Render unto Caesar

In Chicago, an illegal alien from Mexico doesn’t want to be sent home. But instead of the traditional approaches of throwing lawyers at the problem or calling for help from the ACLU or “immigrants’ rights” groups, she’s fallen back on a far older solution: she’s sought refuge in a Methodist church. And the pastor of the church, Walter Coleman, has extended his protection.

In the United States, there is no formal, legal recognition of churches as sanctuaries. There have been, on occasions, a certain de facto respect for such actions, as authorities tend to be chary of offending the devout in such sensitive matters — if for no other reason than churches of all denominations tend to band together when one of them is assailed by the state, and are pretty damned efficient at marshalling the vote against the officials responsible.

It’s also very easy to empathize with Elvira Arellano. She is an illegal alien, but her son Saul, 7, is an American citizen — and to deport her would be to separate an American boy from his mother.

But the fact remains: she violated the laws. First by jumping the border in 1997. Then after she was caught and deported, she sneaked back across again. This time, she committed identity fraud by using a false Social Security number and worked at O’Hare Airport. (That’s “airport,” as in “place where airliners that terrorists love to crash and blow up take off and land.”) When she was caught the second time, she ignored an order to report to Immigration officials and instead took refuge in her church.

I’ll give her a bye on the first border-jumping — she was caught and deported, so she’s already been punished for that one. But she knowingly and willingly violated the laws of this nation when she crossed again, used a bogus Social Security number (and if that number happened to belong to someone else, caused them a huge headache trying to straighten out their own paperwork), and did not report to a hearing as ordered.

The Church, in my opinion, has no grounds here. The “persecution” she is facing is simply deportation to Mexico, and we are repeatedly told that Mexico is filled with honest, sincere, hard-working people who pose no threat to the United States. With all those honest, sincere, hard-working people, how could it be such a terrible place to return to? (This begs the question of why so many of them don’t want to live there, but that’s another topic.)

As far as separating her from her son — I have no proof of this, but I suspect she saw her son as her “anchor baby,” and his American birthright as her shield. (I also note a lack of a mention of husband or father in the story. Maybe that’s why the church is so involved — could it be another virgin birth?) This is something that needs to be addressed, but for right now I see no reason to shield Ms. Arellano from the consequences of her own choices — she CHOSE to violate our laws repeatedly, she CHOSE to have a child when she knew she was living under the threat of imminent arrest and deportation, and she CHOSE to skip the legal fight to remain in this country.

Here’s my solution: send a single ICE agent into Adalberto United Methodist Church to arrest her. The agent I would choose would be female, and as non-threatening and non-intimidating as possible. (I’m thinking someone perky and pixyish, like a young Katie Couric or Mary Lou Retton.) She should inform Ms. Arellano that she is under arrest and is to accompany Agent Retton out of the church. And should anyone try to interfere, the government is fully prepared to strip the church of its tax-exempt status and seize the property under RICO statutes.

The church feels it has a moral obligation to protect those being unfairly persecuted, and I can’t really argue with that. (I’m speaking as a former Methodist myself, whose mother was very active in our local church. She was president of the Methodist Girls’ Club, which was for congregants too old and insufficiently stuffy for the Methodist Women’s Club.) But I don’t see their duty to intervene to protect a parishioner from the logical and just consequences of her own repeated choices to violate the law.

There is no moral RIGHT for anyone in this world to come to the United States in the time and manner of their own choosing. We have quite possibly the most liberal and open immigration policies in the world, and if people don’t think they’re lax, they are free to work to change those laws.

But they do not have the right to simply say they don’t apply to them and do as they wish. And no group — not even a church — has the right to declare them invalid.

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