Immigration debate needs constructive engagement

| Jason Adkins | December 21, 2016 | 6 Comments

The debate over immigration policy is inevitably heating up as we prepare for Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. Undoubtedly, an early priority of his presidency will be to increase border security and re-examine President Obama’s immigration enforcement policies.

Unfortunately, because of the over-the-top way in which these matters were discussed during the campaign, including remarks by the president-elect and others, many undocumented people and their children (who might be citizens) live in fear that their families will be torn apart by what lies ahead.

But instead of ratcheting up fear-inducing rhetoric to oppose the pernicious elements of Trump’s pledges (which some pro-immigration advocates are doing in statements that seem more anti-Trump than pro-immigrant), advocates for immigrants, including the Church, should follow a path of constructive engagement. Recognizing that political dynamics are not favorable for comprehensive immigration reform, we should seek to build common ground rooted in first principles, and focus on the need both to keep families together and protect childhood arrivals, who have come to be called the “dreamers.”

First principles

Donald Trump is not wrong that a nation without borders is no longer a nation. Nor is there anything wrong with deporting migrants who represent a threat to the safety and security of the American people. As Pope John XXIII noted in his 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” the Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their borders for the common good of their citizens, which includes not only their physical safety, but also their economic well-being.

But the right of nations to control their borders is not absolute. Nations also have an obligation to the universal common good, and thus should seek to accommodate migrants to the greatest extent possible, particularly those escaping violence, persecution and extreme poverty.

Similarly, upholding the right of migrants and refugees to come to the United States does not mean that they are without responsibilities to their new nation or residence. Building the common good requires a sense of solidarity among citizens, and when newcomers behave as though they are entitled to the benefits of their new land but do not share in the responsibilities to ensure those blessings continue, it undermines civic friendship.

Lost opportunity

As a reflection of these principles, in 2013 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supported a comprehensive reform that 1) created a 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, which includes the payment of thousands of dollars in fines and fees;
2) disqualified those with criminal records from citizenship; 3) mandated both English and civics education for prospective citizens; and 4) increased border security by billions of dollars.

This was a good compromise bill that should have been passed. Unfortunately, that opportunity was squandered, and now we are faced with an uncertain future regarding how the Trump administration will prioritize the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws against undocumented people.

Human rights test

Will President-elect Trump leave in place “deferred action” programs for childhood arrivals and their parents and choose to focus instead on those who threaten public safety? Or will the government indiscriminately deport those caught in a new dragnet?

If the latter, then Christians and all those of good will should raise their voice in protest — not by shouting, nor by engaging in sloppy advocacy that sounds like the United States should become a cosmopolitan nation of open borders and global citizens, embracing a relativistic ideal of cultural diversity. These approaches are not helpful or persuasive.

Instead, we should follow the lead of Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and view the immigration debate in specifically American terms. The immigration debate is a test of who we are as a nation — a human rights test.

Does America welcome those who share its ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of their place of origin? Will America remain a beacon of hope for those who are poor and oppressed, and come out of this controversy stronger? Or will we cynically deport those lured here by a promise of a new life after we have extracted cheap labor from them?

The bottom line is that to protect our immigrant brothers and sisters in these times, we should sound less like open borders absolutists or alarmists, and more like Catholics.

Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Immigration Sunday: Jan. 8
‘Creating communities of encounter’

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops are again calling for the observance of Immigration Sunday across the state on the Feast of Our Lord’s Epiphany. This annual event provides an opportunity to learn more about the Church’s teaching on immigration and raises awareness about migration issues in Minnesota and beyond.

The theme of this year’s Immigration Sunday — which coincides with the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Migration Week Jan. 8-14 — is “Creating communities of encounter.” It underscores the need to approach immigrants as people to be loved, not problems to be solved.

To support the observance of Immigration Sunday, the Minnesota Catholic Conference has produced resources to use in parishes, schools or homes, including a Liturgy Planning Guide and an Activity and Resource Guide. These materials and more can be found at http://www.mncatholic.org/immigration-sunday.

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Category: Faith in the Public Arena

  • Charles C.

    This is a difficult comment for me, in large part because it needs a more exhaustive analysis than I care to offer. It is also difficult because it may end up sounding as a criticism of Mr. Adkins and the Bishops. I have no desire to do that. Mr. Adkins holds a very responsible position and I applaud the time and energy he puts into his work. It may be that he has so much to do, and so little time to do it, that he is unable to give as much thought to this subject as it deserves.

    Tucked in at the very end of his article is the admonition that Catholics should not sound like open borders absolutists. He doesn’t say you can’t BE an open borders absolutist, just that you shouldn’t SOUND like one. That’s excellent advice for the current political situation. Remember that the majority of Americans disagree with open borders and that Trump is the President-elect. If one goes about calling for open borders they will be considered irrelevant to the discussion and Mr. Adkins certainly doesn’t want that.

