Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

What Does it Mean to Enforce the Rule of Law for Undocumented Immigrants?

Stephanie Summers


By Stephanie Summers

December 1, 2014


On November 20, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration, which were initially met with joy or derision. Loud denouncements of the president’s intentions quickly followed. Many immigration reform advocates stated that the president was doing too little to protect immigrants from deportation. Many members of Congress addressed the means, but not the substance, of the proposed actions, saying that the president had gone beyond constitutional limitations. The president, for his part, responded to his critics with an exhortation to members of Congress to “pass a bill” and an explanation to immigration reform advocates about why certain actions were undertaken, but not others. Some members of Congress responded with numerous ideas having little to do with providing needed reforms to the nation’s immigration system.

As Christian citizens committed to public justice, we have an obligation to urge the federal government to fulfill its responsibilities to address needed changes in our immigration system. 

But rather than being drawn into the vitriolic debate that currently rages, let’s examine some principles that must undergird the substance of immigration reform, both today and in the years to come.

An earlier series of Capital Commentary articles by Julia Stronks and Aaron Korthuis noted that many evangelicals have promoted passage of bipartisan immigration reforms that respect the God-given dignity of every person, protect the unity of families, uphold the rule of law, 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. Much of the policy making based on these principles for immigration reform has sought to help government fulfill its two-fold norm of public justice, as outlined in the Center for Public Justice’s Guidelines for Government.

But I would suggest that Christians must make an important clarification when stating our commitments to upholding the rule of law, and that is that the law applies equally to those who are both perpetrators and victims of criminal acts. Rightly, in immigration reform policy, upholding the rule of law is often expressed as enacting policies that require undocumented immigrants to pay fines and taxes owed or face deportation as a result of their law-breaking. But upholding the rule of law also means that government should treat with equity those undocumented immigrants who are also victims of crimes. A good example of this equity in upholding the rule of law is that victims who lack proper documentation are at present, under the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, able to anonymously report the wrongdoings of employers or traffickers without the fear of facing deportation as a result. 

But current policy making regarding equity in upholding the rule of law has a continuing deficiency that must be addressed. Today, many undocumented immigrants are exploited and put at risk for deportation while they are making efforts to secure their immigration status. As the American Bar Association has noted, notarios (unlicensed individuals serving as immigration “consultants”) are claiming to provide services that they cannot actually provide, with promises to secure legal status for immigrants. This is an example of taking advantage of differences in legal systems and definitions. The Spanish word notario generally means a person who is able to perform some of the work of a notary or attorney. In the United States, however, such persons are unauthorized to practice law and are not able to represent clients. Yet most of these cases do not come to light until after victims have lost substantial sums of money.

While cases of notario fraud may be submitted anonymously to the Federal Trade Commission using a process as complex as the one for which the notario was engaged in the first place, in many states, victims are unable to anonymously report the crime that has been perpetrated against them. This means that victims put themselves at risk for deportation enforcement actions, even in cases where they could have been able to secure legal status lawfully. As a result, victims will underreport such crimes, and notario fraud will continue to flourish. 

Upholding the rule of law with equity means that the law grants victims the ability to report crimes committed against them without fear of reprisals. Under the executive actions announced by the president, additional undocumented immigrants will become eligible for deferred action and other registered statuses, and more perpetrators of fraud will find new opportunities. As immigration reform conversations advance, and the complexity of such reforms increases, attention to upholding the rule of law by protecting victims of notario fraud is needed.


- Stephanie Summers is Chief Executive Officer at the Center for Public Justice.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”