Earlier this month some sort of “table” of Evangelicals issued a call for bipartisan immigration reform. Whether willing accomplices or unwitting stooges (You Make the Call!), they served to provide cover for President Obama’s executive-policy/discretionary-enforcement/mini-Dream-Act, announced just three days later.

Whatever its motivation, this coalition of Evangelical groups outlined a set of principles that ended up looking a little more like a camel than a horse. Their hypothetical policy solution would:

  • Respect the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protect the unity of the immediate family
  • Respect the rule of law
  • Guarantee secure national borders
  • Ensure fairness to taxpayers, and
  • Establish a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

This list of principles raises more questions than it answers. What about times when your respect for the immigrant’s God-given dignity conflicts with your respect for the rule of law? No advice is given. How do you ensure fairness to taxpayers while providing legal status (and all the attendant social services) to all who wish to stay? Silence. Focus on the Family–whose President Jim Daly signed the Table’s statement of principles–also issued its own, slightly more coherent, list of guiding principles, but they also leave too many loose ends.

'Protest against immigration laws and a call to remove Fort Snelling' photo (c) 2010, Fibonacci Blue - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/On Monday, the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s immigration law thrust the issue back into the spotlight. As the media continues to discern which side emerged victorious (both President Obama and Gov. Brewer have claimed victory), I think there are some interesting lessons to be drawn from the text of the opinions.

Both Justice Kennedy, for the majority, and Justice Scalia, in one of his classic dissents, veered off from the narrow preemption issues before the Court to address the broader immigration debate. Justice Kennedy’s–worth attention merely for humor’s sake–reads like something out of a heart-warming, pro-immigration USA Today feature:

Immigration policy shapes the destiny of the Nation. On May 24, 2012, at one of this Nation’s most distin­guished museums of history, a dozen immigrants stood before the tattered flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem. There they took the oath to become American citizens. These naturalization ceremonies bring together men and women of different ori­gins who now share a common destiny. They swear a common oath to renounce fidelity to foreign princes, to defend the Constitution, and to bear arms on behalf of the country when required by law. The history of the United States is in part made of the stories, talents, and lasting contributions of those who crossed oceans and deserts to come here.

What any of this has to do with Arizona’s decision to attempt to enforce federal law against folks who have never renounced their allegiance to various foreign potentates is beyond me, but at least we all know that Justice Kennedy *hearts* Immigrants.

Justice Scalia, on the other hand, devotes the first eight-and-a-half pages of his dissent to establishing the principle that “the defining characteristic of sovereignty [is] the power to exclude from the sovereign’s territory people who have no right to be there.” In other words, international borders are not friendly geographic suggestions. While little of this analysis bore on his subsequent analysis of whether SB 1070’s enforcement mechanisms are preempted, Justice Scalia still felt compelled to invoke Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century treatises on International Law to underline this obvious point. Why?

Well, maybe he was reading these Evangelical leaders. Nowhere in anything Focus or the “Table” wrote up was any recognition of Scalia’s principle of sovereign exclusion. Sure, there are allusions to the “rule of law” and “secure national borders,” but deportation is discounted as a non-starter due to the immigrant’s inherent human dignity. Without providing a philosophical defense of the exercise of the power to exclude, these Evangelicals are allowing national sovereignty to atrophy.

In other words, these Evangelical leaders checked the “immigrants have human dignity” box, but skipped the “nations don’t have to accept everybody” box. Justice Scalia’s dissent should remind them to be more, ahem, comprehensive in the future.

Posted by Keith Miller

Keith Miller is an Assistant Solicitor General in the Federalism Unit of the Arizona Attorney General's Office. He is married and has four children. You can follow him on Twitter.