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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Push against illegal immigration echoes a property owner's strategy

President Donald Trump speaks on immigration in the

President Donald Trump speaks on immigration in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 16. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

There are moments when the postures of Donald Trump as president align perfectly with his longtime status as a pushy real estate owner.

Last week immigrants here illegally, claiming sanctuary in U.S. churches, received letters from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that cited their refusal to leave the country and informed them they would owe the government massive fines.

One of them, Edith Espinal, has been living for 21 months in a Mennonite church in Ohio, where she was delivered a bill for $497,777, The New York Times reported.

It sounded like one of those eviction notices where the landlord demands enormous fines that nobody expects to be paid in the end but that become part of a  court record against the tenant or squatter.

In April he talked of charging asylum-seekers fees and other broad changes, another bid to discourage the indigent from trying to enter the United States. It’s just like slapping on late fees and penalty charges.

The pride of the property owner and contempt for the squatter also runs through the president's statements about border-crossers who are currently incarcerated.

After weeks of reports of hazardous conditions in U.S. border detention, Trump on Wednesday tweeted with the defensiveness of a management company agent caught failing to provide services.

"Our Border Patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors or nurses," he said.

"Many of these illegals aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions."

That’s the kind of claim you expect to hear from a slumlord.

Back in the early 1980s, Trump famously fought a legal battle looking to drive tenants out of rent-controlled units in a building he sought to demolish in Manhattan. They complained he was making conditions unlivable. 

New York landlords perennially complain that local laws frustrate their efforts to evict malefactors and deadbeats. In a similar vein, Trump as president now gripes that laws keep him from getting people removed from the United States (as if presidents have no say in the legislative process).

He has bemoaned "decades of playing games, with the whole world laughing at the stupidity of our immigration laws."

Despite an aging population and a declining birthrate among the American-born, Trump sees a limit on the space available to host those who would settle here.

"It’s a colossal surge and it’s overwhelming our immigration system," he carped in April. "And we can’t let that happen. … We can’t take you anymore. We can’t take you. Our country is full.”

In other words, "No vacancy. Move it along." 

Don’t expect high-paying foreign visitors to hear that at Trump’s hotel in Washington.

But much as he may find political encouragement from those who feel the nation besieged, Trump antagonizes owners of property along the path of his desired border barrier.

While his threats often go unfulfilled, Trump caught the attention of libertarians right and left in January when he said he was prepared to use "the military version of eminent domain" to grab land. It seems his federal government owns less than a third of the real estate along the southern U.S. border.

This threat from America’s landlord  — hardly an expression of property-owner solidarity — hasn't been heard much since. That’s  how these folks operate, prodding and posturing to bolster their land holdings.

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