Monday, May 3, 2010

Human dignity and the immigrant

Sometimes when Catholics read the news, it can seem like America's Catholic bishops are all too eager to support the idea that the USCCB is really just the Democratic Party at prayer.

Take the recent statement posted on the USCCB's website, written by Bishop John C. Wester, on Arizona's new immigration law, which reads in part:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I join with the Catholic bishops of Arizona in strongly opposing the enactment and implementation of Arizona SB 1070. This new law, although limited to the State of Arizona, could have impact throughout the nation, in terms of how members of our immigrant communities are both perceived and treated.

SB 1070 gives law enforcement officials powers to detain and arrest individuals based on a very low legal standard, possibly leading to the profiling of individuals based upon their appearance, manner of speaking, or ethnicity. It could lead to the wrongful questioning and arrest of U.S. citizens and permanent residents as well as the division of families—parents from children and husbands from wives. It certainly would lead to the rise in fear and distrust in immigrant communities, undermining the relationships between their members and law enforcement officials.

If you stopped there, you'd miss what to me is possibly the most important paragraph in the statement--the one that comes next:

SB 1070 is symptomatic of the absence of federal leadership on the issue of immigration. For years now, the U.S. Catholic bishops have called upon Congress and two Administrations to enact meaningful and just comprehensive immigration reform.

As Robert mentioned in his earlier post, the Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with immigration in CCC 2241:
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.
It seems to me that the Catechism passage shows the sort of balance that needs to take place between the rights of the immigrant and the rights of the common good of the residents of the country to which he aspires to move. A nation does have the right to control its borders, to regulate immigration, and to establish just laws and reasonable penalties for the breaking of those laws. At the same time, the immigrant who comes to that nation in violation of those laws does not somehow lose his right to be treated like a human being; he should not wander in a kind of legal limbo, forbidden to work or to put a roof over his head on the one hand, but ignored by the authorities responsible for enforcing immigration laws on the other.

When I read this summary of SB 1070, the Arizona law in question, I found some parts of it reasonable, most particularly the degree to which the law seems to reflect frustration on the part of Arizona's lawmakers that the federal efforts to curb illegal immigration have, thus far, been so laughably ineffective. Unfortunately, I also see some of the things that worry the U.S. bishops on this, including:

--the chance of racial profiling
--the provision which essentially makes it illegal for an illegal immigrant to work
--the provision which permits immigration status to be investigated when "determining eligibility for any public benefit, service or license provided by any federal, state, local or other political subdivision of this state..." among other things.

What this could mean is that those currently present illegally in Arizona might find their families at risk of homelessness and hunger, without any means either via honest work or with the help of public programs to alleviate these ills.

It is true that those entering our country do not have the moral right, except in rare circumstances when to remain in their own country would mean loss of life, to come here in violation of our immigration laws. But once they are here, we do not have the right to treat them without regard to their human dignity, which allows them to work and to survive. This is especially true when it is the injustice of our laws which turn, too often, a blind eye toward the "recruitment" of illegal immigrants by employers in agriculture, food production, food services, construction, hospitality, landscaping, retail, and dozens of other businesses, many of them large corporations, while "cracking down" on the individual man or woman who is here illegally.

And though there are laws against hiring illegals, the penalties are often rather weak--fines that range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per employee, for example. What is that to a company that may be saving millions of dollars a year by hiring employees who don't need to be paid the minimum wage and aren't subject to any of the "rights of workers" laws designed to protect workers--and who can't belong to any union?

For now, the bottom line for me is that while I sympathize with the frustration that helped create the Arizona law, I think that the enforcement efforts are disproportionately aimed at the wrong people: the individual illegal immigrant, who may be married to an American citizen and have American citizens for children, in some cases. The majority of the effort to reform immigration law needs, in my opinion, to be aimed at those corporations who are willing to flout our nation's laws on immigration again and again in order to increase their profits and satisfy their Wall Street investors--because until that happens, these employers will continue to create a demand for illegal workers. And as long as there is demand, does anyone doubt that there will continue to be a steady supply?


