) you have no right to confront the witnesses against you. Oh, and then the agency that took the property gets to keep it and do with it whatever it wants. The whole process is a huge incentive for abuses. So I am never going to be in favor of expanding them.
This particular one is extrordinarily bad. It gives the state unbridled discretion to take any kind of property. Yeah, it throws in language about basic living necessities, but the cops get to make that decision. This is asking for abuse.
But more than the potential for abuse and the inherent unfairness of forfeiture laws, something else bothers me about this bill.
I really don’t care about illegal immigration. It does not bother me one bit if someone wants to enter this country without first stopping fill out the proper paperwork. It does not bother me one bit if that same person refuses to ever learn English, enjoy apple pie, or watch Nascar. Still, I understand the arguments that illegals ought not receive Government services. If they don’t pay the bureaucratic costs – becoming citizens, paying all the same taxes I do, etc – than I can understand denying them the bureaucratic benefits.
Forfeiture of property, though, is different. In contrast to welfare payments, property ownership is supposed to be a natural right. That is, something that a person can do simply because they are a person. Property ownership is not something the government gives us. It is an inherent right no different than the right to free peach or the right to freedom of religion. Hence, it exists whether or not the person is a citizen of whatever country he happens to find himself in.
This bill, though, treats property rights like welfare privileges. That is, it treats property “rights” as something the government provides and the government can take away. That scares me. The results of this type of thinking are ugly.
So even if illegal immigrants are a real problem, letting the government assert this kind of power is a cure worse than the disease.