Principle #3: Respecting the Rule of Law
We are a nation of laws. Laws that are written, distributed, enforced, and amendable are the hallmark of a civilized society. They provide boundaries and allow for punishment when an individual or organization operates outside prescribed boundaries. Laws keep the train on the track, the plane in the air, and the ship afloat. Our society operates under a principle known as the rule of law. According to the United Nations, the rule of law is, “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”1
Laws should consistently be enforced and should apply to everyone all the time. No one is above and beyond the reach of the law. Without the rule of law, chaos resides. Without the rule of law, power can be bought and brokered. Without the rule of law, there becomes a hierarchy of laws – some will be enforced, and some will not. When applied to comprehensive immigration reform, this principle deals with the response to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
Conservative non-partisan estimates place the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. between 10.7 and 12 million. 2 A little more than half crossed a border illegally, while an estimated 4.5 million entered legally on temporary visas but overstayed their visas. 3 Is it possible for Christians to show love and compassion for the illegal immigrant while respecting and obeying the law of our land? That is one of the questions at the heart of the immigration debate.
Scripture speaks to the importance of the rule of law. Paul told the church at Rome that every believer is subject to the governing authorities God has ordained. He went on to explain how government should appropriately function, namely to serve the common good, maintain order, and punish those who do wrong. 4 Christians should be sensitive to the reasons why individuals/families choose to violate immigration laws. These reasons are often economical. Other reasons include physical safety and family reunification. Regardless of the reasons and means of entry (border crossing or overstaying a visa), intentional violation of the law is not the answer. What then?
When laws violate the conscience and Word of God, believers are admonished to choose God and not man. Scripture records the stories of Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego, Daniel, and the Hebrew midwives of Exodus who chose God over the government. To compare dysfunctional immigration laws to the call for idol worship in Nebuchadnezzar’s days is unfair. However, there are laws within the immigration system that could be considered unjust through the lens of Scripture.
Discussing federal law, in 1830, American lawyer, politician, and orator Daniel Webster wrote, “It is the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.” With ignoring the violation of law through amnesty a dismissal of the rule of law, reform is the only viable option. Few would argue that current immigration laws are sufficient and just. Respecting the rule of law includes advocating for the change of laws that are unjust and do not function properly. Every attempt should be made to deter illegal immigration (secure borders, clearer enforceable laws, etc.) and facilitate legal immigration (streamlined citizenship processes, clear pathways to citizenships, etc.) Respecting the rule of law should also include honoring the nation’s laws that offer asylum to those who possess a well-founded fear in their home country. The U.S. cannot admit everyone who comes to the border; I understand that. But, to respect the law and dignity of every person, each one with a fear of harm if returned to their home country should be given a fair hearing. This practice is in keeping with the best of the values of the United States.
Principle #4: Guaranteeing Secure National Borders
Christians want to be part of a nation that is compassionate toward and welcoming of immigrants. Christians also want to be safe. Comprehensive immigration reform must find a way to balance the two concerns. Citizens should expect their government to ensure the borders of our nation are secure; capable of keeping out those who would want to inflict harm. This position is consistent with the government’s role, as described in Romans 13. Immigration reform that secures our borders must include elements such as physical barriers and walls, funding for increased technology to track violent individuals, an increase in the number of border patrol agents, immigration judges and lawyers, and detention facilities. However, protection should not mean isolation. Those fleeing persecution and threat of loss of life should be allowed, as the law prescribes, to request asylum and submit to a rigorous vetting process. To arbitrarily declare an individual cannot seek asylum at our nation’s border is a violation of long-standing law, as well as an infringement upon the principle of the rule of law.
The best way to reduce illegal immigration is to replace our current failing, dysfunctional immigration system with a healthy, functional system capable of handling the numbers of families seeking entry into the U.S. and ensuring the safety of our citizens. I would dare say a long, dangerous, and expensive trip across the Mexican border would not be the first and best choice of anyone. Who willingly says, “I want to get caught by border patrol agents. I want to be confined to crowded and unsanitary detention facilities. I want to be away from my family for an unknown number of years.” Our nation’s current policies, systems, and under-staffed immigration facilities often make this the only option for a person seeking a better life. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying many in this position are left to make the best wrong choice.
A functional immigration system that streamlines the overall process, encourages legal immigration, and respects the dignity and worth of the individual while allowing our federal agencies to improve border security is the best answer for the safety of Americans.
2 – Bryan Baker, “Estimates of the Illegal Alien Population Residing in the United States: January 2015,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, December 2018, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/ default/files/publications/18_1214_PLCY_pops-est-report.pdf.
3 – Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin, “The 2,000 Mile Wall in Search of a Purpose: Since 2007 Visa Overstayers Have Outnumbered Undocumented Border Crossers by Half a Million,” Journal on Migration and Human Security, 2017, https://cmsny.org/publications/jmhs-visa-overstays-border-wall/.
4 – Romans 13:1-4