The Washington Times recently reported that Arizona rancher Roger Barnett is being sued in federal court for $32 million because he detained 16 trespassers on his ranch at gunpoint. The trespassers were illegal immigrants and they are claiming Barnett used excessive force and conspired to violate their constitutional rights. Barnett says his actions were justified because trespassing illegal immigrants previously invaded his home, destroyed his property and killed his calves.
This has transformed a private dispute over trespassing into a public clash over constitutional law and immigration policy. But it may also contain the seeds of a resolution to the rancorous debate over illegal immigration-one that would ground border control in individual liberty.
"Illegal immigration" amount to fighting words for brothers divided. One side argues that immigrants built America and freedom of contract should include an expansive right to do business with peaceful and productive noncitizens. The other side contends that government must have a meaningful jurisdiction to perform its legitimate public health and safety functions, which requires strict border and immigration controls.
Despite undeniable elements of truth in each position, often it seems there is no way to heal this divide. But both sides should agree wholeheartedly with James Madison that a "just government" is one "which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own."
Regardless of immigration status, there is no constitutional right to trespass. Indeed, property rights are the foundation of all constitutional rights. Consequently, there should be no federal law allowing property owners to be threatened with ruinous liability for enforcing their property rights against illegal immigrants.
To the contrary, an immigration policy grounded in principles of individual liberty should encourage robust enforcement of private property rights along the border. Congress should start by limiting the liability of ranchers, like Roger Barnett, from federal lawsuits to enforce the alleged constitutional claims of trespassing illegal immigrants.
Nick Dranias holds the Goldwater Institute Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan chair for constitutional government and is the director of the Institute's Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Center for Constitutional Government.