The Prodigal Illegal: Christian Love and Immigration Reform

01 January 2015

Despite the impasse around immigration reform, most everyone believes the United States’ immigration system is broken. And most agree that the key issue is what to do with the eleven million or so undocumented persons currently residing in the United States. As a Christian immigration law teacher, I have been interested in the debate among the churches as to what such reform should look like. In this Article, I use Professor Jeffrie Murphy’s conception of agapic love as a lens through which to examine reform proposals. I then evaluate the two positions Christian churches have seemed to embrace—permanent legal status on the one hand, full citizenship on the other—from both a gospel and legal perspective. To aid my analysis from the Christian perspective, I turn to Dr. Timothy Keller’s interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son; from the legal perspective, I examine the lived experiences of those subject to our current deportation laws. I argue that a thick conception of agapic, neighborly love requires embracing a pathway to citizenship as the only available reform option. This Article explores what agapic love might look like in the context of formulating immigration policy regarding the undocumented. Despite what appear to be the strict borders of law that create categories of immigrant status and belonging, the Christian tradition of sacrificial love suggests a willingness to promote equality and reject ubordination— in a sense, to set captives free.