Thursday, April 29, 2010

The dignity of the migrant

I had the opportunity, about a year ago, to have dinner with Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, the chair of the US Bishops' Committee on Migrants and Refugees. He was about to give a talk on the issue of "illegal" or "undocumented" immigrants, and our duties as Catholics.

What struck me about him was how clearly he saw the role of the Church in this very political matter.

The Church has the obligation to call government to pay attention to principles of morality, particularly the principle of the intrinsic dignity of every human person. She also has the obligation, through all her members, to show each person the care and respect due to him or her as a child of God.

The question of immigration is one that, from a Catholic point of view, is open to a great deal of debate. Erin cites the Catechism 2241, which says:
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.

So, what sort of "juridical conditions" are appropriate? What kinds of enforcement are valid for those who don't meet those "juridical conditions"?

In the interest of clarity - the main topic of this blog, after all - I would suggest a minimal starting point. First, any position that denies the basic human rights of any person, including those who have not met the U.S.'s "juridical conditions" for immigration, is beyond the pale of Catholic teaching. We have, both as individuals and as a society the privilege and obligation of recognizing and protecting their dignity as persons. No one ceases to be human just by crossing a border.

Second, any positions that denies the state the ability to regulate its borders or to impose "juridical conditions" of any kind also falls outside the realm of Catholic teaching. The government is charged with the common good of society, and each of us has a responsibility to care for our fellows as well as ourselves.

In our conversation, I agreed with Bishop Wester that the ideal would be for every immigrant to be properly processed and authorized; but that is not the situation we live in right now.

With regard to the new Arizona law, I must plead ignorance of the details. I'll look more into it and let you know what I find. But my first-glance impression is that it's probably an imprudent law, even if not strictly speaking an immoral law. What I've heard most is that it opens the way to racist mistreatment of Hispanic people. I'd be surprised if the law explicitly allows any such thing, but I would easily believe that it could make prosecution of racist law officers more difficult.

More to come, I'm sure.

7 comments:

  1. Like you I haven't done enough due diligence to render a strong opinion of my own, but here is a rebuttal of some of the objections by a person who helped draft the law. At least according to this fellow, the law doesn't make anything illegal that wasn't already illegal: it just makes some things which were already federal crimes into state crimes, which in effect gives state officials jurisdiction to enforce them, since the feds re not enforcing the federal law.

    Again, I can't vouch for the accuracy of that "spin", so take it FWIW.

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  2. Robert writes : "So, what sort of "juridical conditions" are appropriate? What kinds of enforcement are valid for those who don't meet those "juridical conditions"?"

    They should be juridical conditions which allow for men to receive a living wage. In my field of business I've watched the illegals take an industry where men could raise a family and destroy it to where now only those in management or in the white collars sectors can still demand enough to support a family.

    While it's true that Rerum Novarum likewise says that a just wage is not what a man will accept, but what is justly due, so that the fault is not those who accept those low wages, nevertheless, their flooding the market and their willingness to accept those wages has as a practical matter wiped out the industry. They are in effect, no different than those who cross the picket lines.

    Pat Buchannan, who is cited on your previous thread, rightly mentions, as his primary practical argument, those who have been frozen out of the workforce by immigration.

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  3. RE: Love Of Neighbor

    We have an obligation to love our neighbor (with sole exception of the New York Yankees). However when our a Bishop (Cardinal Mahoney) speaks out on the matter of illegal immigration in a manner that reflects partisan politics we should in charity ask a few questions:

    1. Has the near universal rejection of Humane Vitae by our American Catholic elites led to a dearth of American children which in turn has necessitated a reliance by our economy on illegal Mexican workers?

    2. Has the near universal rejection of Rerum Novarum by the Mexican Catholic elites led to impossible work condition in Mexico forcing men to leave their families and seek illegal work in the USA?

    3. Are the illegal Mexican workers currently residing in the USA true immigrants or foreign citizens attempting to earn money to support their families back in their home land?

    4. Can we resolve this tragedy by charity and listening to Christ's Vicars?

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

    4. Can we lawfully allow large numbers of Mexican citizens to work in the USA in order to support their families in Mexico?

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  4. @love the girls - I agree in principle. But I'm not entirely sure how to get from here to there.

    @Richard W Comerford - Since undocumented migrant workers (from Mexico or anywhere else) have not met the juridical conditions set down, so far as I know licitly and morally, by the U.S. government, they do not count as legal immigrants. But from a practical standpoint, they have migrated-in to the U.S., and are "immigrants" according to that most basic level of definition.

    But regardless of the nomenclature, the question remains how to "resolve this tragedy" with charity and justice.

    I don't think it's the responsibility of the bishops to dictate policy. I do think it's their responsibility to remind us of our moral principles. So yes, we need to listen to what they say; but we also need to work out the practical details.

    And that's the part I'm having difficulty with myself.

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  5. Robert:

    RE: Immigrant

    "But from a practical standpoint, they have migrated-in to the U.S., and are "immigrants" according to that most basic level of definition."

    Back in the Dark Ages if we picked up someone who had entered the USA unlawfully (or over stayed his or her visa) we called that person an "illegal alien". If that same person had resided and worked in the USA for a certain length of time and intended to stay in the USA some lawyers refereed to him or her as an "illegal immigrant".

    Most of the illegal aliens had not "migrated" to the USA with the intention to permanently live here. Most Mexican men deliberately entered the USA illegally in order to earn money to support their families back in old Mexico. These guys returned home regularly. They do not want to live permanently in the USA. Europeans would call them, illegal "guest workers".

    See 8 USC 1324 for definition of and penalties for hiring an "illegal alien".

    I have never run across a federal statute defining an "illegal immigrant".

    From what I saw our economy could not survive without "illegal guest workers" from Mexico and the Mexican economy could not survive without the money sent home by these "illegal guest workers".

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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  6. @Richard -

    Your point is well taken. My "broadly speaking" definition is so broad that it includes anyone who crosses the border for any reason or any length of time.

    From what I saw our economy could not survive without "illegal guest workers" from Mexico and the Mexican economy could not survive without the money sent home by these "illegal guest workers".

    This seems to be the case, at least in the Southwestern states. I lived in Utah and California for a while, and saw the extreme dependence of the economy on "guest workers", whether legal or illegal. Even here in Washington, the agricultural and service industries depend on cheap labor, largely from south of the U.S. border.

    I'd like to point out that there's nothing intrinsically immoral about such arrangements - so long as the guest workers respect our laws, and employers respect their dignity as persons. The problem is that it's easy to get around the laws, and likewise easy to disrespect their persons with sub-standard wages, living conditions, and safety standards. Everybody loses in the current situation.

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  7. Robert:

    "I'd like to point out that there's nothing intrinsically immoral about such arrangements"

    My guess is that a legal guest worker status for Mexican workers in the USA is the only solution for this mess. We cannot survive without Mexican workers, legal or otherwise, and Mexico cannot survive without their wages.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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