The Immigration Hotel

74 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2014 Last revised: 1 Jun 2017

See all articles by Virgil Wiebe

Virgil Wiebe

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: January 1, 2016


The image of a hotel with each floor representing different immigration statuses provides a way to introduce students to the confounding immigration system we have in the United States, on both technical and policy levels.

The imagery of the hotel helps to explain how one gets into the immigration hotel (the admissions process), and also how one gets kicked out (through various forms of removal proceedings). Analogies to different forms of eviction allow for parallels as well, depending on the nature of the building in question (e.g. hotel room, apartment, or condo) and the legal status of the person being removed (temporary traveler, renter/lease holder, home owner).

Drawing on property law also allows for different floors to represent different types of immigration status. In a nutshell, citizenship occupies the top floor and is akin to cooperative or condominium ownership. Legal permanent residency occupies the apartment floor, with occupants tied to leases with strict terms. Breaking the terms of the lease can lead to eviction (i.e., deportation). Traditional hotel rooms are reserved for temporary non-immigrant visa holders. Sandwiched on a hard-to-get-to floor between the apartments and the hotel rooms is the sanctuary: a place for refugees, survivors of crimes and human trafficking, unaccompanied children, and those stranded in the US as the result of natural and human made disasters in their homelands. The lobby serves not only as the admissions entry point, but also as a place of legal limbo (sort of like an easement), where people are sometime allowed to hangout for years on end in renewable quasi-status like parole and deferred action.

Finally, the basement holds those without status – either they never had it, by entering unauthorized at an unregulated entry point; or those who entered legally but have violated their terms of status. The cellar or dungeon is immigration detention. The building analogy proves durable – both on the surface as an explanatory heuristic (e.g., “citizenship is like ownership”) and as a way to explore the history behind immigration categories (e.g., who has been entitled to citizenship mirrors who has been entitled to own real property).

Parallels between the history of property real ownership and its protection (through the use of restrictive covenants) and the history of immigration regulation (such as the Chinese Exclusion Acts) illustrate how the analogy can also do more than just explain the current operation of immigration law, but illuminate how the laws came into being in larger historical context. Racial and economic barriers to real property ownership and control are often paralleled in the immigration hotel – the poor and marginalized often face high challenges to securing immigration status as well as stable and living situations.

Keywords: immigration, immigration law, citizenship, legal permanent residency, deportation

Suggested Citation

Wiebe, Virgil, The Immigration Hotel (January 1, 2016). 68 Rutgers Law Review 1673 (2016); U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-41. Available at SSRN: or

Virgil Wiebe (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

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Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
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