Posts tagged ‘Jeff Sessions’

Children, Immigration, and Federal Law

This past week, the heated debate over immigration boiled over.  Last April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a zero-tolerance stance toward illegal immigration, which he described as a “goal to prosecute every case that is brought to us.”  When a family crossed the border unlawfully, the parents would be criminally prosecuted while the children would be sent to shelters in accordance with the 1997 Flores Settlement, which stipulated that children in such situations be placed “in the least restrictive setting appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs.”

In the past, the federal government prioritized the prosecution and deportation of what it deemed to be dangerous migrants while releasing what it perceived to be more benign families of migrants.  Family separations still happened, but with the attorney general’s new zero-tolerance stance, these separations spiked, and controversy erupted.

Sadly, but also unsurprisingly, this controversy was quickly exploited for political gain.  Some of those who oppose the current presidential administration compared the zero-tolerance practice to what happened in Nazi concentration camps.  Some others who support the zero-tolerance practice have responded flippantly and grotesquely to heartbreaking stories of children being separated from their parents.

The attorney general defended his zero-tolerance practice, in part, by referencing a Bible passage from Romans 13.  Mr. Sessions said at a press conference:

I would cite you to the apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.  Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.

Whatever one may think of the current state of U.S. border enforcement, this is some theologizing that needs a bit of clarifying.

Romans 13 is part of a broader section that describes how Christians ought to live as both citizens of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, living in a fallen world where we will often be wronged, we ought to:

…not repay anyone evil for evil … Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17, 19-21)

As Christians, we ought to respond to the great evil in this world with that which is righteous and, specifically, with that which is merciful.  Instead of repaying wickedness with wrath, we ought to repay wickedness with tenderness.

But how, then, are evildoers to be punished?  Mercy, after all, may be righteous, but wickedness must still be stopped!  And often, stopping wickedness includes rendering judgment.  This is where we can be grateful that we are also part of the kingdom of man, where God has ordained that the government:

…is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  (Romans 13:4

Before Christ returns on the Last Day with His final and perfect judgment that will wipe out evil once and for all, God has ordained that governmental authorities render preliminary judgments that suppress evil.  For this we can and should be thankful.  And because of this, we should respect our governmental authorities, as Paul directs:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

In this much, the attorney general was right.  We are to obey the laws of our nation, many of which, including our immigration laws, are in place for the sake of good order.  What must not be lost in any analysis of Romans 13, however, is that this chapter emphasizes not only the importance of people duly subjecting themselves to the authority of the government, but the importance of the government seeking what is good and right in its formulation and implementation of legislation.  Laws are not good simply because they are crafted and drafted by a government.  Laws are good insofar as they comport with and do not defy the higher law of the Lord.

Governmental authorities must recognize and remember that they are not lords over people, but, in our system of government, servants of the people and, biblically and ultimately, servants of God.  The gift of power from God to certain authorities must never become an excuse for the misuse and abuse of power by these same authorities.  The government’s power must always be arbitrated and tempered by the government’s status as God’s servant.

As God’s servant, then, the government must seek not only to exercise power, but to exercise power well. How can our government exercise its power well to protect its citizens against nefarious actors like drug lords who breach our borders?  How can our government exercise its power well to respect the dignity and humanity of children who wind up, through no fault of their own, on the wrong side of the law?

Contrary to much of the quixotic political grandstanding that has surrounded our immigration debates, these are complex questions.  But they are also necessary questions that deserve our thoughtful answers.

Many in our government are struggling to craft some piece of legislation that will allow the flood of immigrant families who are lumbering their way across our borders to stay together.  On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order that supports the idea that migrant parents should be able to remain with their children while they are detained.  These politicians need our prayers, deserve our sober thoughtfulness, and, when required, should take seriously our appropriate and measured calls to accountability and change.  This debate may be hot at the moment, but it would be even better if it became enlightening and productive for the long haul.

Let us pray that it will.

June 25, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Debating DACA

DACA

Credit: NBC News

When President Trump sent his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, before the cameras to announce the reversal of the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals policy – an executive order signed by President Obama that allows certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors to receive a renewable two-year deferral of deportation –  he had to suspect that his announcement would spark controversy both on the right and on the left.  In his statement, the Attorney General explained:

As the Attorney General, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the constitutional order is upheld…

To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. That is an open border policy and the American people have rightly rejected it.

