Some Christian churches are joining the New Sanctuary Movement, an organization that vows to “protect immigrants against unjust deportation.” But what about the laws of the land? Brooke Levitske looks at the highly charged immigration issue and concludes that “the New Sanctuary Movement’s lawbreaking solution is neither a prudent civic response nor a necessary act of compassion.”
Here’s more from David Schmidtz’s Elements of Justice, in which he is engaging Rawls’ thought experiment on original position that presumes a closed society as the basis for his social thought. In a closed society we only enter by birth and leave by dying. Schmidtz observes that
as a matter of historical record the least advantaged have always been better off in open societies, societies where people are free to move in search of better opportunities. if we are theorizing about what kind of society is best for the least advantaged – if that is the desired conclusion – then is anything more fundamental than the freedom of movement? Indeed, why not deem freedom of movement the core of the first principle: Everyone has a right to live in a maximally open society, a society where they have no obligation to stay if they would rather be elsewhere? (222)
My guess is that Rawls is concerned with describing a grand (perhaps utopian) global vision for human society, which ultimately is closed and in which migration wouldn’t be of consequence. But Schmidtz is right to point out that practically that vision is not within our grasp, and is of little use when comparing the various actual different human societies.
I’m reading David Schmidtz’s Elements of Justice, which is very ably reviewed (although not by me) in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (10.1). I just read a striking passage, which discusses the merits of a principle of property rights that respects first possession rather than equal shares.
An overlooked virtue of first possession: It lets us live together without having to view newcomers as a threat. If we were to regard newcomers as having a claim to an equal share of our holdings, the arrival of newcomers would be inherently threatening. Imagine a town with one hundred people. Each has a one hundred foot wide lot. If someone new shows up, we redraw property lines. Each lot shrinks by one foot, to make room for the new person’s equal share (and so on as more people arrive). Question: How friendly will that town be? Even now, in our world, people who see the world in zero-sum terms tend to despise immigrants. They see immigrants as taking jobs rather than as making products, as bidding up rents rather than as stimulating new construction, and so on. The point is not that xenophobia has moral weight, but that xenophobia is real, a variable we want to minimize if we can. Rules of first possession help. What would not help is telling people that newly arriving immigrants have a right to an equal share (155).
It seems that the latter is exactly what many political liberals in America are doing by guaranteeing various kinds of entitlements to immigrants, whether legal or illegal. In that sense, a statist ideology that emphasizes government provision of various social entitlements seems to promote and foment rather than minimize xenophobia. And so ironically, the liberals who champion a freer and more lenient immigration policy are effectively undermining their own efforts.
This also shows just how dominant a statist (or zero-sum) mentality is in today’s United States when political conservatives are the ones who are most vociferiusly depicting immigrants as economic and social drains rather than positive producers.
The reality is that immigration generally tends to be a net economic benefit. While there are some localized pockets of negative economic effects, the national economic trend is positive. This has been articulated in one of Acton’s policy publications, “The Stranger who Sojourns with You: Toward a Moral Immigration Policy,” and was recently underscored by a White House report.
These realities bear serious reflection. Last Wednesday was World Refugee Day. We should be asking whether our society’s decisions about the government provision of social welfare entitlements has concurrently made our nation more attractive as a destination as well as more unfriendly to newcomers.
Could an elimination or reduction of entitlements make our country even more attractive while at the same time removing some of the economic incentives for xenophobia? Perhaps so.
A new initiative pioneered by Sojourners/Call to Renewal is called “Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Included in the platform are “calls for bills that would push for border enforcement while improving guest worker programs and offering chances for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status,” according to the NYT.
The NYT piece points out the potential for this to be a unifying issue for evangelicals, even though few if any prominent politically conservative evangelicals are overtly associated with Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. “The concerns of the coalition mirror those of many evangelical leaders who have often staked out conservative positions on other social issues or who have avoided politics entirely,” writes Neela Banerjee as she points to the cases of Dr. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Rev. Joel Osteen.
