By Fred Everett
The recent spat between Pope Francis and Donald Trump over immigration into the United States raises the question of whether there is a distinctively Christian approach to the issue of immigration. I would like to claim that there is. Such an approach does not provide a definitive answer to every aspect of immigration reform such as whether all, some or none of those who are here without authorization should receive a path to citizenship. It does, however, provide parameters and values that should be central to the debate.
A Christian approach to immigration is founded on basic Christian values, such as the dignity of every human person, the common good of society, solidarity with those who are poor or oppressed, and respect for authority. A Christian approach will take all of these factors into account.
To illustrate these values we can imagine a ship at sea coming upon a foreign ship that is in distress, with the lives of many passengers at risk. Certainly, the ship’s captain would be wrong to ignore the plight of these passengers and to say that it is none of his business. Nor would it be right for the captain to ignore the wellbeing of those entrusted to his care by taking on more passengers than his ship could safely accept. In this scenario, acting in accord with both the dignity of every passenger from the foreign ship as well as the common good of his own is necessary for achieving a balanced approach.
With regard to the issue of immigration into the United States, we also add into the mix the plight of those who are poor or oppressed as well as respect for the authority of the federal government — including its immigration laws. Especially for those with minimal skills seeking to immigrate, the federal quota has been artificially maintained for decades at a relatively low level without any adjustments due to changing employment needs.
There is no question that the federal government should protect the security and the livelihoods of those who are already American citizens. However, this needs to be balanced with an openness to providing the poor and oppressed from other countries with the opportunity to experience the American dream when, not only would our country not be injured by it, but would benefit from it as well.
Unfortunately, since the federal government has not been able for decades to implement a reasonable visa worker program, many trying to flee poverty or oppression abroad have had no viable legal alternative to taking employment opportunities that they were not legally authorized to take.
I think that most people would agree that waiting a few weeks or months for waiting jobs in order to support themselves and their families would be reasonable. Waiting for years and years with an unknown likelihood of success is another thing altogether. While we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the millions who have broken our laws, we also shouldn’t turn a blind eye to our own failure to legally welcome those in search of the security and the livelihoods that they could not find in their own countries.
Finally, in the recent debate spawned by the pope’s words on building bridges and not walls, it was mentioned that even the Vatican has walls on many of its sides. This is true and it unquestionably provides an important part of its security. It’s also true, though, that its main entrance is that of two immense colonnades that image two great arms of welcome and embrace. As a grateful son of a Cuban refugee mother who was granted political asylum here, I think both images are good to keep in mind as we slog through this debate.
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