  1. Red Cardigan: "It is true that those entering our country do not have the moral right, except in rare circumstances when to remain in their own country would mean loss of life, to come here in violation of our immigration laws."

    Is that true? If some country has set up a system of laws that is unjust towards the immigrant, then potential immigrants are nevertheless morally obliged to respect those laws? I haven't found any statement in the Catechism that relates directly to that situation. Nor does it seem that the Bishops are teaching that. So suspect that the conditions for morally being able to disobey some parts of immigration law are wider than "loss of life".

  2. Paul, I'm going back to hazy memories of classes in high school in college which focused on the things one could legitimately do to preserve one's life (stealing food in dire necessity, yes, stealing other things in dire necessity, possibly, killing someone, definitely not, etc.). So it seemed safe to assume that ignoring a nation's immigration laws to preserve life would be morally permissible.

    But if some country were to decide, say, that redheads could not legally live in that country, for example--? I'd like to hear from our moral theologian readers on that one. It seems to me that the state's duty to preserve the common good would generally be more compelling than an individual's or even a group's complaint that the country's immigration laws were unjust. But I can't say for certain.

    The problem, to me, would be this:

    --A person is usually required to obey the laws of the legitimate authority.
    --A person need not obey an unjust law and may in fact be forbidden, morally speaking, to do so.
    --However, for a person to decide that a law was unjust and did not need to be obeyed, it seems to me that the person would need to be subject to that authority in the first place.

    If I decide, for instance, that Sweden's homeschool laws are unjust, well and good--I can, in this country, speak and write about it. But I'm in no way subject to the laws of that nation, so I can't exactly *violate* Sweden's homeschool laws. And if for some strange reason I had to move to Sweden, and if I told the proper authority ahead of time that I had every intention of violating their homeschooling laws, I couldn't then complain that it was unjust of Sweden not to let me move there.

    This is tangled--it's late and I'm incoherent--but the point is that I'm wondering whether a person wishing to come to the United States can unilaterally decide that our immigration laws are unjust and need not be respected--and having decided that and carried out the action of coming here against the law, if they really have a complaint when the law is enforced.

    I would guess that many of those who come here illegally really do see the action as necessary to preserve life, since so many are fleeing desperate poverty, violence, and the like. There, too, we have a responsibility--to what extent have American actions led to an increase of violence (esp. drug related violence) and the poverty which some report as a side effect of NAFTA? But I'm not sure if the principle that a person may on his own decide that a nation's immigration laws are so grossly unjust that they need not be obeyed (and that leaves aside the question of why anyone would want to migrate to a country with such hideous injustice at the borders, so to speak).

  3. Oops, should have said "in high school or in college..."

    Like I said, it's late...

  4. What I'm getting from your post is that the rights of American citizens to expect protection from their federal or state governments can be set aside in order to treat criminals as "human beings". Of course criminals are human beings, but so was the rancher who was murdered by the illegal and the family that was killed in the car accident by the illegal who was driving drunk. The rights of our citizens apparently don't matter and they're less "human" than Mexicans crossing the border illegally. This is the same argument that we've been hearing for forty years about criminals of whatever race; they have a "good reason" for committing their crimes, whether it's racism or poverty or whatever. Justice is justice whatever the race of the criminal. There already is racial profiling-if you're Mexican you get a "get out of jail free" card. Why don't the bishops address the Mexican govt officials concerning their corruption and lack of concern for the human rights of their own countrymen? Oh, of course, they wouldn't care. Much easier to go after the morally confused Americans who so readily allowed themselves to be labelled inhumane racists and who have such deep pockets. The sad fact is that we're bankrupt, morally and economically, and the government is now going to take what little we have left and give it to law breakers and criminals. Hope you don't mind our standard of living descending to Mexico's, including the beheading of lawmen in Oaxaca.

  5. I have as much concern for U.S. citizens as illegal immigrants with this law. This law is obviously targeted at Hispanics, so how much harassment are Hispanic American citizens going to have to endure--showing extra paperwork or being unnecessarily detained. It sounds an awful lot like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia..."papers please".

  6. Red Cardigan, thank you for your reply. I am thinking along slightly different lines. The Catechism 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."

