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Nuno Vasconcellos always seemed like a model citizen to his neighbors in Austin, Texas. He was a living, breathing example of the American dream. He served in the Army, fought to recover from serious head injuries that took away most of his memories prior to 1985, endured poverty and homelessness, and somehow found the time to start a multimillion-dollar business. But model citizen? No. Not exactly. Nuno’s not an American citizen.

This came back to haunt him on August 6, 2003. Nuno, his wife Angela, and their two children were passing through immigration at Boston’s Logan Airport after a visit to Nuno’s family in the Azores. Suddenly, a computer threw up a red flag beside Nuno’s name. As an anti-terrorism measure, the computers had recently been linked with criminal databases. Years earlier, Nuno had been charged with kidnapping and placed on some kind of probation for ten years. The charge stemmed from a confrontation with an employee of one of his tire stores who had stolen equipment to feed a cocaine habit. Nuno had lured him to the store, tied him to a chair, and forced him to confess before calling the police. The judge in his case had placed him on probation without finding him guilty.

Had Nuno been a citizen, this old charge would have been long forgotten. As a resident alien, however, the laws applying to him were more stringent. As long as he remained in the country, there was no problem. But, having left the USA, he was now effectively reapplying for admission. When the charge came up on the computer screen, Nuno was shackled and taken to Boston’s Suffolk County jail. Deportation proceedings began.

Fortunately, Nuno’s lawyer was able to get before a judge and point to Nuno’s military commendations, reference letters from his church, business associates, and charity work. He was also able to explain the circumstances surrounding the “kidnapping” case. The judge immediately ordered that Nuno be released and returned to his home. All’s well that ends well for Nuno! Not surprisingly, Nuno has applied for citizenship. He did it while he was in jail.

Citizenship has its privileges. That’s certainly true in America where citizens have some rights that non-citizens don’t and also don’t have many of the headaches that non-citizens do. Paul, a Roman citizen, knew something about the privileges of citizenship too. “But our citizenship is in heaven,” he reminded the Christians in Philippi. Still important words to remember for those of us who claim belief in Jesus.