A pregnant, illegal immigrant in Nashville was arrested for “careless” driving without a driver’s license or car insurance. Incarcerated after records showed she had been deported in Mexico over 10 years ago, the woman gave birth in a Nashville hospital while still in custody. Eventually she was released into her family’s care. But Juana Villegas’ saga has aroused nationwide media attention, including a New York Times article. And local United Methodist Church activists rallied at her trial, asserting that the laws that incarcerated her were at fault.
"As Christians, we bear responsibility for what happened to Juana if we stand back and do and say nothing," declared a concerned Methodist lay woman, one of several dozen supporters of Villegas who filled the courtroom during the August hearing, which the United Methodist News Service (UMNS) monitored. Open Border advocates have tried to transform Villegas into an icon for their political cause. “Jesus sided with those who were marginalized,” insisted local Methodist clergywoman Barbara Garcia, who lamented to the UMNS that there is a “lot of fear in the community.”
Another local Methodist clergywoman at the trial expressed hope that Villegas’ story “will make people think about our laws” and that society would “not criminalize the immigrants.” To not “criminalize” any immigrants of course would require granting automatic legal status to all persons who successfully cross the U.S. border. Does Christian compassion really urge such a radical remedy?
Open border advocates on the Religious Left mystically describe illegal immigrants as “sojourners” seeking respite, like the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt from the angry King Herod who sought to kill the Baby Jesus. Whether it actually is compassionate or not, romanticizing illegal immigrants suits the purpose of radical multiculturalism and the erasure of national borders.
Activists for open borders prefer not to consider that many illegal immigrants are simply people who understandably take advantage of economic opportunities in regrettable violation of the law. Villegas was stopped for “careless” driving in a Nashville suburb. Having no driver’s license or care insurance, she was arrested, and a night court commissioner sent her to jail upon learning she had previously been deported in 1996. Villegas has had three children in the U.S. since returning illegally again from Mexico. And at the time of her arrest, she was about to give birth to a fourth.
Villegas was taken to Nashville hospital for the child birth and then was returned to jail several days later, eventually being released after a week’s captivity, which had been prolonged by the court’s closure over a holiday weekend. She was guarded during his hospital stay and kept handcuffed to her bed, except during the child birth. The baby was released to her husband. After Villegas was released from the hospital, the jail did not allow her to take a breast pump into her cell. “I was treated like a criminal, and I didn't understand why I was being treated like that,” she later complained.
Local law enforcement insisted they followed proper procedure and that Villegas was treated the same as any other medium-security inmate accused of violating federal law. "An important factor in this case is that this woman had been previously deported from this country and she ignored that order and came back,” the sheriff’s department explained. “Federal immigration authorities don't look lightly on this."
At her August hearing, the judge dismissed the careless driving charge against Villegas because of a technicality but gave her a token fine for lacking a driver’s license and car insurance. Immigration officials agreed to her temporary release so as not to separate her from her newborn child. Her lawyers are considering civil lawsuits against local enforcement or a federal human rights lawsuit. A local United Methodist social justice group intoned about the perceived outrage against Villegas: “We are outraged and heartbroken for the treatment of Juana at the hands of the officers who were involved. … We urge our communities across the state to grieve with us and respond in prayer and political action to work towards repair and reform of the immigration laws of our state and nation.”
The United Methodist Church’s missions agency funds “Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON),” an immigration advocacy group that organized on behalf of Villegas. “We must step forward and shout to the rooftops a wrong has been committed," said a JFON spokesperson. "The suffering for her, her newborn, her husband and her family was unnecessary and cruel."
The indignant clergywomen and others who gathered at the court house for Villegas doubtless felt virtuous about rallying to the cause of the “marginalized.” But they did not explain how local law enforcement could have better served justice. Villegas, pregnant and with her three children, was allegedly driving carelessly, unlicensed and uninsured. Undoubtedly, Villegas’ advocates would insist that drivers licenses and insurance be granted by right to all illegal immigrants.
Open border advocates do not consider the human costs of unrestricted immigration, both on immigrants and on the host country, in terms of crime, social disarray, economic exploitation, and cultural ghettos. Can any nation anywhere, even if wealthy, long function without enforceable borders? And what about the social impact on originating nations, such as Mexico, who lose incentive economically to empower their poor, with the U.S. as a perpetual safety valve?
Like an unrestricted welfare state, unrestricted immigration carries the veneer of easy compassion. But the unintended consequences of both are often socially and spiritually destructive, especially for the intended beneficiaries, often across generations. Sadly, expressing sustained compassion, beyond the cycle of a news release or a quick rally, is often difficult for the Religious Left, which believes its own indignation can sweep away all temporal injustice.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.