“The Christian Perspective on Immigration”

I was struck by the beginning of this article published at the website of the anti-immigration group, Center for Immigration Studies:

What are They Thinking: A Look at the Roman Catholic “Doctrine” on Immigration

It takes little effort to notice and to conclude that the Roman Catholic Church has, in the past few years, intensified its lobbying on behalf of immigrants and thus has intensified its lobbying on behalf of “comprehensive immigration reform”.1 Indeed, it can be argued that “comprehensive immigration reform”, as envisioned by the Church and by those who stand in agreement with her, is designed primarily to benefit immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, more than it is designed to benefit the current national population.2

The Church’s lobbying stems from, dare I say, an erroneous application, in the political sphere, of the Christian perspective on immigration. The Christian perspective on immigration makes no distinction between legal and illegal. Actually, allow me to be more precise: the Christian perspective on immigrants makes no distinction between legal and illegal. The Christian perspective on immigrants makes no distinction between legal and illegal because the Christian perspective per se does not see “immigrant” but sees “child of God”.

St. Paul, in a letter to the Christian community in Galatia, dated somewhere between 50 and 58 AD, articulates well this deeper perspective: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” One could easily add: “neither legal immigrant nor illegal immigrant”.3 This is a properly Christian perspective, a faith perspective that considers each individual in the light of the One considered to be the God-man, Jesus Christ, beyond human categories. Edwin O’Brien, then-Archbishop of Baltimore, articulated this perspective in a letter4 about illegal immigrants dated July 16, 2008: “Dare we look at these human beings as made in the image and likeness of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ? Dare we look at them, in other words, with and through the eyes of Christ for whom no one is illegal, no one alien, no one a criminal who labors honestly to feed his family?”

Yet in spite of this, and of a lot of quotes illustrating the Church hierarchy’s fervor on the subject of immigration, the author of the article opposes the Catholic Church’s position. The author’s argument is difficult for me to follow, because some of it seems to rely on the reader to just dismiss the Roman Catholic view as absurd. I might do well to quote this paragraph, so that I don’t overstate the extent to which the Catholic Church agrees with me:

For the Roman Catholic Church, there is really no disagreement with immigration law per se. The real issue is the large number of [undocumented] immigrants currently in the nation and how to handle them. With short-sightedness, the Roman Catholic hierarchy sees broad, quasi-unconditional welcome of them as the only national option. Such welcome is considered the only veritable expression of charity and the only way to respect human dignity. The Church admits that there is some issue with the [undocumentedness] of these immigrants, and so minor penalties are proposed; but these need not be too harsh, or the same dignity would be disrespected. As articulated in the article excerpt below by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, disagreement over how to handle [undocumented] immigrants is confusingly cloaked by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in pious appeals, based on supposed humanitarian concerns, for changes in immigration policy.15 Why “confusingly”? Because the contradictory message from the Church is: “Let us change the laws governing immigration, even though we actually agree with them”. In other words, Roman Catholic leadership has placed itself between a rock and a hard place: it knows that current immigration law is, in fact, just; but, when it filters concrete enforcement of the law through its ideology, it shouts “un-just”. A more honest statement from the Roman Catholic hierarchy would be something along the lines of: “We know immigration law to be sound and fair. In fact, the United States has a generous immigration policy. But may we strike a one-time deal regarding the current [undocumented] immigrant population, a deal which strikes us as more humanitarian?”

First, they taught me in my college epistemology class that one can only know what is true, therefore it is impossible for anyone to “know that current immigration law is… just,” since it isn’t even close to being just, certainly not “generous.” It can’t be repeated enough: the vast majority of mankind is excluded from the US permanently based only on their place of birth; the immigration restrictions of the US and other rich countries are probably the single biggest cause of the vast inequalities in economic prosperity and freedom; and this seems hard to defend from the perspective of any theory of justice. The most one might do is mistakenly believe it is just with great confidence. From skimming the wonderful Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, it seems clear to me that the Catholic Church does not mistakenly believe with great confidence that US immigration law is just. On the contrary, they seem to be pretty sure it isn’t. That said, I do get the impression that the Catholic Church humanely desires to see undocumented immigrants legalized without advocating generalized open borders. There is a certain time-inconsistency in this policy, because giving legal permanent residency to today’s undocumented immigrants gives foreigners more of an incentive to come without documentation. And as much as I admire John Paul II’s pronouncements on immigration, he does have a communitarian bias which I think gets in the way of clear thinking. But that’s hair-splitting. The Catholic Church’s emphasis on “the right to migrate” and “human dignity” is admirable and absolutely right, and they are a very important ally for the cause of open borders.

I love this:

The aforementioned Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, currently Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, an order that ministers to Christians and those of other faiths in historic Palestine, during his tenure as Archbishop of Baltimore, made it very clear that the perspective that he promotes is official Church teaching. And he made it very clear that he believes that alternative perspectives are necessarily incorrect: “I know that some of our Catholic faithful who read this have hardened their opinion — I would say their hearts — to a Christian view of this woeful, deplorable situation.”19 The archbishop even suggests that what he proposes regarding immigration directly stems from the higher law to which all Christians owe allegiance, and is eternal truth. He attempts to give his argument weight that no one can seemingly refute: “For many Catholics, there are some issues on which the Church’s teaching is difficult to accept. Immigration is seemingly one of these issues.” But, “we must remember that, above all, we are called to a higher natural law … we are — each and every one of us — His children … . This is not a platitude; rather it is the eternal truth.”20 In other words, “We know. You do not. You cannot, if you are a child of God, circumvent our position, for it is the only one that represents the precept of charity. Deal with it. No one ever said the faith journey would be a cake walk.” Such words are echoed by certain “theologians of immigration”: “If the term ‘alien’ is to be used at all, it would be descriptive not of those who lack political documentation, but of those who have so disconnected themselves from God and others that they are incapable of seeing in the vulnerable stranger a mirror of themselves, a reflection of Christ, and an invitation to human solidarity.”21

Amen, praise God! Exactly!

I was thinking of responding to the rest of the article, but I think I won’t. The author accuses the Church of “fideism” in its position on immigration, of subordinating reason to faith, but having debate this issue so much on the rational plane, I cannot but regard his assumption that reason implies tight border controls as absurd. Is Lant Pritchett a “fideist?” John Kennan? Bryan Caplan? In my own case, I’m not sure whether faith or reason is stronger as a source of my belief in open borders. They are in harmony with each other.

Note to self: Look up the work of Daniel Groody.

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

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