Pastoral teaching vs. doctrinal teaching
This is a controversial question, because the question of illegal immigration deals with the prudential, “pastoral teaching” of the Catholic bishops, which a Catholic is not necessarily bound to assent to with religious submission. Pastoral teaching is based on practical exigencies and contexts, and simply put, not every Catholic sees a need or a desire for immigration into the USA or the amount of immigration that is taking place.
Possible negatives with legal and illegal immigration
From one side of the issue, we have this: 1) Illegal immigrants are foreigners, and foreigners have always presented a challenge of keeping the USA united in one set of values and one sense of civic, patriotic duty 2) Foreigners tend to look nostalgically back at their countries of origin and struggle to assimilate into “America” 3) Foreigners who become unemployed, and their families, form a social drain through welfare, healthcare, and education 4) Illegal immigrants commit far more crime than they did in times past, and they are a threat to national security and overcrowded prisons 5) The process for becoming a citizen was not selective enough, and in too many cases we made people citizens just because they were relatives of people who immigrated, without asking whether they needed to be in the USA also 6) Finally, it cannot be absolutely proved that illegal immigrants do jobs that Americans won’t do, and therefore, they are an economic threat, taking jobs away.
Anger and issue of mass deportation
There is real anger among various Americans that hordes of foreign people have entered their country and pulled the carpet from underneath their feet, literally taking over the country without truly assimilating in an orderly and patriotic way. And this has been going on, this anger, for decades now. But the solution that most people come up with?
People say–”let’s just deport them. If the government really wanted to, it could round up all of the illegals and send them back to their country.”
THIS, however, is silly and completely unfeasible. Even with the billions we presently spend for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) we are only able to deport about 400,000+ illegals. Incidentally, the Republicans have the reputation of being tough on illegal immigration, but President Obama has deported far more illegals than Bush or even Clinton ever did.
I think I’ve heard the statistic of a whopping 2 million plus deportations that have taken place during Obama’s two terms, which is record breaking. But guess what? That leaves at least 10 million to go. We don’t have the resources or the man power. The bill just to build an effective Wall, and staff it, on the Mexican border is beyond our means right now.
My personal opinion on a solution
My solution is to reform the immigration law as it is now, with its practically toothless penalties, and create a pathway to citizenship for those illegals who are presently here and are found to be productive, law-abiding members of American society. This is not because I am Mexican–well, technically, I’m a Chicagoan, but I am from Mexican ethnicity.
My stance is based upon my 24 years as a priest working with and serving illegal immigrants from practically every nation. I’ve been close friends with illegals from Poland, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Eastern Europe, from the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and other parts of Asia, Greece and Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, as well as Mexico and Latin America.
Whether people wanted to break the law
I firmly believe that most immigrants benefit our country and they would have come legally if that had been possible. As I see the law, presently, they broke the immigration law because the immigration law gave them no options and they were desperate to come to this country and make a better life for themselves.
If I were a foreigner and I desperately needed a better life, would I break the law and enter the United States illegally? Hell yeah I would! But I never had to because my grandparents and great grandparents crossed the U.S. border and easily obtained legal residence by working either on ranches or the railroad in the Southwest, both of which had made deals with Congress to take in cheap Mexican labor and “legalize” it quickly. They just had to pass a health inspection at the border and promise to spend so much time working on ranches or in the case of my great grandfather, with the railroad.
For many years now, immigration laws have barred 100% people from poor countries who had no special skill set or education, and did not have a relative already here to fill out paperwork for them. So, these are the people who have entered and stayed, illegally. They did not “get in line” and “do it the right way” because there was NO LINE, and no right way, according to present law.
In defense of illegals, OUR own culpability in the problem
In addition, in defense of most illegals, let me say this: 1) American business owners invited these workers in by providing quick and easy jobs at minimum wage 2) Other profiteers have benefited by providing rental housing and other services, knowing that they were selling to illegals 3) The agricultural industry has maintained its profit line by accessing what is, for all practical purposes, something akin to slave labor in the fields 4) Politicians have publicly made speeches against illegal immigration and then lobbied to curtail deportation so that their districts benefit from the cheap labor 5) Factories and industries such as construction have knowingly employed illegals because they are far less likely to report violations of job safety or labor laws 6) Even middle class Americans have benefited from gardeners, caretakers for the elderly, baby sitters, house cleaners, etc. who worked for rock bottom prices.
In short, what moral dilemma do you have when Americans speak out of one side of their mouth and say one thing, and then from another side of their mouth, seek to benefit from the cheap labor of illegals? Yes, the states are shelling out a lot of money for healthcare and education–there’s no doubt about that. But if we hire illegals, in a sense inviting them to stay because we give them jobs, how long do we expect them to render services to us without getting married and having kids? Or how long do we expect them to do this without illegally bringing their wives and kids to this country? And how do we expect families to reside within these borders without accessing schools and clinics?
The hypocrisies and inconsistencies behind non-enforcement
Another moral dilemma is that while we advertise, on the one hand, that the law will deport you for being here illegally. THEN, we turn around and DO NOT enforce the law.
