The Borders Between Justice and Mercy

In American Catholic parishes, the tension between the pews and the pulpit on immigration has been intense. Catholic bishops have argued for Comprehensive Reform with a generous amnesty or path to citizenship. But overwhelming majorities of Catholics have negative views of immigrants themselves and the immigration process. In a piece for the decidedly progressive (but independent-minded) Religion Dispatches, I tried to reconcile the two sides in the debate and  suggest a way forward.

The status quo is untenable. The merciful position is not to treat illegal immigration with benign neglect. In this case neglect empowers those employers who would circumvent labor protection and employment laws by exploiting illegal immigrants. That same neglect empowers unscrupulous drug runners and coyotes across the border. It also disempowers those all over the world who would immigrate to America legally. Legal quoatas are unlikely to rise if immigration itself is associated with such disorder.

The orderly and just position is not denying family reunification to keep the numbers more manageable. When Pope Benedict visited the United States in 2008, he cautioned that the separation of families “is truly dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric.” Working male immigrants who live with almost no prospects for marriage or separated from their family are much more likely to fall into alchoholism and crime. And family life is the engine of assimilation over generations. Children of immigrants master the language, adopt the habits, acquire the historical memory and eventually inter-marry as they assimilate.

If we want Americans to be welcoming to immigrants, we have to work towards a fairer immigration system, one that isn’t the product of crime, exploitation, and neglect.

Comments are closed.