Saturday, January 15, 2011


Immigration remains a contested issue in our political debate, even though it has largely taken a backseat to the economy and healthcare, and is one that I think deserves more attention.

Conservatives remain staunchly against immigration calling for greater security and enforcement at the borders, deportation of illegal immigrants, and tighter restrictions on legal immigrants. Democrats generally fight for immigrants' rights, greater numbers of legal immigrants, and even amnesty to illegal immigrants already living and working within the nation.

As is usually the case, both sides have good arguments and bad ones. Republicans often cite the dangers of lax security at the borders and the costs of providing for illegal immigrants. Democrats instead argue for amnesty because of the economic support they bring, and also for keeping families together.

I am currently assisting on a project that is researching the economic impact of illegal immigrants in Missouri and Kansas. We hope to find the net impact of added income and consumption effects as well as added health and education cost effects.

But what's really important in the immigration debate? As always the protection of all human dignity is of the utmost importance. Most immigrants migrate in order to provide for their families. Some are looking for a better place to live free from oppression. Some simply wish to be reunited with their family. Deportation does not safeguard their human dignity. Separating families does not safeguard their dignity. Denying them access to food, shelter, a job, necessary health care, and education no matter their legality does not safeguard their dignity.

Here are excerpts from the doctrine of Catholic Social Teaching on the matter:

In dealing with the family the Supreme Pontiff affirmed that the private ownership of material goods has a great part to play in promoting the welfare of family life. It "secures for the father of a family the healthy liberty he needs in order to fulfill the duties assigned him by the Creator regarding the physical, spiritual and religious welfare of the family." It is in this that the right of families to migrate is rooted. And so Our Predecessor, in speaking of migration, admonished both parties involved, namely the country of departure and the country receiving the newcomers, to seek always "to eliminate as far as possible all obstacles to the birth and growth of real confidence" between the nations. In this way both will contribute to, and share in, the increased welfare of man and the progress of culture. --John XXIII, Mater et Magistra

Again, every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own State. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.(22) The fact that he is a citizen of a particular State does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor of citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of men. -- John XXIII, Pacem in Terris

When workers come from another country or district and contribute to the economic advancement of a nation or region by their labor, all discrimination as regards wages and working conditions must be carefully avoided. All the people, moreover, above all the public authorities, must treat them not as mere tools of production but as persons, and must help them to bring their families to live with them and to provide themselves with a decent dwelling; they must also see to it that these workers are incorporated into the social life of the country or region that receives them. Employment opportunities, however, should be created in their own areas as far as possible. -- Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes

It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care. -- John Paul II, Centesimus Annus

Another aspect of integral human development that is worthy of attention is the phenomenon of migration. This is a striking phenomenon because of the sheer numbers of people involved, the social, economic, political, cultural and religious problems it raises, and the dramatic challenges it poses to nations and the international community. We can say that we are facing a social phenomenon of epoch-making proportions that requires bold, forward-looking policies of international cooperation if it is to be handled effectively. Such policies should set out from close collaboration between the migrants' countries of origin and their countries of destination; it should be accompanied by adequate international norms able to coordinate different legislative systems with a view to safeguarding the needs and rights of individual migrants and their families, and at the same time, those of the host countries.

No country can be expected to address today's problems of migration by itself. We are all witnesses of the burden of suffering, the dislocation and the aspirations that accompany the flow of migrants. The phenomenon, as everyone knows, is difficult to manage; but there is no doubt that foreign workers, despite any difficulties concerning integration, make a significant contribution to the economic development of the host country through their labour, besides that which they make to their country of origin through the money they send home. Obviously, these labourers cannot be considered as a commodity or a mere workforce. They must not, therefore, be treated like any other factor of production. Every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance. -- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate

Fixing immigration policy is no easy task, but it shouldn't be so difficult to reach out to and embrace our fellow man no matter their citizenship status. It is something we all can do.

[emphasis added by me]

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