    From which it follows that if a country is well able to assist foreigners that so qualify (the standard being considerably wider than the "loss of life" standard you applied), but sets up laws that do not in fact allow this, then the country has set up something that is unjust. And we are in agreement that there is no obligation to obey an unjust law.

    If, as a Catholic, I were in doubt as to whether a particular country was indeed in such a situation, I could consult the bishops of my country of origin, and the bishops of the country I proposed to move to. In the case of (say) the USA and Mexico, it seems to me that the bishops are in agreement that the system of laws in the USA do in fact currently prevent people moving who should, as a matter of justice, be free to move.

    Of course, once I've decided that, as a qualified immigrant, I am not obliged to obey the law which would eject me as soon as I got there, I must nevertheless still obey whatever other laws there that may be just. E.g. pay taxes.

    And at that point things may get morally tangled. Suppose, say, that the country the immigrant moves to proposes a new law that essentially makes it difficult to get a job without revealing your immigration status. Would that law be just or unjust? It could very easily be unjust. On the face of it, it sounds like a reasonable new law (by itself there is nothing obviously wrong with a country being able to know the immigration status of everyone working there). However, it makes the position of the qualified immigrants even more difficult, since it makes it harder for qualified immigrants to live in the country. Which means, following the Catechism, that it is a greater injustice.

    That is about where we are in the USA today. Since the current immigration laws contain strong elements of injustice (since they do not include the direct aim of welcoming "the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin"), those laws that aid greater enforcement of the existing laws will necessarily include a greater enforcing of injustice.

    The solution is to simultaneously combine a reform of immigration law so that it directly includes the goal of welcoming "the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin", and enforcing of such laws. Enacting enforcement first will all too easily be an injustice, hence why the bishops complain.

  7. Though I would disagree with your assessment that the US is "well able" to take more immigrants. Currently there are approximately 25 million legal immigrants in this country. Some have been naturalized and some have not. There are at least 12 (and perhaps as many as 25) million illegal immigrants in this country. This is approximately 12% of the population as a conservative estimate and perhaps as many as 15%. This is a fair percentage of the population.
    Also given that illegal immigration may contribute to the economy overall, there are increased costs at the individual state levels which can compromise care of citizens and legal immigrants. There is also a national cost of 2 - 3.5% in decreased wages to natural born citizens which is a further social cost. That is unequally distributed among states also so may be higher in border states. Finally, there is downward economic pressure on second and third generation Hispanic immigrants that has not existed in the past. In part due to the constant flow of illegal immigrants over the past 20 - 25 years that is distinct from previous eras when there have been pauses in immigration.
    Just a couple of reasons why the premise that US immigration law is unjust is false.

  8. Also not all Bishops would necessarily support the argument that US laws are per se unjust:

  9. @Barbara C. They will not have to carry anything they are not already required to carry. Any non-citzen alien (worker, student, tourist etc) is required to keep their visas, passport or whatever documentation allows them to be here, on them at all times. This is a federal law and is common in most countries. Go to Italy for 91 days and see how much they like you on that last day if you didn't file for a visa.

    Naturalized citizens are not required to carry papers. To 'prove' your citzenship, a driver's license or similar with suffice. Immigration status is only checked with during a 'lawful contact' with 'reasonable suspicion'. Both of these terms have a long history of jurisprudence and as such are not arbitrary.

    All the bill did was make a standing Federal Law a State Law as well.

  10. Baron,

    Thanks for pointing that out. The "show your papers" meme is a distortion. As you note, all legal immigrants must carry a green card at all times already. I have to carry a drivers license whenever I drive, which is most days.
    But the distortion (lie) is useful for an emotional argument. As a lie it is of course contrary to Catholic Social teaching and contrary to the dignity of those it is used against.

  11. Philip: "Though I would disagree with your assessment that the US is "well able" to take more immigrants."

    I specified that I was talking about those immigrants who qualify under the Catechism's request for justice: "...the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.". To try to derive some lessons from the statistics for overall immigration is not relevant. And I don't understand what the cost (supposing it to be proved so) of overall immigration has to do with implementing just laws. Are we allowed to be unjust if it is financially inconvenient?

