Jesuits’ View on Immigration Morality

Jesuits’ View on Immigration Morality

At the end of the summer of 2022, Governors Abbott of Texas and DeSantis of Florida transported migrants to New York City, Chicago, Washington DC, Martha’s Vineyard, and other locations. This action prompted spirited and often angry discussion around the nation. One notable statement was offered in the Jesuit publication America Magazine. Written by the editors themselves, it was titled Politicians Bus Migrants. Catholics Must Welcome Them. This essay examines the editors’ statement.

After presenting some brief background information, the editors discuss Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s response to the situation. He and Catholic Charities director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan met with migrants and assisted 1500 immigrants who reached NY with “food, clothing, and connections to other services.” Dolan said their reaction isn’t “political” and that he and Catholic Charities don’t ask, “How did we get in this mess?” but instead state, “Our perspective is simply to help.” He added that his archdiocese will also provide scholarships for the [illegal] migrant children to attend Catholic schools,” offering a passage from scripture as his rationale: ‘When I was a stranger…an immigrant, you welcomed me.”

The word “immigrant” was not used by Jesus, but was evidently added by the Cardinal. (“Poetic license” don’t you know.) But there is no indication that the Cardinal said, “We are not endorsing illegal immigration by any means; in fact, we oppose it.” He may have thought it but didn’t say it, or said it but America chose not to report it, but I doubt that either was the case.

The editors at America Magazine then turn to the broader border issue: “One pressing reason for immigration reform is to allow the burdens of migration at the southern border to be more equitably shared across the entire country.” But they make no mention other notable reasons for reform, notably ending the drug cartel’s flow of fentanyl that has taken the lives of over 100,000 Americans, and protecting the rights of legal immigrants and other Americans. And by speaking of “immigration reform” in general, they ignore the crucial distinction between legal and illegal entry.

The editors then say, “When people arrive at the U.S. border fleeing violence and persecution in their native lands, all citizens, no matter their political affiliation, have a duty to care for and welcome them.” [Emphasis added] Though very cleverly written, that last sentence is disingenuous. It begins with people just “arriving”—dropping in, so to speak—again without any reference to the illegality of their arrival.  It then proclaims that people who didn’t invite the illegals have a “duty” to treat  them as if they were invited.

At that point, the editors evidently decided they were on a rhetorical roll because the next few paragraphs are more accusatory. They speak of individuals “who coldly blame migrants themselves for the tragedies that befall them.” They say such people “callously pretend that extreme poverty is not a real life-or-death issue” or they “have so deeply dehumanized migrants that they are unmoved by their suffering” and engage in “Nativist rhetoric.” Interestingly, “nativist” is a term than simply means “speech that favors the inhabitants born in a country over those of immigrants,” to which many would response, “What in heaven is wrong with that?” Could the editors have chosen that term because it has a negative “feel” to it?

Who are these “cold blamers” and “callous pretenders” and “deep dehumanizers” who have “consistently impeded progress on comprehensive immigration reform”? No drum roll needed here. They are Republicans, of course. (I’ll bet you guessed that.) Nor are Republicans the only ones the editors shame. “Voters, more concerned with the economy, inflation, health care and climate change, have enabled . . . congressional inaction,” one result being that “immigrants and asylum seekers”. . . are “featured as scapegoats for rising drug overdoses and higher crime rates.”

Again with the cleverness: People who violated immigration law are re-classified as victims of heartless Republicans. (The editors don’t actually say Republicans here, but in the next paragraph they say Republicans “turn up the volume on their anti-immigrant talking points, fearing primary losses.” This and their earlier comments on Abbott and DeSantis leave no doubt about the targets of their disapproval.)

The editors next offer a flurry of suggestions: “People of good will must stand with migrants and demand more from Congress. . . . A conversion of heart is required. Parishes should sponsor border experiences that allow U.S. Catholics to understand the contemporary migrant experience.” [Boldface added] They then add a stirring passage from Pope Francis. “Openness to one another creates spaces of fruitful exchange between different visions and traditions, and opens minds to new horizons.” Francis’ exhortation seems broadly intended: to Democrats as well as Republicans, Progressive thinkers as well as Conservatives, priests as well as laypeople. I get the impression that the editors view the passage differently.

