Talking about immigration rallies and protests

In light of the 500,000 people who rallied for immigration rights in L.A., a lot of people are thinking about immigration.  However, the focus appears to be more about "what will work?" than "what is right?".

The way the debate seems to break down is as follows:

  • there are 11 or 12 million people in the U.S.A. who did not come in through the normal immigration process (call them "illegal immigrants" or "undocumented aliens" – the words only matter depending on the spin you try to give).
  • most of those people are from Mexico, a neighboring country that has also allowed drugs and possibly terrorists to enter through their border
  • for the most part, though, most of the illegal aliens are here doing legitimate jobs that "no one else will do" (see this WashPost op/ed for the truth about this)
  • they are "responsible for keeping the human machinery of US cities humming"  (see Jimmy Akin’s post about this spin)
  • on the other side, they are "a drain on the economy"
  • they are receiving welfare, Social Security, and other benefits, by the laws of some states
  • their children are being born here, going to our schools, and receiving medical care when needed
  • it’s "impractical" to deport them all, and they’ll just come back, because we can’t keep them out
  • it’s "unfriendly" to keep anyone else out, because we are a nation of immigrants
  • they are only here to make money to send to their poor families in their home country
  • according to one sign seen held by a protester "I am an immigrant, not a criminal"

Sounds to me like all the arguments seem to cancel each other out.  Economically, for the country, it appears to be a close call – they take benefits, but they also provide a great benefit, namely "cheap labor".  But this is only true for the nation as a whole, and as Catholics, we are not supposed to be as concerned about the nation as we are about the people in that nation, legal or illegal.  Unlike the French protests, these immigrants protesting have a point – injustice really does exist for them.  They, unlike the French, actually want to work.

The problem, from a Catholic perspective, is understanding all of this in how God tells us to treat the "the resident alien living among you".  There are all kinds of verses that say that justice should be shown toward immigrants (Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 24:1; Matthew 25:35), but does this apply to "illegal" aliens?  Even though the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2241) says that nations can limit immigration, we are not concerned with Church Teaching regarding immigration – we are concerned with the individual.  (We know from experience that government laws can be written that are allowable, yet still harm the individual.)  This means we must discount the "legal/illegal" label, unless there are other issues involved with the label.

The primary issue involved with the label is that illegal aliens are generally taking jobs that others don’t want.  Why would that be?  Is it because the jobs are undesireable?  That is part of it, but generally, the law of supply and demand grants higher pay to those less desireable jobs.  However, it is in the pay that we begin to see the problem more clearly – illegal aliens tend to be paid less than immigrants who enter the country through the proper legal channels and procedures.  This lower pay is either directly (by giving them less wages) or indirectly (by not providing full benefits, such as paying their Social Security taxes, putting them on the medical insurance rolls, or providing pension or 401(k) funds).

Why is this lower pay happening?  Because the country they are leaving pays far less than our country does for the same job, so anything higher seems great to them, even though it is much lower than average for our country.  This is the source of the justice we are to show toward the alien, legal or otherwise.  The lower pay given to them because of their status is a form of exploitation, plain and simple.  The lower pay equates to saying they have lower dignity which is equivalent to saying they are less of a person.  Unfortunately, this is not new in American history – slaves were once considered to be only 3/5 of a person. 

We are seeing a form of slavery or "indentured servitude" with the illegal immigrant worker in our country.  Those that hire them benefit from lower costs, which results in higher profits.  Those that partake of the goods produced by those illegal immigrants (e.g., picking fruits and vegetables, doing construction on houses and other buildings, watching our children, caring for our houses and landscaping) benefit from the lower cost of those goods.  This is what is meant by "keeping our economy humming".  Our nation has been playing on the ignorance and fear of the illegal immigrants (i.e., they only know lower wages in their home country, and they fear being deported, so they will not speak up for themselves), at the expense of their dignity as equal human beings under the law of God, if not the nation.

There are bishops (such as Archbishop Mahoney of L.A.) saying that the injustice is not just in not letting them stay here, but in not letting them all come here whenever and wherever they want.  This is a misinterpretation of justice, because it does not solve the problems – it just transfers them.  A flood of "open-door" immigrants would drive down wages for everybody.  It also allows criminals and other "undesirables" to be exported from other countries to us, as Fidel Castro did to us before.

True justice means giving full rights and equal pay to all who work in this country.  This is what is right.  We need to stop or drastically reduce the number of illegals coming in to the country in the first place.  This is the right of the national government.  When every (or nearly every) immigrant is legal and registered/documented, then businesses cannot get away with paying them low wages. 

This also means getting rid of all the illegal immigrants that are already here, either through deportation or some sort of amnesty program.  Which is the more just solution?  Just ask those that jumped through the hoops and went through the proper channels to become legal immigrants – those people are NOT criminals; they are becoming citizens, entitled to every right guaranteed by our government, including equal opportunity.  Granting the same things to those that did not go through the same process is not justice toward those that did – it denies equality of opportunity.  Additionally, amnesty could also open the door to some terrorist or some such being given a free pass to our country so as to harm us from the inside.

Will all of this hurt the economy?  Probably – in fact, almost definitely.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.  Freeing the slaves hurt the economy, especially of the South, but that didn’t make it any less the right thing to do.

In the long run, those that come here legally will not only get paid more (because they will have more legal protections granted to them), but they will also be able to send more to their families still in their home countries, thereby exporting social and economic justice. Exporting the message of the "social Gospel" means that exporting the "biblical Gospel" cannot be far behind.  Our foreign policy recently has been "exporting democracy" – it’s about time it also includes "exporting prosperity and dignity".

"They will know we are Christians by our love." Is it love to pay anyone lower-than-normal wages? Is it not more loving to give discipline by reprimanding them (either by sending them back or by fining them and severely penalizing the employers that exploit them) and making them go through the proper channels, so they can become fully legal "guest-workers" or even full citizens and have even more than they have now?  Let’s start showing love to them the primary way Christians (and especially American Christians) have always first showed love – by taking a hit in the wallet.  Let us sacrifice some economic benefit in order to reject illegal immigration, not because we hate the immigrant, but because we hate the indignity of low pay and the exploitation committed by those that cheat the system.


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