Therefore, the nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year and that means all cannot be accepted.

This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way. It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them.

It is with these principles and duties in mind, and in light of imminent litigation, that we reviewed the Obama Administration’s DACA policy…

The Department of Justice has advised the President and the Department of Homeland Security that DHS should begin an orderly, lawful wind down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program.

Acting Secretary Duke has chosen, appropriately, to initiate a wind down process. This will enable DHS to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act – should it so choose. 

Key to understanding the Attorney General’s remarks is his acknowledgement that Congress can act to pass a bill that addresses the issue of immigrants brought to this country illegally as minors in the time that DACA is winding down. President Trump, in a Tweet, explicitly encouraged Congress to pass some sort of legislation that addresses this group of immigrants:

Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

Though the issues involved here are many, I believe there are three specific concerns we must take into account in order to address the questions and controversies that surround DACA faithfully and sensitively.

The first concern is that of constitutionality.  Many are arguing that the action President Obama took when he signed his executive order on DACA was indeed constitutional.  Others are arguing just the opposite.  Just the fact that there are so many questions surrounding the legality of this executive order should at least encourage us to consider what other, less constitutionally questionable, options are available.  Operating squarely within the law brings a stability and sustainability to governmental actions that flirting with policies and positions on the legal periphery does not.  The Attorney General put it well in his statement when he said:

No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our Republic, than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law. Societies where the rule of law is treasured are societies that tend to flourish and succeed. 

Societies where the rule of law is subject to political whims and personal biases tend to become societies afflicted by corruption, poverty, and human suffering. 

The law, when it is written morally and enforced equitably, can indeed be a force for great good and a guard against dark evil.  Thus, constitutional questions ought to be carefully weighed when considering the future of DACA.

A second concern in this discussion should be that of safety.  Since its inception, about 1,500 people who were once eligible for DACA have had their DACA status revoked because they committed some sort of crime.  Since President Trump took office, arrests and deportations of DACA eligible immigrants have increased, pointing to a more rigorous prosecution against those who commit crimes.  In the interest of “providing for the common defense,” those who appear poised to do citizens harm should be carefully monitored and those who have done citizens harm should be appropriately punished.  A well-ordered society where wrongdoers are held accountable “promotes the general welfare” by allowing people to live in reasonable safety and societal prosperity.  The safety of people has been – and should continue to be – a focus not only of this government, but of any government.

A final concern in this discussion should be that of morality.  We must never forget that the legality of something doesn’t necessarily ensure the morality of something.  Abortion, for instance, may be legal, but it is certainly not moral.  This is why, for decades now, biblically minded Christians have been speaking out against it.  We must grapple with the question of morality when dealing with issues of unlawful immigration.  What is the right thing to do with this or that group of undocumented immigrants?  Are we called to help others, even if they are here illegally?  In Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite missed an opportunity to be a neighbor to a man who had been badly beaten and was laying on the side of the road because of some legal concerns over helping such a man.  Mosaic law stipulated that touching a dead body rendered a person ceremonially unclean.  The beaten man, although he was not in actuality dead, looked dead.  Checking on him, then, if he did turn out to be dead, would have legally defiled them.  So, they passed by as far away from him as they could “on the other side” so as not to risk defilement.  A Samaritan, however, when he saw this man, opted to take a risk and help him.  Jesus commends the Samaritan for having done the right thing.  A spirit of helpfulness and neighborliness can and should be paramount in how we address this issue.

Most of the angry polemical positions people take on this issue come when one of these concerns – be that the concern of constitutionality, safety, or morality – is exalted to the exclusion of the others.  Some are concerned only with legal questions and never bother to ask, “How can I be a neighbor to everyone, even to those who are here illegally?”  Some love to paint themselves as morally superior neighbors, but are loathe to do the hard work of studying, supporting, and, when appropriate, critiquing immigration law for the sake of the long-term stability and equitability of our nation’s immigration policy.  Still others are so concerned with safety that they see threats where, sometimes, there are none and take a by-any-means-necessary approach to security, even when the security measures they support harm innocent people.

Taking into account all of these concerns, though difficult, may just offer us a path forward that will be legal, reasonably safe, and neighborly all at the same time.  Let’s see if we can’t find such a path – and then walk it.

September 11, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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