The signatories to the group’s open letter include the executive director of my denomination, Rev. Jerry Dykstra of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Some of the language in the letter is a bit mealy-mouthed, as might be expected, but I think the statement does capture the spirit of some of the most relevant scriptural principles.
Perhaps the section that some conservatives will find most problematic is the fourth principle: “We believe in the rule of law, but we also believe that we are to oppose unjust laws and systems that harm and oppress people made in God’s image, especially the vulnerable (Isaiah 10:1-4, Jeremiah 7:1-7, Acts 5:29, Romans 13:1-7).”
Many argue that the rule of law regarding illegal immigration needs to be reinforced and respected first, before any of the proposed guest worker or amnesty programs can be effective, no ifs, ands, or buts. And it might also be debatable precisely how a shared “set of common moral and theological principles” ought to be translated into public policy. This raises the question of what is the intent or purpose of law.
The letter says that immigration reform must be “fair and compassionate.” Is the end of the law justice? Love? Mercy? Peace? All of the above? I’ve been trained to understand the normative principle for social ethics, and the behavior of supra-personal entities or institutions, to be justice, as distinguished from (although not opposed to) love. It seems to me that Christians working out of a shared and common sense of obligation to love our neighbors can have legitimate and valid disagreements over precisely these sorts of questions.
With all that said, I think the letter gets it mostly right, at least on this point:
“The current U.S. immigration system is broken and now is the time for a fair and compassionate solution. We think it is entirely possible to protect our borders while establishing a viable, humane, and realistic immigration system, one that is consistent with our American values and increases national security while protecting the livelihood of Americans.”
The nation’s news outlets picked up the story quickly last week out of downtown Los Angeles, where an immigration rally at MacArthur Park sparked a violent police reaction.
It looks from reports like the rally turned ugly when protesters moved out of the confines of the park and into the streets. Rally organizers contend that the violence was initiated by a group of “anarchists” not affiliated with the rally itself.
Bratton agreed and said police were initially trying to deal with 50 to 100 “agitators.”
“The individuals were there to provoke police,” Bratton said. “Unfortunately, they got what they came for.” The New York Times also provides a lengthy summary piece of the event, which was organized around “a call for broad changes to immigration laws.”
For a period in the 1980s, I lived less than a block from MacArthur Park, at an apartment building named the Park Wilshire (You can see the proximity to MacArthur Park here). When I lived there, the park was not very family-friendly. There was a lot of violence, including gang and drug activities. It wasn’t a safe neighborhood by any stretch.
Obviously it’s been many years, and perhaps the area has changed. But if it’s anything like it was then, MacArthur Park is a pretty bad choice for place to hold a rally. No doubt the police over-reaction was at least in some small part related to the negative associations connected to the rally’s location. I’m also willing to bet that the “anarchists” and “agitators” didn’t have to travel far to enact some payback against the police, and were able to use the rally as cover.
Unfortunately the real victims of their violence were the innocents at the rally, the women and children who were put in danger, and the members of the media who were beaten and hurt. But there may well be victims beyond the rally itself, if the violence becomes an occasion for fostering more anti-immigrant sentiment in the US.
The NYT editorialized last week about the potential for a new immigration bill that would “eliminate or severely restrict whole categories of family-based immigration in favor of a system that would assign potential immigrants points based on age, skills, education, income and other factors.”
Family concerns are a huge factor motivating illegal immigration. The story of Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa relates this fact. Dr. Quinones-Hinjosa admits that there is no justification for his entry into the US as an illegal immigrant twenty years ago.
“When I first came, I wasn’t thinking that I was breaking the law by coming to this country. All I wanted to do is have enough money to eat, period. That’s all that I had in my mind, is that how can I make money so that I can at least put food on the table of my parents, my siblings, and my future children,” said Quinones-Hinjosa.
His story is one well worth reflecting on as our nation debates the issues surrounding immigration policy and enforcement.
