Christians in Nazi Germany, when they disobeyed laws ordering them to impose sanctions on Jews, had no constitutional protection. Disobedience meant prison or death. We Christians in the United States are more fortunate. When we resist laws ordering us to impose sanctions on undocumented immigrants, our Constitution supports us.
The Apostle Peter told authorities, “We obey God, not men.” Thanks to our remarkable Constitution, American Christians who welcome immigrants as if these strangers were Jesus himself have the luxury of obeying both God and American law. While lawmakers may pass laws to address social problems, the Constitution draws lines that lawmakers may not cross.
No bills of attainder. “A bill of attainder is a legislative act which inflicts punishment … because the legislature thinks them guilty of conduct which deserves punishment,” Cummings v. Missouri. Most state laws targeting undocumented immigrants are bills of attainder.
No ex post facto laws increasing punishments for past crimes. For example, laws may not add bans on work, housing or travel for past immigration violations.
No taking life, liberty or property without due process. This is an “invaluable guarantee afforded by the presumption of innocence,” U.S. v. Salerno. Every time we Christians withhold work, housing or transportation to a family of presumed immigration violators, we punish without due process.
No denying equal protection of the law. We may not pass laws declaring employment to be criminal when they do it, but socially valuable when we do it.
No crimes of being, such as being undocumented in the U.S. (See Robinson v. California.) There is no national trespass law.
No disproportionate punishments. In Arkansas a four-time drunk driver loses his license for four years, whereas a woman suspected of a petty immigration offense loses her driving rights forever.
No irrebuttable presumptions of guilt. “This Court has not, however, embraced the general proposition that a wrong may be done if it can be undone,” Stanley v. Illinois. Recent laws in both Arizona and South Carolina make it a crime for undocumented immigrants prior to arrest to have not already taken steps to prove themselves innocent.
No punishing children for the crimes of their parents, U.S. v. Brown. One more point. If you obey these unconstitutional laws and impose their sanctions, you may be liable for the harm you cause, 8 U.S.C. § 43. On the bright side (from my point of view), you will also have to pay their attorney fees, 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
These lawmakers picked the wrong country. If they want laws harming an unpopular group, they should try a country without such an excellent constitution.
Donald Balla is an attorney and a Professor of Business, Law and Economics at John Brown University, a Christian institution. If you are a lawyer or just want the detailed research, contact [email protected].
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