The Gospel Message and the U.S. Border Crisis

The Gospel Message and the U.S. Border Crisis

When two nuns who work with illegal immigrants were accused of “exacerbating the border crisis,” they responded as follows:“It is outrageous to think that our work is driving the immigration numbers. . . . [The immigrants] are leaving dire circumstances back in their home countries, risking everything to come here with the hope that they can find a safe place to raise their families. Government policy determines whether they enter or not. Restoring human dignity is what we are doing. Once the federal government determines the immigrant families can enter this country, we simply offer humanitarian assistance in their time of crisis.”

The issue is complicated, so let’s unravel it, first by laying out the facts: Illegal immigrants are violating a morally legitimate border law. The present administration is ignoring that law and thus enabling the immigrants to violate it. The nuns, by their charity, are giving help to the violators which naturally encourages others to come across the border and receive that help.

What is moral theology’s assessment of all this? It says that both the violation of a morally legitimate law and the aiding and abetting of it are immoral (as well as criminal). The applicable moral principle is that the end never justifies the means. When we apply that principle, we must conclude that the elected officials’ compassion for the illegals does not justify ignoring their duty to uphold the law. Nor does the nuns’ earnest desire to treat their neighbors as Christ commanded justify ignoring their duty to obey the law.

At this point, if we look back at the last sentence of the nun’s statement, we can see a flaw in their reasoning. Here is that sentence again, with key parts emphasized: “Once the federal government determines the immigrant families can enter this country, we simply offer humanitarian assistance in their time of crisis.” This statement assumes that the federal government can be trusted–in other words that the government is necessarily OBEYING the law. But that is a false assumption–in this case, the governent is instead DEFYING the law. Thus, what the nuns call “simply offer[ing] humanitarian assistance” is instead “simply being complicit in the immoral activity, and thus quite literally “exacerbating the border crisis.”

But there is an important concern apart from the illegals breaking a legitimate law, the administration’s enabling the violation, and the nuns’ encouragement of it. That concern is the Catholic hierarchy’s complicity in all three offenses by remaining silent and tacitly approving illegal migration. Make no mistake, silence can be as powerful as public action. If the hierarchy directed the nuns to stop their work with illegal immigrants, the work would stop instantly. Saying nothing sends the clear message that the hierarchy approve of the illegal immigration and want it to continue. Moreover, their frequent reference to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors and His assurance that “whatever you do to one of these, the least of my brethren, you do unto Me,” is effectively claiming DIVINE SUPPORT for illegal immigration, even if this is not directly stated.

The hierarchy evidently believe that Jesus’ command to love our neighbors requires this country to open its borders to all people who wish to enter, without any screening process or limit to the numbers entering. But if they believe this, they are ignoring a host of questions that come easily to mind. Here are six:

(1)What is the limit at which the uncontrolled flow of immigrants will make the economic burden on this country unsustainable? 500 million? One billion? More? What will happen when that limit is passed?

(2)At what point will the demands on education, housing, employment, health care, governmental and social services reduce the U.S. to the levels of countries from which the migrants fled?

(3)The border crisis has enabled drug cartels to move the deadly drug fentanyl into the U.S. and kill over 100,000 people. Do those who encourage and/or support open borders bear any moral responsibility for their deaths?

(4)The border crisis continues to enable sex traffickers to enslave over 10,000 children per year, the great majority of them young girls. Do those who encourage and/or support open borders bear any moral responsibility for their victimization?

(5)Is it moral for the government in a democratic republic to violate the law and then force its citizens to pay the cost of the violation even though it causes significant economic hardships for many of them, as well as a potential danger to the nation’s stability?

(6)Would it not be wiser to use America’s influence to change the conditions in countries from which people are fleeing so that they can continue to live there without fear of injustice or deprivation? One obvious change would be to stop corrupt government officials in poor countries from confiscating the charitable offerings given to alleviate poverty. 

As important as these six questions are, another question is even more important because it is more fundamental:

Did Jesus intend that His message about loving our neighbor and caring for those in need be interpreted as sweepingly as the Catholic hierarchy interpret it? More specifically, did Jesus mean the message of loving our neighbor is meant for individuals alone or for governments as well? 

The Good Samaritan parable suggests that the answer is “only for individuals.” Otherwise, the Good Samaritan would not have given his own money to the inn-keeper to care for the injured man, but instead contacted the nearest Roman official and requested him to use tax money for the purpose. Surely God knows that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and that not only do government programs tend to be inefficient and ineffective, but the officials that manage them are frequently tempted to use them for personal gain. Just as surely, God does not hold individuals responsible for the behaviors of governments (unless they are members of government), but only for their personal behavior. When the government takes people’s money and uses it virtuously or sinfully, the credit or blame does not go to the citizens. That is why no penitent has ever said to his/her confessor, “Forgive me father, for the federal and state governments squandered my money” and why faithfully paying our taxes does not satisfy our obligation to love our neighbors and care for those in need.

The questions I have raised in this essay, when carefully explored, lead to several conclusions: First, the Catholic hierarchy’s (and many laypeople’s) support of the Biden administration’s open border policy is clearly misplaced. Not only is the policy in violation of the law but it has done much more harm than good; indeed, rather than alleviating world poverty, it has just moved it from one place to another. In addition, the policy, like so many before it, is based on the false premise that governments as well as individuals are called to charity.

This, of course, does not mean that government has no appropriate role to play in overcoming world poverty; only that government should not take over the role of individuals and private groups. Among government’s appropriate roles are encouraging individuals’ charitable contributions by improving tax benefits; adjusting trade policies to motivate governments in underdeveloped countries to create opportunities for their poor and disenfranchised; and increasing opportunities for young people from poor nations to study not only in U.S. colleges but also in U.S. trade schools.

Until Catholic bishops, among other religious leaders, represent the Gospel message on charity more accurately and wisely to this country and the world, the border crisis is likely to remain a shameful blight on humanity.

Copyright © 2023 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved.

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero