The Passionists Compassion

Thinking About Immigration

by Sebastian MacDonald, C.P.

President John Kennedy read the newspaper every morning at breakfast, but he always read two papers: one that usually supported his view of things and another that usually disagreed with the way he saw things.

This would be good practice for us all if we had the time. When we seek the truth about practical every day matters, truth is hard to come by. There can be two or more opinions on every issue.

Since practical matters nearly always have a moral edge to them, we have to search for "moral truth," but when all is said and done, moral truth frequently approximates probability more than certitude, because good arguments often can be made for either side of an issue. And as long as solid reasons support a position, we can adopt it as probably true, while shying away from being absolutely certain about it.

Let's take an example--the issue of immigration, a complex issue which is a national and worldwide concern.

Immigration: an issue in the United States

Before elections, both major US political parties formulated immigration proposals to deal with the estimated 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 undocumented workers -- mostly Hispanic -- who are in our country. The Republicans seek a new guest worker plan that would allow now-undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary legal status here. The Democrats would make it harder to import so-called "guest workers" here, but would open the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country.

A major portion of undocumented immigrants originally came on temporary visas and overstayed their visa limits. Most of them do manual work, much of it spurned by the American labor force. They are here illegally according to 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Let's look at the pros and cons of the immigration question in our country today.


Out of a total US population of 274,087,000 in 2000, 28,379,000 were foreign born. 10.4% is not a large portion of our total population. Obviously, not all these were Hispanic. Our country has traditionally welcomed immigrants, who in the past made up an even larger percentage of our population. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door," the inscription at the base of
the Statue of Liberty proclaims.

Many documented immigrants, who often have developed their skills in our university system and stay on as US citizens or as permanent residents, enrich our talent pool, especially in the hard technical sciences like medicine.

Immigrants pump about 450 billion dollars into the US economy. They pay taxes at federal and state levels. Documented and undocumented immigants who eventually return to their native lands are often agents of good will toward the US and are grateful for what this nation has done for them. Their countries of origin often benefit when they return with the skills they have acquired here.

Immigrants help maintain a healthy pluralism in this nation; they enrich the gene pool. Because of their average age, they help our nation remain rather young, relative to other developed countries such as Japan and Germany.

They are family people, who can lead the way in restoring to the US a sense of family that is on the verge of disintegration.

Much of the plight of immigrants from Central and South America is due to the havoc that recent agreements -- such as NAFTA(North American Free Trade Agreement) -- have worked on their employment situation at home. And many of their employers here in the States (for example, Wal-Mart) have been complicit in their undocumented status because of the advantage accruing to them from this hard-working group of laborers. Immigrants, then, present an opportunity for the United States.


Immigrants, especially the undocumented, present problems for the United States. Undocumented immigrants flaunt our legal standards and set a bad tone for themselves and for US citizens. Our laws ought not be evaded with impunity and when they are other illegal activity sometimes
follows: for instance, sham marriages allowing a person here illegally to remain in the country. Vulnerable undocumented immigrants are often subject to brutal and harsh working conditions in this country.

As they enter our country in overwhelming numbers, illegal immigrants burden our border states. For example, Arizona spends $150 million annually caring for undocumented immigrants. They burden our welfare
system, negating whatever contribution they make through payment of taxes. A large security system, including the US Immigration and Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security, tries to control the problem. 154,000 arrests of undocumented immigrants occurred in 2003 just in the Naco Corridor area of Arizona. 2.3 million immigrants have overstayed their visa limits.

We should remember that 4 of the 19 hijackers who engaged in the 9/11 attacks overstayed their visa limits.

There are 6.1 million applications for citizenship, green cards and various visas before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than half of which have been pending in excess of six months.

Incoming immigrants crossing our southern borders are responsible for serious security risks in this time of terrorism alerts. Some engage in trafficking, not only of drugs, but also of women and children (to the tune of 17,000 annually). In addition, the "coyotes" whom they pay for their "safe passage" are often criminals themselves, robbing, raping and
at times killing. Countries such as Cuba have deliberately facilitated entrance here of their criminal element.

Families are broken up as husbands and fathers slip across the border, and when they revisit wives and children they face the same risky border crossings. Children born here of undocumented parents are US citizens; they can be separated from their parents who may be apprehended and returned across the border. The undocumented face health and injury hazards here, and they fear seeking healthcare lest they becaught (though medical facilities are currently not obliged to report their status to the authorities).

Today, a more basic concern about immigration in this country -- and in a number of European nations as well -- is the change they bring to our native culture. Germany, England and France may well become Moslem nations in the foreseeable future because of the disproportion in reproduction rates. In this country, current Hispanic immigration differs from the large immigrations of earlier times, because Hispanics tend to cluster in the border states. They are quickly displacing native American populations, economically and politically. They do not seem to disseminate and mix, as previous groups did. While learning English,
they hold onto the Spanish language, with the danger that this nation will not become bilingual (which is desirable), but a dual-language nation, such as Canada, with all the concomitant problems that entails. This wave of immigrants threatens a centuries old American ethos that stems from our founding.

Immigration: the international scene

Immigration is also a worldwide question. What pros and cons do we see there?


Around the globe, free access to immigration is a considerable boon to large segments of people. Without this outlet, untold numbers would succumb to less than human conditions, even life-threatening conditions, in their native lands -- frequently even to loss of life.

Often religious differences cause severe persecutions of groups of people, such as is currently happening in the Sudan, where Christians suffer greatly at the hands of their Moslem-led government. Many of them try to slip over the border into neighboring lands-- for example, to Rwanda--just to survive. At other times political differences of opinion lead to repression of a minority.

Christian history attests that immigration played a major role in the spreading of the faith. Persecuted by official Judaism (Acts 8.1, ff.) Christianity spread into neighboring Samaria and other parts of Judea. This may repeat itself today, given the Catholic faith of those crossing the US southern border.

Immigration is a release valve for explosive situations. One reason for World War II was the population expansion in Japan. When anti-Asian immigration laws in other nations of the world offered them no relief, the Japanese embarked on military ventures to secure territory for its growing citizenry.

Irish immigration waves into the US were brought on by a potato famine, but it was aggravated by tactics employed against the Irish by the English. For the most part, other European immigrations to this country (German, Italian, Polish, for example) also began in response to negative
situations in the home country proving deleterious to family welfare and prosperity.

Pope John Paul II pointed out that, as different ethnic and racial groups interact, they promote peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the world. In new immigrant settings, new ideals of freedom and democracy can be born. Countries who receive and countries who send immigrants both benefit from immigration.


Mass migrations often involve entire families endangering the most vulnerable—the elderly, children, pregnant women-- and the dangers outweigh any benefits they gain. Witness the ordeals experienced by Cuban exiles escaping that island on their small, cramped sailing vessels,
at the mercy of the high-seas.

If only individuals migrate, families may breakup. When women are left behind to handle children, property and home, while the man, hundreds of miles away, tries to secure financial support for them, families often suffer.

The "open border" that prevails in the US and some European nations can be detrimental to the "sending" nations, which suffer from a "braindrain" as their more initiative and risk-taking members depart. Additionally, sending nations may be taking the easy way out of a homegrown problem, and lose the opportunity to solve a domestic situation that underlies such problems.

In a few decades, immigration will reshape Europe's cultural, religious and political features. Pope John Paul II has voiced concern about the continent of Europe losing its Christian heritage as it moves into a new phase of the
European Union. Legal documents for this union omit any reference to the Christian foundations of the area. Non-Christians, largely Moslems, are immigrating into Europe, and they represent a younger, more vigorous part of the population base which likely to form the majority of the population in a few decades, reshaping the cultural, religious, and political features of those nations.


What conclusions shall we draw? Like many complex issues, immigration is not an easy one to decide. However, here are some steps we could take:

1. We should try to keep our nation a welcoming host for immigrants, especially those fleeing from persecution or economic hardship. Our country is still large enough to continue its long-standing role of receptivity for decades to come.

2. However, there are limits to what even we can do, and so we should urge other large nations of the world (Canada, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina) to join us in offering a haven to the world's destitute.

3. We must work to reduce the disparity in living conditions between our nation and other nations. Immigration will remain a flood so long as our standard of living attracts outsiders. We must do our part to improve their standards of living, in their native land, so that they have less reason to flee.

4. As economic conditions improve in other countries, educational opportunities will develop, enabling people to see the advantages of controlling their birth rate, thereby relieving the pressure to emigrate abroad.

5. Since all these are mega-steps, beyond us as individuals, we must do our part in bringing about governmental and corporate sensitivity to the immigration problem.

(Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. writes from Texas.)

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