Compassion rarely surfaces as a topic voiced in the same breath with justice. Justice, after all, is commonly acquainted with the tenets of fairness, that is, what is deserved according to a set of commonly held laws and beliefs. Displaying a form of affectionate compassion, it would seem in most cases, would fly in the face of the outcomes of fairness. Think about helping people that you know, by all accounts, shouldn’t deserve help–isn’t this a breach in the case of enacting justice?
I had this discussion recently with Bobby Wibowo, a 23-year-old man born in Indonesia, who is now living in Philadelphia where we are part of the same church, Philadelphia Praise Center. Bobby is a paralegal working mostly with immigration law. He tells me that despite the machine-like tenacity of our legal system, he believes that compassion is an integral component in treating people justly. Bobby believes that people of privilege and power in law-making decisions often need a change in perspective. He asserts that mercy should be a lens by which law-makers interpret the law and arbitrate on people’s immigration cases.
I ask why.
“People in power have their own agendas,” Bobby says, implying a critical disconnect between the worldview and power of the socially influential from the experiences of the socially marginalized or powerless. Bobby’s insight evokes the adage: one cannot possibly hope to understand the “other” without first walking a mile in his or her shoes.
But what would mercy and compassion actually look like in the process of immigration justice and reform? In the case of immigration, Bobby suggests, people who have an order posted against them for deportation should, in certain cases, be excused. Bobby lists some cases where the justice system should reconsider the sentence of those awaiting deportation on the basis of extraordinary circumstances: if a dependent family member is suffering from poor health; if the deportee is strongly involved in the community, is seeking asylum, or if children with U.S. citizenship would be involved in the deportation process. These are all factors that need to be considered in cases that include deportation as an option, Bobby asserts.
Bobby retains a lot of faith in the justice system but he isn’t blind to unjust rulings in cases that pass through his hands at the law office. While translating and organizing documents and files that have gone to trial, he sometimes comes across a case in which he thinks the ruling should have been more lenient. Maybe if the justice system would be more willing to extend a hand of grace, he reflects, and recognize that the human dignity of offending immigrants is equal to that of U.S. citizens, we might reach a justice that more reflects what Christ demonstrated with us.