The Prodigal Illegal: Christian Love and Immigration Reform

16 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2016

See all articles by Victor C. Romero

Victor C. Romero

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law

Date Written: January 11, 2016


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 subordination — in a sense, to set captives free.

Keywords: immigration, law and religion, christianity

Suggested Citation

Romero, Victor C., The Prodigal Illegal: Christian Love and Immigration Reform (January 11, 2016). Denver University Law Review, Vol. 92, No. 917, 2015; Penn State Law Research Paper No. 2016-1. Available at SSRN:

Victor C. Romero (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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