Editor’s Note: This week at the g92.org blog, we’re featuring a variety of perspectives on immigration and the law, featuring guest blogs from Christian attorneys. After reading this post by John Lamb, you may also want to read the post by Robert Chao Romero.
Guest Blog by John Lamb
As a Christian, a lawyer, and a former member of a Spanish-speaking church in Nashville, Tennessee, I am particularly sensitive to this Biblical message:
“Refuse to accept different standards of justice for the foreigners among you.”
Just as God had (and has) opinions about kings and their laws, he has opinions about democracies and their laws. America and its Christians do not have carte blanche in politics or in the halls of government. We must be sensitive to God’s direction when we legislate.
Laws that apply exclusively to foreigners—such as immigration law—must be carefully crafted. We must infuse those laws with the same principles of justice contained in the laws that apply to Americans. If we notice that there is a gap such that a key principle of justice is missing from the laws for foreigners, we must repent and fill in that gap.
This is not to say that there can be no differences between laws that apply to foreigners and laws that apply to Americans, or that there should be only one set of laws for everyone, or that Americans and foreigners should have equal freedom to walk back and forth across our borders. That may be a plank in the Libertarian Party platform, but I’m making a more basic point of God’s heart for how the law is written.
I believe that God wants our theories of justice—about right and wrong, about liberty and responsibility, and about practicality and purity, theories that He has given to us—to be consistent across all of our laws.
Unfortunately for America, we have been insensitive to God when it comes to the laws we have written about immigration and citizenship. (This might be explained by the tendency of human nature to be less sensitive to a problem that does not apply to us, and by the fact that foreigners on the wrong side of immigration and citizenship laws do not vote.)
Whatever the reason, there is little dispute that what is missing in immigration law is a cornerstone principle of American justice: the fresh start. In modern terms, we might call this principle a “reboot.” It is all over American law—except when it comes to immigration and citizenship.
I mentioned that I’m a lawyer. And even though I have experience with immigration law—in my own family, in private practice, and in the U.S. Immigration Court—this is an issue that was made clear to me in my practice of federal bankruptcy law.
Bankruptcy law gives people who are unable to fulfill their obligations a chance to reset their legal status. As we all know from reading Charles Dickens, before bankruptcy law, there were debtors’ prisons—a “rule of law” result in its purest form. People who didn’t pay off their debts were literally stuck in a hole. Over time, however, the principle of a fresh start or “reboot” made its way into the law. We abolished debtors’ prisons because we realized a simple principle of justice: that sometimes everybody is better off if people in a legal jam—even of their own creation—can start over.
An important characteristic of the fresh start in bankruptcy law is that it is not conditioned on payment in full of the original debt. It acknowledges that a person’s responsibility to fulfill the original obligation may be forever broken. In place of the original obligation, a set of bankruptcy rules apply, to determine what modified consequences will befall the debtor. If a person qualifies and follows the bankruptcy rules, his or her debts are eliminated.
This concept of getting right with the law without having fully complied with the original obligation is part of our modern rule of law. It is ingrained all throughout the U.S. justice system. Prosecutors waive criminal charges if a plea agreement is made, probation of a long sentence is granted in exchange for good behavior, a warning is given to a young hot-rodder instead of a speeding ticket, or the statute of limitations just runs out. (Note that in the first two examples, you have to give something up in order to get the law to go easy on you, but in the last two examples, you give up nothing and still get off scot free. Bankruptcy is like the first two; it requires giving something up.)
This “reboot” principle, since it is everywhere else in American law, has to be brought over to immigration law. The gaping hole of justice has to be patched, and not with a one-time path to citizenship or a one-time amnesty, or else the injustice would resume. The fresh start of getting right with the law has to be continually available in immigration law, just as it is in bankruptcy law and elsewhere.
What might an immigration reboot system look like? Here’s one way to do it:
- Eligibility begins only after 5 years of illegal status (as with a statute of limitations, the person can be fully caught, deported, and/or prosecuted before that time)
- Requires proof of previous payment of any applicable income taxes, or submission of catch-up payments plus penalties and interest
- Requires some familiarity with English
- No criminal record (a “best behavior” requirement)
- Payment of fine that at least covers any shortfall between wages earned and federal minimum wage
- Submission of biometric information
Meeting those conditions would result in legal permanent resident (“green card”) status. Citizenship would require jumping through further hoops, more stringent than those for green card holders who have not had to declare immigration “bankruptcy.” Anyone who doesn’t successfully go through this reboot system, or anyone who is ineligible, could be deported.
We can keep the border patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the visa system, and every other feature of immigration law. But we have to fill the gap in the rule of law, and setting up an immigration reboot system does that. By standing in this gap, we will be protecting the foreigner from an injustice of our own creation—and this is the work of God.
John Lamb is the editor of HispanicNashville.com, a blog about Hispanic life in Nashville. He is a graduate from the University of Chicago Law School and Texas Christian University. From 2003-2005, John and his family attended Nashville’s Primera Iglesia Bautista, where they learned that many of their dearest friends have no options available to them in the U.S. immigration system.
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.
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