    In order not to sound like open borders supporters, the Bishops and Mr. Adkins mention that nations have the right to control their borders and bring in a quote from Pope John XXIII. As soon as that is mentioned however, it is ignored and forgotten. Instead, the right to control our borders is less important than our duty to help the entire world (Universal Common Good) and do everything we possibly can to help immigrants. The fact that no nation in the world subscribes to this philosophy doesn’t seem to discourage the open borders supporters.

    Yes, says Mr. Adkins, you can control your borders, BUT you have to let in as many immigrants as possible, and accommodate them. The US is a big country and we could possibly fit in another 200 million people. The citizens already here might be reduced to dire poverty, but it is technically possible.

    If we don’t let the world in, then who do we keep out? Those who threaten public safety? But there is no way to know who those people are in advance. And even if we decide to keep some people out, how do we actually do it? There are stories of people deported 6, 7, or 8 times who come back across the border and cause death or commit lesser, serious, crimes. How do we keep people who have been deported from returning? Do the Bishops call for a nearly impenetrable wall? If not, what does “controlling the border” mean?

    There are so many other problems with the position of Mr. Adkins and the Bishops that I haven’t even touched on. If there is interest, I might. It reminds me of someone saying of people who hold a particular political philosophy in America, “They don’t care if it works, all that matters is if it makes them feel good about themselves.”

    • Nancy

      I would like to hear more from you, Charles, on the aspects you feel Mr. Adkins did not highlight.
      Although I found much of what Mr. Adkins wrote as interesting, enlightening and thoughtful, I found one statement to be lacking in logical progression:

      “But the right of nations to control their borders is not absolute. Nations also have an obligation to the universal common good, and thus should seek to accommodate migrants to the greatest extent possible, particularly those escaping violence, persecution and extreme poverty.”

      Nations being concerned and actively attempting to promote the “Universal Common Good” are not limited to “open borders” and welcoming any and all who want to come. Taking this view to its extreme, we simply cannot logistically allow all peoples/nations into these United States of America. There are logistical barriers such as infrastructure and resources which simply cannot accommodate endless immigration.

      Certainly we can welcome some and perhaps more than we already have since the President Kennedy, however there are other actions which can be pursued for purposes of “common good”. There are other actions to bring about changes in countries so that their citizens rise out of poverty or have threats to their lives removed.

      So first and foremost we need to define what is “universal common good” and understand how each party involved in the dialogue with Mr. Adkins understands the term before discussion can evolve. Then we must decide if we want to discuss general immigration in terms of future immigrants or if we want to focus on those who have immigrated and are in need of understanding how to be good citizens, or those who have already entered our country and are contributing but are not legal citizens.

      • Charles C.

        Dear Nancy,

        This is my third attempt to answer your kind note. I want to thank you for forcing me to fight the confusion I have experienced while trying to respond to the arguments of Mr. Adkins and the American bishops on the subject of immigration.

        The reason for my confusion has turned out to be simple. The Church seems to be unwilling to say anything clearly, so there is nothing to respond to.

        What does it mean to say that the citizens of a nation have the right to “control” their borders? For the normal mind, that means that various devices are put in place to ensure that no one enters without permission. Those devices might include walls, barbed wire, dogs, sensors, armed patrols, drones, and who knows what other security devices which are available. But the Bishops don’t like walls, and the Pope condemns as un-Christian the people who want to build one.

        Control of the borders should also include some method for detecting and punishing those who slip past the wall, but as Mr. Adkins notes, he and the Bishops are only willing to deport those who pose a threat to the safety and security of the American people. There is no reason to suspect the Bishops would support the deportation of someone involved in violating immigration laws, welfare fraud or low level crimes like prostitution. “Control,” to the Bishops and Mr. Adkins, must have some meaning but they refuse to say what that meaning is.

        The article claims that nations have an obligation to the Universal Common Good. Isn’t it a bit odd that no nation in the world recognizes that obligation? It’s also a little odd that this concept, at least as it concerns immigration, is quite new, hasn’t been completely formulated (at least according to the articles I’ve read on it), and it appears that there will never be an international mechanism to enforce it.

        So what is the teaching of the UCG on immigration? Accept as many immigrants as possible? What does “possible” mean in this case? What does “impossible” mean? Does this acceptance include illegals? The Bishops think it does, but who really knows? Again, nothing definite is being said.

        The third of the “first principles” Mr Adkins mentions is that immigrants have responsibilities to us:

        “Building the common good requires a sense of solidarity among citizens, and when newcomers behave as though they are entitled to the benefits of their new land but do not share in the responsibilities to ensure those blessings continue, it undermines civic friendship.”

        Does this mean that immigrants must support the Constitution as the law of the land? If so, then a lot of immigrants will have to give up their desire to replace the Constitution with Sharia. The majority of American Muslims want Sharia and Muslim courts instead of the Constitution (2015 Center for Security Policy poll).

        Will Muslim immigrants be religiously tolerant? between 20 – 25% of American Muslims believe violence is justified against anyone who gives offense against Islam (for example, displaying a picture of Mohammad).

