US Immigration Debate Gets Biblical
The United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the Bible on Thursday 14 June, specifically Romans 13, to justify the Trump Administration’s separation of asylum seeker children from their parents.
“Illegal entry into the United States is a crime,” Sessions said.
“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution.”
In justifying the policy from a Christian point of view, Sessions invoked scripture.
“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 the government for his purposes.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders later backed Sessions’ comments.
“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” she said. “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”
The Trump administration policy deems the children of undocumented arrivals to be “unaccompanied minors”, sending them to government custody or foster care.
Bishops’ Conference argues against interpretation
A number of commentators have taken the administration to task for this use of Romans 13. Gabriel Salguero is the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. He has argued that Romans 13 needs to be read in light of Romans 12, which suggests that love must be the guide instead of evil.
“Laws are good, and order is good, but that doesn’t mean that separating families from each other is a good law,” he said. “There are good laws, and there are bad laws, and separating families from each other is a bad policy. We’re not against the law, we’re against bad laws and bad policies.”
In a 2008 piece for Sojourners on the subject of immigration law, Dr M. Daniel Carroll Rodas previously argued that invoking Romans 13 is not enough to justify a crackdown on migrants.
[quote]“To point to Romans 13 and adherence to the law in debates on immigration, without nuance or biblical and historical depth, simply will not do. Christians should search all of the scriptures for guidance in evaluating the development of immigration policy and engaging its challenges. From that foundation, Christians can begin to move forward to the legal issues. In other words, discussion on legality cannot be limited just to questions about complying with current laws, laws that all know are impractical and will soon be replaced. If these laws are problematic-theologically, humanely, and pragmatically-and if all sides agree that reform is needful, the call to submit to the authorities in Romans 13 should be rethought in fresh and constructive ways. Respect for the nation’s present laws can be coupled with and informed by the move toward a new set of laws. Ideally, laws should embody the best moral principles of a nation. Clearly, immigration legislation does not measure up.”
Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham and a long term supporter of Trump, has called the policy “disgraceful”.
The policy has also been the target of Late Show host Stephen Colbert.
The criticism comes alongside a broader legal attack on the Trump Administration policy.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops argued in 2017 that, technically, it is not illegal to enter the United States without documentation. While the US code does spell out a series of penalties for infringements, these include civil fines and are not regarded as ‘criminal’ or ‘illegal’.
Michele M. Taylor, the Conference’s associate director for communications, pointed to the result of the 2012 Supreme Court case Arizona vs. United States. In a split judgement, the majority opinion found that “as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
The United Nations has also criticised the Trump Administration for separating children from their families, arguing it is illegal under international law.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor