Christians Don’t Have to Support Open Borders

Mexico has decided to reassume operational control and responsibility over its southern border with Guatemala, pledging to deploy up to 6,000 of its own national guard troops. The shift comes in response to President Trump’s recent tariff threat. This is most welcome, not to mention in accord with principles of justice.

Open-borders activists are fond of arguing (asserting without evidence, really) that true Christianity is pro-open borders because the alternative—a sane, functional, and efficient immigration system that prioritizes and secures the interests, safety, and welfare of American citizens—is somehow “cruel.”

That’s nonsense.

Christians need not support open borders and, by extension, the crime, suffering, poverty, and chaos that such a policy generates. In fact, supporting open borders is deeply anti-Christian; it is not compassionate but, rather, insane. Rational Christians have a duty to oppose open borders, no matter how slick the rhetorical presentation.

America’s immigration “debate” is deeply confused because we don’t know what a “right” actually is. Open-borders activists assert that those who wish to immigrate have a “right” to do so: “A has a right to x”—in this case, an immigrant has a right to enter America.

That’s not the proper way to think about rights, however, because it leaves out the corollary. If there is a right, then there is also a duty to respect it. So, advocates of this position actually ought to be saying, “A has a right to x that B has a duty to respect”—in this case, an immigrant has a right to enter America that the American people have a duty to respect.

They don’t employ this formulation for obvious reasons. The former view of rights—as moral powers or claims of absolute good—is problematic because it doesn’t tell us what to do when two so-called rights conflict. But when we adhere to a view of rights that is relational and grounded in justice, it becomes possible to negotiate tensions that on the first view are interminable and completely insurmountable.

That’s a healthier and more clarifying kind of politics, to be sure. But it forces more careful consideration of the issues—perhaps a kind that is unlikely to yield the desired results for radical illegal immigration fetishists.

Moral reasoning takes place within a framework populated by general moral principles that must then be prudently applied in and to discrete, concrete situations and within particular contexts. An example is illustrative. Say I have a friend who lends me his axe because he’s going to be out of town for a few days, and he knows I’ll need it for a project I have planned during that time. When he returns, ordinarily, I have a duty to return his axe to him upon request. But, imagine my friend returns, and he asks me to return his axe so that he can use it to murder his neighbor. Obviously, in that situation, it would be immoral for me to return it to him. Why?

On the first view of rights—“A has a right to x”—it’s really impossible for me to refuse his request; after all, I am in temporary possession of his property, and, ordinarily, property ought to be returned to its owner, seemingly without regard for what the owner will do with it—it’s his property, not mine. But the second view of rights—“A has a right to x that B has a duty to respect”—allows us adequately to address what, on the first view, was deeply problematic. Because I am involved in the moral decision-making process, it’s easy to understand why I should not return my friend’s axe: I am not duty-bound to respect my friend’s request if he will use his reclaimed property to commit murder; that would be irrational, and I have no duty to behave contrary to another’s good. Basically, general principles set the overall framework in which moral reasoning operates, but those principles must be prudently applied to specific events; they cannot be followed mechanistically at all times and in all places, regardless of context, as Immanuel Kant would insist.

There is no doubt that Christians must have a special concern for the plight of refugees—those who are forced from their homes either because of natural disasters or man-made calamities; indeed, that is a constant teaching of the Catholic Church. Even refugees, however, do not have an unqualified right of entry; their entry claims must always be weighed against our duty to accept them.

The test is whether their entry benefits and is in the interest of American citizens. We can think of a sliding scale that presents a different moral calculation depending on the classification of those who seek entry: refugees, criminals, and economic migrants. As we’ve seen, on one end of the spectrum are refugees. But even they do not have a presumptive right of entry, though they certainly have a very strong claim.

The easiest case involves criminals and others who wish to strike at the heart of civil society—whether they plan to do it at the border or are likely to become involved in such destabilizing activity after they’re admitted. These persons can be excluded categorically; their interests weigh not at all on the scale, and the United States is not in any way obligated to admit them.

Economic migrants present the hardest case. In one sense, such persons are “forced” from their native countries in search of improved economic prospects, but, in another sense, they do make the choice to seek out greener pastures. This is the quintessential case to test our framework. Economic migrants must be assessed to determine what they will provide to the nation; if the harms of admitting them outweigh the benefits, then they should be excluded—and it’s OK to make that calculation because, if admitting certain people would harm American citizens, then to allow such admission would be as irrational and immoral as returning my friend’s axe when he has told me he would use it to kill his neighbor.

This framework gives us a way to think about an issue that is central to the existence of a nation—i.e., “one people,” as the Declaration of Independence identifies us. It’s also eminently sensible, threading the moral needle between our country’s blindly pro- and anti-immigration extremes.

It doesn’t matter how much cheap, unearned moral superiority Democrats glean from quoting a single line from “The New Colossus” as though it’s law—“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses . . .”—because nobody has an unqualified right to enter America. Certainly Christianity makes no such claim.

Here in America, we the people rule, and we get to decide who becomes our fellow citizens. Full stop.

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Photo Credit: Loren Elliot/AFP/Getty Images

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About Deion A. Kathawa

Deion A. Kathawa is an attorney who hails from America’s heartland. He holds a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is a 2021 alumnus of the Claremont Institute’s John Marshall Fellowship. Subscribe to his “Sed Kontra” newsletter.