Editor’s Note: This week, we will be featuring a series of guest blogs, as well as my own reflections, on the question of how Romans 13, immigration, and the law.  Please enjoy today’s blog by Dr. Chao Romero, then read other guest posts on the same topic by for additional perspectives.

 

Guest Blog by Robert Chao Romero

 

A key biblical principal is that God has established the institution of government to maintain social order (Romans 13:1-7). How is the follower of Jesus to respond, however, when government knowingly violates the legal guidelines it has created for itself in order to guarantee this social order?  This is one of the central issues involved in the immigration debate in America—though not in the way that many Christians typically frame the issue.

 

According to the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case of De Canas v. Bica, “[p]ower to regulate immigration is unquestionably exclusively a federal power.” This important case stands for a simple, and uncontested, legal principle:  it is the job of the federal government to regulate immigration.   States and local governments do not have this authority.  Only the federal government can create laws and policies which determine who gets to stay in this country and who can be forced to leave.  Only the federal government has the authority to check the immigration status of individuals and make decisions about visas, asylum, and deportation.   With limited exception, states and local governments cross the line into unconstitutional territory every time they try to engage in these types of activities.  One basic exception to this rule is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is allowed to enter into special agreements with local law enforcement agencies which authorize them to enforce immigration laws.   According to these “287(g)” agreements, ICE provides basic training to local police and then delegates to them some of its authority to regulate immigration.  Outside of these special agreements it is illegal for states and cities to engage in the regulation of immigration.   This is the current state of immigration law and it is uncontested.  It is really that simple.

 

Arizona Senate Bill 1070, and the 14 copycat bills which have been introduced in states such as California, Illinois, Florida, and Texas, knowingly violate existing federal law and Supreme Court precedent. SB 1070 and its modified version, House Bill 2162, empower Arizona police to investigate a person’s immigration status as part of a “lawful stop, detention, or arrest.”   This provision flagrantly violates federal law because it takes the regulation of immigration out of the hands of the federal government and places it unconstitutionally in the hands of Arizona state authorities.    It basically says, “we the state of Arizona, by our own prerogative, authorize all of our police officers to regulate immigration by checking peoples’ immigration status.”   Again, this is not contested legal territory.  Regulation of immigration is entirely a federal prerogative.

 

Hazleton, Pennsylvania provides another recent example of the way in which this legal principle has been blatantly disregarded. By passing the “Illegal Immigration Relief Act” in 2006, the city tried to take the issue of undocumented immigration into its own hands by fining landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and suspending the business licenses of people who hired them.   In other words, as reflected in the name of this legislative act, Hazleton sought to regulate immigration through the implementation of fines and the revocation of business licenses.   As the federal District and Circuit courts have since ruled, Hazleton’s “Illegal Immigration Relief Act” represents a clear unconstitutional attempt to regulate immigration.

 

How is the Christian to respond to the Arizona state legislature, the city council of Hazleton, and other government authorities who consciously violate the legal norms which the U.S. government itself has established to ensure social order? Ironically, they themselves are breaking the law.  I leave this question for you to reflect upon and decide.  It is my hope that this brief discussion has provided a different angle on the immigration debate for you to consider and that through the legal perspective offered we might all be sharpened.


Robert Chao Romero is an Assistant Professor in the UCLA Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies.  He received his J.D. from U.C. Berkeley and his Ph.D. in history from UCLA.  He is the author of The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940 and numerous publications examining the topic of race and ethnicity in the United States and Latin America.   He also serves on the editorial board of the Law & Society Review.

 

Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated. 

 

If you’re interested in writing a guest blog, send us an email at [email protected].

7 Responses to Arizona’s SB1070 and Romans 13

  1. I totally agree with your assessment here, Robert, but I think it begs another question:

    Is an immigrant-friendly law such as one of the bills that was passed in Utah this week — which would give work authorization to undocumented immigrants (I need to read more to figure out how a state plans to do this; I didn’t think they had that authority) — also violating the precedent handed down in De Canas v. Bica that immigration law is exclusively federal domain?

  2. John Lamb says:

    Matt, I have heard that the Utah law is asking the federal government for a waiver, permission, or even explicit delegation of the federal powers. Arizona, on the other hand, claims those powers also reside at the state level.

  3. Very interesting… I guess that’s within the federal government’s discretionary powers. I think it makes it an interesting question of whether the Department of Homeland Security will comply. They apparently are too afraid of the political consequences to do so across the board (which they don’t need a state’s request to do), but maybe if the request comes from a state legislature and governor from the opposite party.

    I think I know a lot of people who will want to move to Utah.

  4. […] Christian attorneys.  After reading this post by John Lamb, you may also want to read posts by Robert Chao Romero and Elizabeth […]

  5. […] in suburban Chicago.  After you read it, you may want to check out previous posts this week by Robert Chao Romero, a legal scholar in Southern California, and John Lamb, an attorney in Nashville, Tennessee, as […]

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