    Philip: "Also not all Bishops would necessarily support the argument that US laws are per se unjust: [link provided]."

    Archbishop Chaput's recent article can be seen in full here.

    To quote part of it:

    "There’s nothing “good” about people living in the shadows; or families being separated; or decent people being deported and having to start their lives all over again, sometimes in a country that they no longer—or never did—know."

    It is evident that Chaput thinks that the laws are doing things that they should not: i.e. they are unjust.

  12. Though the Church teaches that the receiving country must be able to take these immigrants. My point is that, on varied levels, we are indeed meeting the requirements of CST and taking more would harm the common good. So I am arguing from CST that we are not acting unjustly.

    Chaput's letter also talks about legitimate desire for security in the host nation. So again one can disagree with your position.

  13. Also consider Chaput's basic statement "Illegal immigration is wrong..."

  14. Philip: "My point is that, on varied levels, we are indeed meeting the requirements of CST and taking more would harm the common good."

    You've made that claim. But, as I pointed out, you provided only aggregated data for all immigrants, and nothing for those specified in the Catechism as having a just reason for immigration. And the only harm you specified to the common good was financial. And part of that was very surprisingly stated. You said: "There is also a national cost of 2 - 3.5% in decreased wages to natural born citizens which is a further social cost." So, social cost is to be measured by what it does to natural-born citizens? The benefit to the immigrant has to be counted as well! Are we discussing Catholic Social Teaching or Natural-born-USA-citizens Social Teaching?

    Philip: "Chaput's letter also talks about legitimate desire for security in the host nation."

    It's certainly a legitimate desire. But that desire can't be satisfied by implementing unjust laws.

    Philip: "Also consider Chaput's basic statement "Illegal immigration is wrong...""

    Let's add in a few more words to Chaput's actual context, rather than just leaving it out with "...":

    "First, illegal immigration is wrong and dangerous for everyone involved. There’s nothing “good” about people risking their lives for the mere purpose of entering the United States."

    What Chaput has in mind are all the dangerous ways of entering the USA -- swimming across rivers; being smuggled in overcrowded vans or shipping containers; walking across waterless desert. People are usually imprudent to take such great risks for disproportionate gain.

  15. "You've made that claim. But, as I pointed out, you provided only aggregated data for all immigrants, and nothing for those specified in the Catechism as having a just reason for immigration."

    As I've also pointed out, the right to migrate is not absolute. CST teaches that immigration can be restricted by the state for reasons of its own internal common good. Even when there are serious reasons for one to migrate. This is further evidenced by this:

    "Thus it is important to help illegal migrants to complete the necessary administrative papers to obtain a residence permit. Social and charitable institutions can make contact with the authorities in order to seek appropriate, lawful solutions to various cases. This kind of effort should be made especially on behalf of those who, after a long stay, are so deeply rooted in the local society that returning to their country of origin would be tantamount to a form of reverse emigration, with serious consequences particularly for the children.
    4. When no solution is foreseen, these same institutions should direct those they are helping, perhaps also providing them with material assistance, either to seek acceptance in other countries, or to return to their own country."

    I give the whole quote to point out that efforts to integrate illegal immigrants is a noble thing, but "where no solution is foreseen" deportation can occur. Obstacles to solutions may be many including the impact on the common good. This even in the face of immigrants coming for their own good.

    I've presented the reasons for why I think the US is addressing this issue but do agree that it needs to be addressed further. But you seem to be arguing, contra CST, that the state has no right to limit immigration if there is a pressing need for an immigrant to come. That is not the case. Not only can the state limit immigration, but where necessary deport those who are here illegally - even if they have the need.

    "What Chaput has in mind are all the dangerous ways of entering the USA..."

    No, what he presents is a conjunction. Illegal immigration is wrong AND it is dangerous. This argument is further supported by this:

    "Illegal immigration should be prevented, but it is also essential to combat vigorously the criminal activities which exploit illegal immigrants."

    Another conjunction. Illegal immigrants should not be exploited. But illegal immigration should also be prevented. Why? Because as Chaput points out, it is wrong. Just laws must be obeyed.

