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  1. Asylum and the Limits of Mercy in a Nation of Laws

    The case of Ded Rranxburgaj, a rejected Albanian asylum seeker living in Detroit, has been getting attention lately. Mr. Rranxburgaj arrived in the United States in about 2001 and applied for asylum. An Immigration Judge rejected his claim in 2006, and the BIA denied his appeal in 2009. Instead of deporting him, the government allowed him to remain in the U.S. for humanitarian reasons: He was the primary caretaker for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis. Mr. Rranxburgaj's wife is wheelchair bound, and she recently suffered a stroke. Doctors say that she is too sick to travel.

    Rev. Zundel: When life gives you ICE, make ice cream.

    There seems little doubt that Mr. Rranxburgaj is a "decent, family man" who does not pose a danger to the United States. According to his wife, he is a "very good husband" who helps her "take a shower... change clothes [and] cook." Besides his wife, he has two sons in the United States--a DACA recipient and a U.S. citizen.

    Mr. Rranxburgaj was living here peacefully since his case ended in 2009, but events took a turn for the worse last year when ICE decided to implement his removal order. According to an ICE spokesman: "In October 2017, ICE allowed Mr. Rranxburgaj to remain free from custody while making preparations for his departure pursuant to the judge’s order, which he had satisfactorily done." "He was again instructed to report to ICE [to be deported this week], but did not report as instructed."

    Instead, Mr. Rranxburgaj took refuge in the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit. Since ICE generally does not arrest people from churches, Mr. Rranxburgaj apparently hopes to avoid removal by remaining there, at least until something can be done about his deportation order. His lawyer has requested a stay of removal from ICE, but there is no decision yet, and ICE does not appear willing to play nice. An agency spokesman says that Mr. Rranxburgaj is considered a "fugitive."

    Meanwhile, the church is standing with Mr. Rranxburgaj and his family. The Pastor, Rev. Dr. Jill Zundel, said that the decision was in line with the teachings of Jesus, who had "compassion for those who seek new hope in a new land." Rev. Zundel, who--if I can say this about a member of the clergy--seems like a real bad ***, has a tattoo on her arm that reads, "When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty."

    There are different ways to look at Mr. Rranxburgaj's case. On the one hand, he is a man who has been in the United States for 17 years, his immediate family members are all here, he takes care of his sick wife, and he does not pose a danger to our country. So he should be allowed to stay. On the other hand, he is a man whose asylum case and appeal were rejected, and who is violating the law by remaining in our country. Allowing him to remain here will only encourage others to follow his lead. Therefore, he must go.

    In short, Mr. Rranxburgaj's story lays bare the conflict between enforcing the immigration law and showing mercy in a sympathetic case.

    This situation reminds me of another--much older--conflict between law and mercy (or, more accurately, between law and justice, but I think the concepts of mercy and justice are closely related). After he was unjustly sentenced to death, Socrates sat in his cell waiting to be executed. His friend Crito arrived to help him escape. In the ensuing dialogue (creatively named The Crito), Socrates argues that he cannot violate a law, even an unjust law. He says that he entered into a social contract with "The Law" by choosing to live in Athens, and he gained benefits accordingly. To violate the rules now would undermine the social contract and ultimately destroy the city. Rather than breaking the law to escape, Socrates believed he should try to persuade the authorities to let him go. Failing that, he must accept death, since he could not justly attack The Law (by escaping) on account of having been unjustly convicted. In other words, Socrates disagrees with Rev. Zundel's tattoo.

    So where does this leave us?

    I must admit that my sympathies lie with Mr. Rranxburgaj and his family. They are not doing anyone any harm. What is the benefit of ripping the family apart, especially considering the wife's vulnerable position? Thomas Aquinas writes that "Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty."
    In Mr. Rranxburgaj's case, fealty to the abstract concept of "The Law" seems cruel in the face of family separation and the wife's illness.

    On the macro level, Mr. Rranxburgaj's case begs the question whether there is room for mercy (justice?) in the enforcement of our nation's immigration laws. Well, why shouldn't there be? Every person convicted of a crime is not subject to the maximum penalty. Indeed, due to mitigating factors and prosecutorial discretion, very few criminals actually receive the maximum sentence. The same is true for government enforcement in the civil arena: Not everyone who breaks the speed limit receives a ticket. If there is room for mercy and justice in the implementation of the criminal and civil law, why can't the immigration laws be interpreted in a similar manner?

    Unfortunately, that is not the view of the Trump Administration, which seems hell-bent on enforcement. To be fair, restricting immigration was an important plank of Mr. Trump's campaign, and so it makes sense that he would crack down on illegal immigration. However, in Mr. Rranxburgaj's case, and in many other instances, the Administration's policies defy common sense. In the rush to implement The Law, the Administration has lost sight of justice. And of humanity.

    When our government replaces mercy with cruelty, it is not only "illegals" who will suffer. We all will. And so it is heartening to see brave people like Rev. Zundel and her congregation standing up for justice, even when it sometimes means disobeying the law.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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