        Will the Bishops require immigrants to abandon some of their cultural norms? Such as the norms governing behavior toward women? But what punishment or sanction is there for immigrants who fail to live up to their responsibilities? None are ever mentioned. And what exactly are these responsibilities? Don’t break the law? Is that it? This is the kind of responsibility which may be ignored without consequence.

        And so, of the Bishops’ three “first principles,” none are very clear and the only one which has any controlling authority is the one which demands the admission of as many immigrants as possible.

        As Mr. Adkins, a lobbyist with experience in such matters, points out:

        “Christians and all those of good will should raise their voice in
        protest — not by shouting, nor by engaging in sloppy advocacy that sounds like the United States should become a cosmopolitan nation of open borders and global citizens, embracing a relativistic ideal of cultural diversity. These approaches are not helpful or persuasive.

        “Instead, we should follow the lead of Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and view the immigration debate in specifically American terms. The immigration debate is a test of who we are as a nation — a human rights test.”

        Mr. Adkins says, in effect, that if we (Mr. Adkins and the Bishops) discuss this immigration issue as an immigration issue, we’ll lose. So let’s not call it an immigration issue, let’s call it a human rights issue. Let’s say that all of humanity has the right to migrate to wherever they want, it’s a human right. Of course, the Bishops might continue, if people have a human right to come here then it would be a violation of their human rights to keep them out, so we have to let everybody in.

        If the best argument for the Bishops’ immigration position involves relying on confusion and a lack of clarity, I hope it is defeated. Without taking a stand on the merits of any immigration proposal, I say that any proposal relying on confusion and misdirection should lose.

        If the Bishops and Mr. Adkins have a solid case they should present it cleanly and forthrightly.

        I really want to see a clear Catholic position on immigration, and I want to support it, I just haven’t seen one yet. Well, Nancy, I suppose I have to leave it to you since I don’t expect a response from Mr Adkins or a Bishop. What do you think they’re saying? Once I know that I can stop dealing with guesses and suppositions and look at the merits of their argument. Until then, they just sound like politicians to me, and politicians aren’t in favor this year.

        • Nancy

          Yes, I also infer from the article that the position is ‘open borders’ and ‘come’ to the United States, ‘all who are weary and rest’. Being unclear, and making vague statements such as to the rights of nations to protect their borders I order to bring along any opponents by sounding as if you understand their point, is a means of getting people to accept the proposition by emotional response only.

  • Charles C.

    “According to 71-year-old Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who is the Archbishop of Vienna, a whole rethinking of the refugee question is needed. He spoke of an overburden on society.

    “Shoenborn said: ‘We have had to learn: This goes beyond our capacities and possibilities.’

    “The Cardinal said, according to the Archdiocese of Vienna: ‘Will there be an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims want that and say: Europe is at its end.’

    “He asked God to have mercy on Europe and to show mercy to its people, which he said ‘are in danger of forfeiting our Christian heritage’.

    “Schoenborn explained that people could already feel this loss, ‘not only economically, but above all, in human and religious matters.’

    “The Archdiocese of Vienna also recently published a brochure to ask migrants to respect Christian symbols, traditions and culture.”

    (Express, UK. December 27, 2016)

    What makes us think the US is any different?

  • Dominic Deus

    How could it be possible that you two are doing so well without me!? Oh, wait…….maybe it’s because I haven’t been there to add my quotient of confusion.

    We are clearly NOT an open borders country. Sneaking in here without authority is very difficult unless you cross our southern border illegally. Elsewhere,entry requirements and entry points are very effective and vigorously enforced. Obtaining a tourist visa and just staying here when it expires is actually quite difficult unless you have money, live on a cash basis and look over your shoulder a lot. This happens regularly but in small numbers with young people and student travelers. Ironically, if they are successful in staying, they often get caught leaving because their passport has an expired visa. There are very strict quotas for other immigrants and wanting to live here is not a good enough reason. Truly, the so called “problem” with foreign nationals entering the United States is virtually non-existent.

    EXCEPT for the Mexico/US border and the question of what do we owe, if anything, to refugees.

    As you may have heard, Secretary of Defense nominee Mattis, the former Marine commander of Southern Command, just stated at his confirmation hearings that he believes most of the border refugees are economic with some fleeing oppression or unsafe living conditions. He’s right. In my less than four star opinion.

    (DISCLOSURE: Though I spent twenty-seven years as an Army officer, I was never the commander of Southern Command or anything else requiring four stars.)

    So the question really is what do we, as Catholics or more generally as Americans, do about economic and political refugees? I think Mr. Adkins, who in my view did a great job on this, went about as far as he could for a public spokesperson for the Archdiocese and the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

    The substantive discussion, argument, and general hell raising has to come from the Faithful.

    Sincerely,

    Dominic Deus
    Agent Provocateur. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/49a648535baa31e2c726e6007f0761f0a59d6a169b09f16fe2da67a14116cc37.jpg