    Again I point out why I think limits are not necessarily unjust and why Arizona's law is not necessarily unjust.

    Those quotes I give are from John Paul II's address on immigration found here:

  16. Philip: "As I've also pointed out, the right to migrate is not absolute."

    I have not claimed otherwise. But (to repeat) what I do obtain from the teaching of the Catechism is that where a foreigner is "in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin", and where a country is able to accept them, then there is a right to migrate.

    People migrate for a variety of reasons. For some of them there is no right to migrate, since the migrants do not satisfy the conditions indicated by the Catechism. For others they do have such a right. Immigration laws that do not distinguish between the two cases must end up being unjust.

    It seems to me that you may be searching for a teaching that says that all illegal immigrants must leave that country if the laws so stipulate. There is no such exceptionless teaching. The very documents that you quote show this clearly.

    The document from JPII partly deals with the situations that can occur because of any kind of illegal immigration, and partly deals with those specific situations covered by the Catechism.

    For example: "It is necessary to avoid recourse to the use of administrative regulations, meant to restrict the criterion of family membership, which result in unjustifiably forcing into an illegal situation people whose right to live with their family cannot be denied by any law." If a law tries to remove an undeniable right, it is an unjust law, and thus not binding in conscience (CC #1903).

    Or again: "Adequate protection should be guaranteed to those who, although they have fled from their countries for reasons unforeseen by international conventions, could indeed be seriously risking their life were they obliged to return to their homeland." How could adequate protection be guaranteed in such circumstances if the illegal immigrant was always obliged to return to their country of origin?

    Philip: "...limits are not necessarily unjust..."

    Agreed. However, if those limits are applied equally against both those who have no right to immigrate, as well as those who do have the right to immigrate, then they will be unjust towards the latter.

  17. Nope, not saying all must be deported. Just saying that because someone is in need, a country does not need to accept them if there are compelling reasons not to.

    As to what degree of need allows immigration I don't believe we could answer that for an immigrant. A highly trained Indian might only be able to find work in the US technology sector to improve his life. His need may be as great as that of a farm worker in Mexico.

  18. If you start down a road with an illegal act, it is hard to ever make it right. The USA is prosperous even in hard times when compared to most other countries in the world. We are also a country with a rich heritage of immigration. We have set up immigration laws to preserve our country and this rich heritage and also to preserve our way of living. The congress set up specific standards for immigration and numbers of immigrants looking at how many the country can absorb and also specific things an immigrant must have so as to not get here and become an immediate burden. We also have taken in those who prove their lives are in jepordy if they stay or are returned.
    We have laws in place that employers are supposed to follow when hiring someone. I have to furnish a couple of forms of ID, etc. Obviously, some companies are breaking this law for their own benefit. again, this is an illegal and wrong act that will only lead to more wrong and illegal acts.

    The solution is to enforce the laws of the country. a simple way to do this is to create a reward for anyone who turns in an employer who hires illegals that is fairly large, say $250,000. If someone is poor, you can bet they will turn in the employer and the government can then act and pay the reward out of the fine of the company and put those who hire the illegal workers in jail with increasing time for any person if they are caught again, even if working for a new company. You would dry up the illegal activity of companies and you would dry up those coming here looking for work illegally. Second to this is to have Congress on an annual basis recommend changes in the immigration numbers and requirements to allow those with jobs in need of emplyees to be matched with legal immigrants with a special emphasis on our neighbors. They would then have people ID'd and taxed, employers with the staffing they need for growth, and end the illegal acts which drive the problem today. Third you shut the border to anyone coming here illegally for they are not coming for jobs, but for drugs or other issues. This becomes much easier when you stop the droves coming over and hae border guards with clear orders to stop anyone coming over with whatever means are necessary.
    As to the Catholic teaching, the above does everything in Catholic teaching as it helps those in need and does so without turning them into theives, but treats them with dignity. If we shut of the massive illegal costs and have people here who are identified and employed legally, we will save billions of dollars each year which means we can solve some of our massive debt issues which will allow us to continue to serve those in need in our country.