And when I say “we” I mean the political structures and law enforcement structures. Starting from state governors and working down to local Chambers of Commerce and sheriffs and police, we have this “wink, wink” attitude toward the illegal presence.
It’s like, “You know, you’re here illegally. I’d like you to go pack your bags and please self-deport yourself back to your foreign country!” WAIT. Did you say your going to pick my fruit this morning? Then your going to clean my gutter and trim my bushes? Then later your going to bus my table and wash my dishes when I eat out? WAIT. Don’t leave–not yet. I like the way you make my life in general more affordable, but then later I’d like you to please leave.”
Why do we do this and then act surprised when illegals themselves decide to just stay long term? Why are we confused, that illegals are confused by the mixed messages, because no one is seriously making a move to kick them out? And don’t get me started on the fines that could be imposed on BUSINESS owners for knowingly hiring people whose social security cards and ID papers look sketchy at best.
But one thing you do not screw around with, among Americans, is their sacred, holy, venerable, sacrosanct, divine and blessed MONEY. The sacred mullah. When is government, at ANY LEVEL, going to go after people who MAKE MONEY? A cheap work force, even illegal, assures us a profit margin that makes us competitive in the global market. Yet, this does lead to more confusion as illegals are given a double message–”We DON’T want you here, but we NEED you here, so please stay.”
Remember the Arizonians and their new laws to throw out the illegals? First, the guy who pushed that law was voted out in a recall. Secondly, five bell alarms of alert went off all around Arizona when the Chambers of Commerce reported the loss of large amounts of business revenue. Various communities that had voted in and enforced deportation laws started to ratchet down their policies and again, started turning the other way (”wink, wink”) so that money and the economy would not be adversely affected by anti-immigration sentiments.
In Washington, Social Security money which has been taken from paychecks does not have to be paid out. We are speaking of billions and billions of dollars. The rule is that if you have worked here illegally, we can deduct Social Security taxes from your check and then forbid you from ever seeing that money again. Most Americans say, “Good. That’s what they get” but I have moral qualms with taking money from people who earned it fair and square, just because they were illegal aliens.
A fair and just resolution to the problem
My personal opinion is that when people have worked for you, and served you, many years in this country and raised families that are productive and law abiding, and the government has failed to enforce deportation, you need to assume they wish to make a life here, and you need to work with them.
You need to say honestly that you benefited from their presence. They contributed to your economy, and their sons and daughters have gone off to fight and die in your wars. You need to admit that after a while, we have gone past the point of no return and should now offer them some possibility for staying legally.
To me, this is the only just way to fulfill the Biblical command of God to Moses, that we must not abuse the alien in our midst, for we were once aliens ourselves in the land of Egypt. In my personal opinion, the reform of an outdated and unenforceable immigration code also corresponds to Catholic social justice teaching about the rights of the laborer who works, and must be fairly treated and compensated.
The plan proposed by the U.S. Senate in S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 contained what I believe was an excellent package of laws to enforce border security, and selectively offer legal residence and eventual citizenship to illegal aliens who have been here for many years.
Some benefits of immigration reform
The Act provides that recent violators of immigration law must immediately return to their countries and their employers must be severely punished for hiring them. Finally, the Act introduces a national structure for ensuring that everyone who applies for a job, driver’s license, and voting rights has a national ID card verifying their background and legal status of residency.
Also, for the first time, the Act provides that young people who have sacrificed for college and received education and skills here, may remain here, as well as workers who apply for legal residency and have a special skill set that they can offer. There are stringent enforcement rules for anyone who has committed crime, while those who have been law abiding can remain here while their application is processed.
The Act is less disruptive to families by insuring that upstanding and hard working people would not be pursued for deportation. Nonetheless, they would have to pay punishment fines for the time they were here illegally, and have their applications placed behind those who have been trying to immigrate here legally (”go to the back of the line” without having to leave the country). The minimum wait for attaining legal residence would be 10 years. If at any time during the application process, they break the law, they will be deported and their chance to immigrate will be permanently disqualified.
None of these privileges and opportunities for legal residence would be allowed to go into effect until the Border Patrol certifies to Congress that our borders have been secured, with money allocated for fences, and large increases in the number of agents who patrol. There would be a national data system with ID cards set up to insure that those who recently arrive and stay are pursued until deportation.
In short, no one would get a free amnesty ticket, in a sense, and they could not even begin to apply for legal status, until we know for a fact that the borders are being effectively guarded and monitored. But the important thing is that we would recompense those who have waited for many years to be legalized while they provided economic and social benefits to our nation, and whose children born here have become educated and productive citizens, or have entered our military and fought and died in our wars.
Unfortunately, the Republicans who took control of the House have gone back to the status quo of “let’s complain about illegal immigration and talk about the borders while doing nothing to come up with a solution.” The President, in turn, starts cranking out Executive Orders to help certain groups like high school and college age illegals, but that does not provide a long term solution.
Sorry this is so long, but immigration, and the existence of so many undocumented in our midst, is a very complicated issue that I could not address in a short post. God bless and take care, Fr. Angel