A Christian Speaks Calmly on Immigration
It’s rare to find calm, thoughtful Christian commentary on immigration these days. The problem starts at the top. Too many religious leaders replace moral guidance with moralism. That’s the stance where you solve all the problems entailed in a complex question by choosing the answer in advance. You present it as an unconditional demand. Say that it comes from God. Then it’s easy to tar people who object to your plan. When people point out the practical problems you’ve ignored, you’ve got an answer: Claim that they are being coldly “utilitarian” by daring to think through the likely outcome. Never mind that considering the justice of likely consequences is key to the moral virtue of prudence.
Logic Weak Here: Use Buzzwords
Let’s say your plan has catastrophic consequences. Like Angela Merkel’s open door to Muslim colonists. Then you can bring out the big guns. Start accusing people of being “consequentialists.” If your opponents point to economic costs, blame them for putting “profits over people.” If they cite any statistics, damn them as “reducing human beings to numbers.”
Bishop Daniel Flores compared deporting immigrants to aborting unborn children.
I could multiply examples of this kind of rhetoric. I’d start with Pope Francis’ claim that opposition to Muslim mass migration into Europe puts immigration hawks in the same moral bed as Cain and King Herod. Or how about Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, TX, who compared deporting immigrants to aborting unborn children? (Does he realize that he just equated the nation of Mexico to a medical waste dumpster?) There are plenty of Protestant examples as well, alas. You get the idea.
On the other side of the question, tempers can get hot too. I hear people talk about “treason,” of “selling out our country” in return for cheap labor, cheap votes, warm bodies in pews, or funding from George Soros. I’ve pounded the table that way a few times myself, you might recall. (When I wrote really calm and sober articles on the subject, nobody shared them.)
A Balanced Voice
There’s a time and a place for heat, but maybe we need more light. I was pleased to glimpse some in, of all places, the liberal Jesuit magazine America. The writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry just published a piece there that’s admirably balanced. Sane and calm. It breathes the same spirit as the passages in the Catholic Catechism on immigration. Since too few Catholics consult that, let me quote it here again:
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens. (2241)
Raising the Right Questions
Gobry writes in the same spirit. He acknowledges, for instance, that the immigration debate is not just about the benefits sought and moral claims made by immigrants. There are other stakeholders too — namely citizens. As Gobry says:
I do not know what I believe because there are genuine questions of both prudence and principle that remain unresolved. How many immigrants can any given society safely absorb? What are the empirical costs and benefits of immigration? (I have looked at a lot of social science, and the answer is murky.) Are Christians not supposed to believe in the legitimacy of civil authority and non-totalitarian states, which cannot exist without borders? Are we not supposed to be skeptical of the desires of the rich and of big business, who in the West overwhelmingly support and benefit from expanded immigration? I am not sure how to settle these matters.
Gobry also raises crucial questions that most readers of America probably never see posed:
I grant the Gospel imperative to “welcome the stranger.” But here is the thing: The church’s doctrine also supports the right of sovereign countries to have borders. It is one of the most basic duties of states to enforce their borders. … At some point, according to church doctrine, it is a country’s right and even duty to say “No” to some perfectly nice people.
My question is: What is that point? I mean that seriously. I would be much more comfortable with emotion-laden appeals to “welcome the stranger” if they were accompanied with some logic or rationale for the point at which welcoming the stranger becomes imprudent. Or do you favor completely open borders? And if you do, why not simply make the case for that?
I can’t answer that question on behalf of pro-immigration activists. But I’d love to hear their answer.
What’s Distinctly Christian?
Gobry poses a likewise worthy question to people like me, who want to tighten our borders. He asks:
What is distinctly Christian about your approach? … [T]he doctrine is not silent. It does call on us to make a specific moral effort. Even if you are right empirically about the negative effects of increased immigration, it is still the case that the Gospel calls on us to show special, supererogatory concern for migrants and refugees. Put differently: What is it that would distinguish your ideal immigration regime from the ideal immigration regime of a completely secular person who happened to share your empirical analysis of the costs and benefits of immigration?
It’s an earnest inquiry, and worth an answer. Here’s mine.
Nothing. I base my stance on immigration policy or any other public policy on (I hope!) the wise, prudent application of natural law. That’s the moral code that God wrote on everyone’s heart. You don’t need supernatural faith to know it, though grace certainly helps you to obey it. Natural law, not the Gospel, is the proper basis for legislation in a pluralist society.
How fair is it to ask Jewish citizens (for instance) to bear the costs of a policy that’s driven not by reason and justice, but a specifically Christian notion of “generosity”? Not fair at all, I’d say.
How fair is it to ask Jewish citizens (for instance) to bear the costs of a policy that’s driven not by reason and justice, but a specifically Christian notion of “generosity”? Not fair at all, I’d say. On a long list of issues, from abortion to euthanasia, from aid to the poor to just war theory and even same-sex marriage, natural law provides clear, consistent, guidance. We should base our policy arguments in natural law, not (sectarian) doctrine.
Natural Law Is For Politics. The Gospel Should Guide Our Lives
Our Christian faith drives us, of course. It makes us see the importance of natural law, human dignity, and universal human rights. But all those things are knowable to non-believers, too. And that’s why they should the guides for our public policy. Would we really want specifically Christian doctrines dictating laws? If so, which Christian church would interpret them? The churches differ on many, many issues. Politicizing the Gospel is a sure way to set them at each others’ throats. That’s why our Founders wisely forbade a national church.
The place of Christians, specifically, in aiding immigrants isn’t rewriting policy to suit the pope or the Presbyterians. It’s to use our churches as places of welcome for those who come legally. Evangelize them. Teach them English. Help them gain job skills. Find them babysitters for their kids. Help them assimilate. And do it with church-raised money, not federal funds obtained by becoming government contractors. That’s what the churches should be doing, not grabbing for power to enforce the Gospel via the government.