The recent hysteria over children at the border mirrors the earlier media-driven hysteria about Black Lives Matter, Russian collusion, and the immediate need for gun control. It is crude propaganda designed to manufacture false urgency about a chronic problem.
President Trump took some of the wind out of his critics’ sails last week with an executive order allowing families to be detained together while awaiting deportation hearings. The Left has responded, predictably, by demanding a return to the previous practice of “catch and release,” a de facto amnesty that makes a mockery of our immigration laws.
Others have been more explicit in their call for open borders and population replacement. The neoconservative-cum-NeverTrump columnist Max Boot recently said, “If only we could keep the hard-working Latin American newcomers and deport the contemptible Republican cowards—that would truly enhance America’s greatness.”
Among the rhetorical tropes to emerge over the past few weeks is language aimed at shaming Christians over their alleged hypocrisy in supporting immigration restrictions. The irony is rich. “Separation of church and state” is for prayers before football games and abortion. But when it comes to immigration, secular liberals are suddenly expert theologians steeped in Biblical exegesis. Or at least they know how to repost a few verses on Facebook.
Some churches apparently agree, as Jeff Sessions’ Methodist denomination—otherwise rather lax in its requirements—has even threatened to discipline him for carrying out the law and administration policy. The American Conference of Catholic Bishops has probably sown the most confusion on this issue.
The assumption here seems to be that immigration restrictions violate Christian principles. But is it true?
Christianity Has a Universal Aspect
For Christians, the obligation to be charitable to strangers is undeniable. Everyone knows the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a story of compassion that crosses tribal and ethnic lines. This appeal to universal human dignity is undoubtedly central to the Christian worldview. American Greatness’ own Joe Long conducted a pretty extensive exegesis, including the oft-quoted passage, “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
But can these exhortations to individuals provide a formula for public policy? Do these principles have no limits in practical terms?
We know Catholic teaching recognizes the legitimacy of certain nonuniversal relationships and obligations in general. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes the importance and legitimacy of property, for example, as well as the centrality of the family. Both concepts implicitly distinguish the degree of affection and the scope of duties one owes to particular people, as distinct from what one owes to mankind generally.
This distinction, an unavoidable part of life, is the basis of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which counsels matters of charity to be done, as much as possible within families, locally, or through what we today call “civil society.” As St. Paul writes in his letter to Timothy, “If any man does not take care of his own, especially of those of his house, he has denied the faith.”.
In a similar vein, Brother Andre Marie has written, “After God, we love our neighbors, that is, those who are ‘nigh’ to us, meaning near us. Those most near to us are our parents and our siblings.”
Extending this principal, Catholicism recognizes the value of nations themselves, as well as the law. The Catechism states, for example, “This state of division into many nations is at once cosmic, social and religious. It is intended to limit the pride of fallen humanity united only in its perverse ambition to forge its own unity as at Babel.”
In balanced fashion, the Catechism also describes the reciprocal obligations of wealthier nations, as well as of those people who may immigrate to them:
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
In other words, immigration is not an absolute right. There is no general right of illegal immigration, nor an absolute right to erase the existence of a nation without regard to the people already living in it, even though we might see immigration generally as a form of charity by wealthier nations to those who are less wealthy under particular circumstances.
Even then, actions within and between nations must recognize the common good, as well as the rights of nations to exist and pursue the good of their particular communities. Man may be united as creatures “made in the image of God,” but we are also destined to live in separate, particular communities. “Because of its common origin the human race forms a unity,” the Catechism says, “for ‘from one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.’”
Christianity Permits an Immigration Policy To Further the “Common Good”
The language of the Catechism, the Bible, and traditional Christianity is long on duties and short on rights. From the wealthy, powerful, and privileged, much is demanded, both individually and collectively. But the absolute language of rights is largely absent, particularly on contingent matters, such as how much to tax, how much immigration to allow, or how to conduct foreign policy. There are guideposts and principles, but they often conflict, and reasonable people can and will disagree.
In certain clear-cut cases, most Christian denominations will agree. But as often as not, disagreement arises because particular conclusions depend on the particular circumstances of the case. In other words, there is a possibility of political life and political disagreement among Christians in a way not possible with a more didactic and rule-bound religion or irreligious ideology.
As Tocqueville observed, “Mohammad professed to derive from Heaven, and he has inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks of the general relations of men to God and to each other—beyond which it inculcates and imposes no point of faith. This alone, besides a thousand other reasons, would suffice to prove that the former of these religions will never long predominate in a cultivated and democratic age, whilst the latter is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods.”
Catholics were once frequently accused of monarchist tendencies, as well as disloyalty to the American system. But the Catechism recognizes that different types of governments (as well as different types of laws) conceivably can serve the common good, each retaining their legitimacy: “The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. [That said . . .] Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.”
Immigration Restriction is Vital to Preserve the Common Good of the American Nation
Times change. America once had a frontier and, after that, a voracious appetite for unskilled manual labor, as its industrial strength grew by leaps and bounds in the early 20th century. It once had high trust communities, a patriotic education system, and mostly European and Christian immigrants with whom existing Americans had much in common. Not anymore.
Today, we face the specter of large-scale, structural unemployment due to robotics, global competition, and a mismanaged financial sector. We face immigration from non-Western and nondemocratic nations, who enter a fractured country, where multiculturalism is the prevailing ideology.
Due to misgovernment in their homelands, relative prosperity in the United States, and an unholy alliance of big business seeking cheap labor and big government liberals seeking votes, our country’s immigration system is simply a disaster. The demographics of the country have been significantly and deliberately changed, and the hoary values on which our political and cultural system is based—the “rule of law,” substantial individual freedom, and limited government—are threatened by the alien ideals and preferences of newcomers.
A nation, like a family, is a community with an identity and a common good. For reasons of political self-interest and hostility to the reality of the American nation, liberals and their libertarian allies appeal to faith in their maudlin and sentimental call for open borders. Never mind the fact that open borders would destroy the existence of the particular qualities of the American nation both for Americans and the immigrants themselves. Those now calling for the application of Christian principles show such ideas no regard—indeed, outright hostility—when levied against such innovations and blasphemies as gay “marriage,” abortion, and usury.
America and its Christians can further their own good, as well as the universal common good, by limiting immigration and expecting our country’s generous laws to be respected. This is not uncharitable, or at least not unjustly so, particularly when the reasons for immigrants coming here might deprive developing nations of their most enterprising and educated citizens, while hurting some of our most vulnerable communities.
As John Zmirak has observed, “We are stealing the precious gifts of freedom and order from our least-advantaged fellow citizens—the blue-collar workers, the unemployed, the troubled war veterans—in order to salve our confused consciences, and feed our self-esteem.”
When non-Christian immigration enthusiasts quote Christian scripture, we should consider the story of Jesus in the desert, where the Devil cynically quoted scripture to deflect the Son of Man from the path of righteousness. “Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’” .
Here Jesus reminds us that the highest good is not political, but spiritual . . . and that even the Devil can quote scripture.
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