I mentioned a long time ago that this book, with its provocative and interesting thesis, was in the works. Stepping Out of the Brain Drain: Applying Catholic Social Teaching in a New Era of Migration, by Michele Pistone and John Hoeffner, is now available from Lexington Books. The blurb:
Catholic social teaching’s traditional opposition to “brain drain” migration from developing to developed countries is due for a reassessment. Stepping Out of the Brain Drain provides exactly this, as it demonstrates that both the economic and the ethical rationales for the teaching’s opposition to “brain drain” have been undermined in recent years, and shows how the adoption of a less critical policy could provide enhanced opportunities for poor countries to accelerate their economic development.
From today’s WaPo:
About 25 percent of the technology and engineering companies launched in the past decade had at least one foreign-born founder, according to a study released yesterday that throws new information into the debate over foreign workers who arrive in the United States on specialty visas.
Scott McNealy, chairman and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, “is among the advocates for an expanded visa program, writing editorials, calling members of Congress and supporting political action committees.”
He asks a pretty good question, I think: “Why would you have any arbitrary number on smart people?”
New President of Mexico Calderon spent yesterday at the US Mexican border greeting Mexicans returning home for Christmas. His message was two-fold. First, a pledge to create jobs in Mexico:
“The generation of well-paid jobs is the only long-lasting solution to the migration problem,” Calderón said before greeting immigrants in cars packed with Christmas gifts.
Calderón, who took office Dec. 1, pledged to fight corruption to make Mexico more attractive to foreign investors.
“We need to ensure that more investment crosses the border into Mexico rather than Mexican labor heading to the United States,” the new president said.
This has been my message about the immigration issue, too. I said it at an Acton conference for Mexican bishops, and I’ve said it in print many times.
The other interesting fact in this article is the scale of the Christmas migration: an estimated 1.2 million people will return to Mexico for Christmas from the US this year. I have been aware of this phenomenon since we lived in Santa Rosa CA, north of San Francisco. Santa Rosa has a substantial agricultural community, part of the Wine Country. My daughter’s elementary school was probably 75% Mexican. The place cleared out at Christmas time. The school simply accepted as a fact of life that most of the kids would be gone for a month around Christmas time. Bear in mind, that many of them were making a 12 hour drive to their homelands in Mexico.
This is part of the phenomenon I addressed in my National Catholic Register article, Give Us Your Heart. Many, many Mexicans keep their bodies in America but their hearts in Mexico. It would be better for all of us for them to be able to be integrated: let one place or the other be truly home.
By the way, Calderon’s second message was: Merry Christmas! (They’re allowed to say that in Mexico!)
In a recent open letter to immigrants to the United States, Jennifer Roback Morse expands on the words of Emma Lazarus engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus wrote: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” Morse goes one step further, asking immigrants to give their hearts as well.
What Morse explains is that America values immigrants. In fact, almost all Americans are descended from immigrants. But a trend that Morse observes is a segregation between new immigrants and “native” citizens. New immigrants come to America, but leave their hearts abroad. Morse implores new immigrants to embrace the United States, to accept it as their home. “If you are going to be here, we want you to become Americans. Not just citizens, but Americans in every way,” writes Morse.
Immigration into the United States is by no means an absolute right (for more on that see here). It is a privilege, granted to some and not to others; sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes not. There are certain obligations that should be met when becoming a citizen of a new country, or even for being allowed to live and work in another country.
Those obligations include, but are not limited to, following the laws of that land and being sensitive to the customs of that land. They could extend as far as learning the language. It seems to me that these are just requests in exchange for the privilege of being in a place that benefits both you and your family.
And if you seek to become a citizen, your allegiance is required. You trade your own loyalty to the government in exchange for protection and the opportunity to seek “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” at least here in the States. For immigrants, this contract is voluntary. If you happen not to agree with or like the exchange, you may leave. Should you choose to stay, you should do so whole heartedly, embracing the freedom and liberty that the United States can provide you with.
I haven’t been uncritical of American bishops’ statements concerning immigration. But I wouldn’t go *quite* as far as Pastor Ralph Ovadal of Pilgrims Covenant Church, for whom the terms ‘antichrist,’ ‘Romanist,’ and ‘Reconquista’ fairly roll off the tongue.
Rick Garnett has an appropriately tongue-in-cheek treatment at Mirror of Justice.