Competing Calls for Compassion and Justice

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“Man’s relations with foreigners are two-fold: peaceful and hostile: and in directing both kinds of relation the Law contained suitable precepts” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, (I-II. Q. 105 Art 3)

This past week, I had the privilege of moderating a roundtable discussion on immigration here at HBU, sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program and the Department of Law and Society (full disclosure, I organized this event as Asst. Prof. of Latin American Studies). Our panelists included Texas State Representative Rick Miller, the Reverend Uriel Osnaya of the Episcopal Church, and Dr. Craig Ferrell, Asst. Prof. of Criminal Justice at HBU, and former general counsel for HPD.

(Read what the Episcopal Diocese of Texas had to say about the event here: http://www.epicenter.org/article/the-rev-osnaya-advocates-christ-like-solution-at-hbu-immigration-roundtable/ )

As you can imagine, there was a wide array of viewpoints represented at the table. These largely came out in the discussion as the competing needs in our society to, as the Rev. Osnaya stated, “love people and love families,” and to enforce the law of the land. The roundtable afforded our students, which packed out Mabee Theatre for the event, the opportunity to hear and contemplate how as Christians we should care for the foreigner and alien among us (Leviticus 19:34) in a way that respects the legal authority of the land (Romans 13: 1-2).

While I do not pretend to have the answer to this issue, I do recognize the needs within our own community for a resolution. I am particularly struck by the situation of students at HBU who live with the fear of family members being deported. I cannot fathom the life of my student whose family member was recently critically wounded by a gunshot to the chest, nor the student whose parents have barely an elementary education and are trying to provide for their child pursuing a bachelor’s. Their lived experiences are hard enough without worrying about family or friends being sent away. These students, and countless others, have a harder row to hoe than many of us. What change might it make in their daily lives knowing their parents, or cousins, or grandparents can come out of the shadows and not fear deportation. Their reality is heartbreaking, and their reality is what leads some to argue that the standing laws should be circumvented regardless of the legal ramifications.

Yet, there are certainly “hostile” foreigners who have taken advantage of a broken system to enter our nation, looking to profit through nefarious means. The continued concerns of terrorism certainly warrant securing the border and better regulating immigrants’ entrance to our country. There is also the higher need to uphold the rule of law, which, as I constantly teach my students in Latin American Studies classes, is a necessary requirement for democracy to flourish.  The existing laws are the laws we have to work with. If we do not respect and enforce those, then how do we treat everyone justly and equally under the law?

While I do not believe that playing fast-and-loose with executive orders and the Constitution is the answer, the laws of our land, and the implementation of those laws, need to be reformed so that the Christian is no longer torn between compassion and justice. In the words of Aquinas, our laws must contain “suitable precepts” for dealing with both peaceful and hostile foreigners who desire to live among us.

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