Church, Family, and Immigration Law (Part 1 of 3)

Almost everything you read these days about immigration law, especially the recently-passed Arizona legislation, has to do with what exactly does the law say, is it racist, what does “reasonable suspicion” mean, will good citizens be unfairly targeted and inconvenienced, will immigrants’ rights be abused, should law enforcement officers “waste” their time trying to identify and arrest illegals, etc. But, there are other concerns to consider, as well.

immigration law protests

Protests over immigration law

As author Jenny Hwang puts it in her article “Arizona’s Border Crisis” in Christianity Today‘s guest opinion column (5/12/2010), “I have read the entire Arizona law and fear that there will be many unintended consequences that will impact not only hundreds of families in Arizona, but also Christian ministries and churches that serve immigrants in Arizona.” Ms. Hwang addresses some of the usual issues, too, which I & others have commented on in previous posts/comments. What I would like to do now, though, is look at what Ms. Hwang has to say on the issues concerning families and ministries and make a few comments of my own.

The implications for churches and Christian ministries will also be substantial. The bill defines ‘smuggling of human beings’ as the ‘transportation by a person or an entity that knows or has reason to know that the person is not lawfully in this state.’ Therefore, a local group like Neighborhood Ministries, led by Kit Danley in Phoenix, or a church that picks up an undocumented immigrant for Sunday services, could be charged with a misdemeanor and have their van impounded. If, for example, a church volunteer picks up a group of 10 immigrants, he or she could be classified as a felon and incur a $1,000 fine for each immigrant in the van.”

Note that the word “illegal” (or “undocumented”, to use the politically-correct term she uses elsewhere) has been omitted from this last sentence — twice. Based on the sentence just before it, I will assume this was merely an oversight and not a subtle attempt to have people think that even legal immigrants are considered contraband by the law.

There are approximately 3.1 million U.S. citizen children in families in the United States with at least one undocumented member. In Arizona, these mixed status families could be arrested if driving together. A wife whose husband is undocumented could be charged for driving with her husband to the grocery store.

The law also states that it is unlawful to ‘conceal, harbor or shield an alien from detection in any place in Arizona, including any building or means of transportation.’ If the government of Arizona interprets helping an immigrant with legal services as an attempt to ‘shield an alien from detection,’ or having immigrants worship together on Sundays as ‘harboring an alien from detection,’ many churches in Arizona will be engaged in unlawful activity.

While many groups that support the law have said that it would not necessarily target churches, the language is so broad that there will likely be unintended consequences that could deter well-meaning individuals and organizations from engaging in the very acts that they feel compelled to carry out because of Christian love or duty.”

Let’s go back to that first paragraph. To begin with, the legislation makes it clear that the person or vehicle in question must already have been stopped, detained, or arrested for some other crime or civil offense, before the matter of one’s immigration status can even be investigated. Since I don’t feel like getting into this again, let’s assume that a traffic violation has been committed.

When I read the above definition of “smuggling of human beings” from the bill, it definitely gave me pause. That really needs to be amended, I thought to myself, to take into consideration the purpose and destination of the transportation of said illegal(s). I always understood “smuggling” to involve bringing something from one place into another where it is illegal or forbidden, often for commercial purposes. The given scenarios are not of anyone transporting contraband, either across a border or subsequently to a buyer or user of such “goods”. Running errands or driving to church with an undocumented resident in the vehicle should not be treated as “smuggling.”

Then I read the relevant section (4) of the House Engrossed Senate Bill from which Ms. Hwang got the quote. First, her quote is actually an abbreviated paraphrase of the text, but she got the gist of it. Second and more importantly, the primary and central sentence (subsection A) of the section reads, “It is unlawful for a person to intentionally engage in the smuggling of human beings for profit or commercial purpose.” Bingo! That tells me that the bill recognizes only transportation for certain purposes as “smuggling”, and the examples Ms. Hwang gave do not fit those conditions. (Unless, of course, the LEO has reasonable suspicion that they were not going where they said they were going.)

Problem is, this isn’t the most up-to-date version of the bill. I know Ms. Hwang is aware of the amended version passed on Apr. 30, because elsewhere in her article she makes reference to certain of the changes made. But, apparently, she didn’t double-check the section about smuggling. If she did, she wouldn’t have found it, because it was removed in the April 30 amendments. (I guess legislators felt it was sufficiently covered in other sections of the bill.)

What about the “conceal, harbor or shield” concern? I seriously doubt that any reasonable reading of the law would consider the scenarios given by Ms. Hwang to be examples of shielding or harboring an “alien from detection.” When I read that section (6) of the law, it seemed clear to me that it refers to things like hiding an illegal in your basement or tool shed when the cops or INS show up, or throwing a blanket over the illegal riding in your truck. Plus, the line immediately above, which talks about transportation, includes the qualifying phrase “in furtherance of the illegal presence of the alien in the United States.” Going to, or worshiping at, church hardly qualifies. Furthermore, subsection A begins with, “It is unlawful for a person who is in violation of a criminal offense to: “, which essentially reiterates that there must have already been a crime/offense committed and a stop/detention/arrest underway before the matter of immigration status can be pursued.

I’ll address Ms. Hwang’s statements about targeting churches and “unintended consequences” in Part 2.

And here’s Part 3.

Series NavigationChurch, Family, and Immigration Law (Part 2 of 3)

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