The essay concludes as follows: “Catholics cannot sit idly by while migrants and asylum seekers die on our southern border. We must demand much more of our government leaders, but we must also demand much more of ourselves. The lives of our brothers and sisters depend on it.” I agree wholeheartedly with those sentences. But I disagree, and just as strongly, with the overall message of the editors’ statement.

My main disappointment is that the statement fails to engage the issue of this country’s border crisis with sensitivity to its complexity and demonstrated recognition of sociological realities and moral-theological considerations. To be more specific, it avoids serious and even crucial questions about the issue.

Let’s examine some of those questions:

How is it that Democrats consider Governors Abbott and DeSantis heartless for sending illegal immigrants to Washington DC, Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard, and New York City, but President Biden compassionate for sending them to Westchester, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and Arizona? I don’t believe the difference is in the locations or the snacks provided for the trip. Nor is it likely that the time Biden chose to send them—the dead of night—is a holier time. Whatever the reason, the editors should have explained why they (quite obviously) agree with the Democrats.

Is there a good reason for concern about the number of immigrants entering the country illegally? Let’s consider just the numbers in recent years. According to the U.S Border Patrol, in the last two years of Trump’s term, 1,435,597 illegals entered the country. In the first two years of Biden’s term (if the pace through August continues through December), 4,602,205 will have entered. Thus Biden will have taken in over 220 percent more than Trump. Republicans argue that the direction of Biden’s border policy endangers the country. The editors have every right to disagree with that, but the responsible way would have been presenting a counter-argument, not name-calling.

How many illegal immigrants are, as the editors claim “fleeing violence and persecution in their native lands”? The editors presumably believe all of them are, but that is clearly false. Many are simply seeking to improve their lot in life in a country that offers greater promise. Others are known to be drug pushers, rapists, and thieves. However small their number may be, it is irresponsible to pretend they don’t exist. Responsible thinkers at very least consider how they might be separated from those seeking asylum.

Does the open border policy harm the immigrants in any way? According to Princeton Policy Advisors, the answer is yes: “Various third party estimates put the kidnapping and extortion of migrants in the 27,000/year range . . . Many are ransomed [or] . . . they may be released, killed, or impressed to work for the cartels . . . We think it likely that 20% will have been robbed at some point along the way. . . Women may be told that they will be taken as hotel maids, and instead be forced into prostitution and held captive there . . . As part of the fees to guides . . . women are routinely expected to provide sexual services during the crossing. Various sources put the estimates of coerced sex at 30-80%, with 60% the most common number . . . Men have traditionally been expected to carry drugs across the border.” The editors at America Magazine should have considered to what extent, if any, the Biden administration has a moral obligation to address these offenses.

How many illegal immigrants will be too many? 50 million? 100 million? The editors, like the Biden administration, never comment on the question, even though the impact on schools, hospitals, and other institutions will increase significantly as the numbers increase. They seem to have a “more the merrier” view, and that is irresponsible.

Is Cardinal Dolan’s Scriptural reference applicable to this situation?  No. Jesus did say that when we feed and clothe the poor, care for the sick, and welcome the strangers, we are doing these things to Him (Matt 25). Similarly, He said we are to love our neighbors, and gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of that love. (Luke 10). But nowhere did he say that we should welcome the stranger into someone else’s home, feed him someone else’s food, and clothe him with someone else’s garments. Nor did the Good Samaritan keep his own purse shut and shame the innkeeper into caring for the victim without compensation. The editors ignore the very important moral distinction between a) practicing charity oneself and b) forcing others to do it and then taking credit for being virtuous).

We might reasonably expect the editors of a leading Catholic journal to have addressed the above questions when discussing the U.S. border crisis. But there are other questions that editors should have considered as well: How will informed, thoughtful Catholic laypeople react to our statement? Will they be troubled by our ignoring important matters that needed to be addressed? Will they be disgusted with our apparent opposition to conservative ideas that the Church not only used to share but to champion? Will they be offended by being told they have a “duty to care for and welcome” people who break our laws? Will they consider shifting their charitable giving from organizations that implicitly approve of illegal immigration to those that avoid political bias, for example Doctors without Borders or Mercy Ships?

Copyright © 2022 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero