Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

Catholics and the Border

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

There can be no real doubt that the situation on America’s southern border, particularly in Texas, has reached crisis levels.

Record numbers of families have come to the border without legal authorization to enter the United States. The detention centers that house these people are overwhelmed, and a government watchdog has found that the conditions in some facilities have become dangerous to both the residents and the staffs. The separation of children from their families has caused wide-spread outrage.

The causes of this crisis are like a Gordian Knot. There are so many interrelated moving parts — social disorder and violence in their home countries, liberal U.S. laws governing asylum applications, deliberate policies by government agencies to detain people punitively to deter further migration, the insufficiency of current visa programs, inadequate funding, court staffing shortages, and much more.

Any policy responses will have to be incredibly complex. Of course, the laws that are already on the books have to be enforced, and we cannot accept all who come to our shores. Other nations have an obligation to correct the social conditions that are causing people to flee. Everyone agrees that our immigration and asylum laws are in desperate need of reform, yet our government has a lamentable history of failure in getting the job done. Surely the rancid partisanship that has infected our body politic is largely to blame for our inability to even talk about these issues in a constructive way.

That is where we as Catholic Americans can make a unique and important contribution to this crisis. Because of the rich heritage of Catholic social teaching, we can transcend the partisan divisiveness and look at the problem from an entirely new perspective. By doing this, we can focus on the human dimension of the issue, which will help us to unlock some parts of the policy problem.

The foundational step for us to take is to make sure that we always focus on the humanity of those we are speaking about. It’s all too easy to dismiss those at the border as “aliens”, “illegals” or “invaders”, or even worse. It has become a reflex for people to reject reports that challenge their settled views as “fake news”. Tribalism is becoming more influential than facts. Emotionally-loaded terms like “concentration camps” only inflame things. Insensitivity and even cruelty are becoming mainstream. I see all this every time I post a piece about immigration on our Office Facebook page.

That’s not the Catholic way. This is the Good Samaritan moment — recognizing that we are speaking about human beings, made in the image and likeness of God and loved by him, people whom we are commanded repeatedly to love, and people who are in desperate need of help.

If we can shift the rhetoric of this debate even the smallest step in this direction, we will have succeeded greatly in creating an environment for policy solutions to be developed in a rational, human-centered way. Here’s an example from Pope Francis this last weekend:

In the spirit of the Beatitudes we are called to comfort them in their affliction and offer them mercy; to sate their hunger and thirst for justice; to let them experience God’s caring fatherliness; to show them the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues! “This is not just about migrants”, in the twofold sense that migrants are first of all human persons, and that they are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society. (Homily at the Holy Mass for Migrants, July 8, 2019)

Is there anyone in American politics who speaks like this? That’s why we must step into the breach. Unless we start speaking about the people involved in this crisis in that way, no decent policy solutions will ever be adopted.

We Catholics should also remember that this loving solicitude for migrants is not something revolutionary and unprecedented. It is strongly based in Sacred Scripture and has been repeatedly proclaimed by the Church. For example, in the aftermath of World War II and the dislocation after the foundation of the State of Israel, Venerable Pope Pius XII made a powerful statement about the duty to care for and accept people who are fleeing to another country because of the conditions in their home:

You know indeed how preoccupied we have been and with what anxiety we have followed those who have been forced by revolutions in their own countries, or by unemployment or hunger to leave their homes and live in foreign lands. The natural law itself, no less than devotion to humanity, urges that ways of migration be opened to these people. For the Creator of the universe made all good things primarily for the good of all. Since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public wealth, considered very carefully, does not forbid this. (Exsul Familia Nazarethana, 1952)

I have no illusions about the charged political environment in the United States right now. I get that the increasing abortion radicalism of certain factions in the Democratic Party, as well as their growing hostility to religious freedom, is a grave threat to life, dignity and freedom. I understand that we need to keep our main focus on the direct threats to human life like abortion and assisted suicide, and that any other activism might dilute our effectiveness.

But I also think that Catholics and pro-lifers can walk and chew gum at the same time, and that this moment is an opportunity for some real Christian public witness. Religious leaders from across the nation have been decrying the inhumane conditions at some of the border detention centers. Staunch pro-life groups like New Wave Feminists have been going to the border to help the over-stretched Catholic Charities workers in providing material support to those in detention. Scholars like Fordham Prof. Charles Camosy are providing the intellectual framework for a genuine Consistent Life Ethic that protects human life and dignity at all stages and conditions. More needs to be done.

There’s no question that the policy responses to this crisis are difficult. But that’s no excuse for us as Catholics to shirk our duty to humanize and evangelize our public square and to focus on the real-life people who are stuck in the middle of this crisis. Yes, laws need to be reformed and enforced, but there are a lot of people on the border who could use a little kindness in the midst of their misery.

After all, we have it on good authority that showing mercy is not optional, but is mandatory.

Scripture Does Not Justify Injustice

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

In response to criticism of the Administration’s policy of separating parents from their children at the border, the Attorney General has essentially demanded unquestioning obedience, referring to a verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)

This is a dangerous argument, one that implies that Christians and others should give blind obedience to the decrees of our rulers, regardless of whether they are just or not.

First of all, it grossly misreads St. Paul. Let’s look a the context in Romans itself.

In Romans 12, St. Paul exhorts his readers to live their lives purely, according to God’s will. He says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2) and “love one another with brotherly affection” (12:10).

He then passes on to the question of how to live peacefully in his contemporary society. Remember that the government of Rome was a brutal military dictatorship, one that required its subjects to view the Emperor as a god and to make sacrifice to him. Rome had already murdered Jesus based on false testimony that he was claiming to be an earthly king, and had already taken Paul under a false arrest so he could face the likelihood of execution.

So Paul had no illusions about the rulers of the world — in fact, he knew well that the ruler of the world was the Evil One and his minions (see Ephesians 6:12). Paul would be the last man to encourage us to accept blindly the rules set down by earthly kings. What Paul was clearly doing was encouraging Christians to keep their heads down, obey the law as best they can, and avoid any conflicts with their earthly rulers.

But Paul was also doing something even more important, and in fact even more treasonous towards the Roman emperors. He was saying clearly and plainly that earthly rulers were not the real or final authority on earth — God is. He said “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (13:1) The Roman emperors would have no authority except that God permits them to exercise it — but not for any purpose, but for the common good of mankind by maintaining order. Our rulers are not God, but are subject to Him and to His law. Christ is the King, not Caesar or anyone else.

And what does God’s law entail? Read on in Romans for the short version:

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (13:8-10)

Now Paul is referring there specifically to the Mosaic Law, but his point applies more generally to all human law, and this brings up the Attorney General’s second major error. The only legitimate way to read and understand Sacred Scripture is to read it with the Church, not by my own personal interpretation. The Bible is the Church’s book — she wrote it, preserved it, and teaches it. And that means we need to listen to what the Church has always said about the meaning of Romans 13.

The Church has always taught that earthly rulers and laws must conform to the law of God, as made evident through revelation or the natural law and interpreted by the Church. If human law does not meet that standard, it is an abuse of authority and we are not bound to obey. This was clearly explained by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. This was the testimony of thousands of martyrs who disobeyed man so they could obey God — remember St. Thomas’ More’s famous saying, “I die the King’s good servant but God’s first”? Here is how the Catechism summarizes it:

1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a “moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility”: “A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.”

1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.”

Our bishops have spoken clearly about the Administration’s policies to separate children from their parents at the border. The President of the US Bishops’ Conference plainly called it “immoral”. Cardinal Dolan, in a very powerful interview on CNN, has said that it is “wrong” and “goes against human dignity”, and stressed that “God’s law trumps man’s law”.

Yes, we are generally obliged to obey the law and legitimate authority. But the Attorney General is way off base when he calls for obedience to the law without regard to its justice. To make that demand is to elevate human law above God’s law, and that way lies disaster.

Stop the Cruelty at the Border

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

The authority of nations to secure their borders and to regulate migration is undisputed as a matter both of civil and natural law. The Church’s social teaching has long affirmed that. This is a difficult area for governments, which have to balance many legal, moral and policy considerations. Some deference has to be given to the expertise and presumed good faith of governments as they work in this area.

But our government’s exercise of this power has now passed the bounds of decency and has descended into cruelty. We cannot stand by and allow this to continue.

The present Administration’s hostility to immigration is well-known to all. The unconstitutional travel bans, the unjustifiable limitations on refugees from certain countries, and the ignorant and nasty rhetoric about immigrants are also all well-known.

But things have become even worse than that, and they’re getting worse all the time. Beginning last year, the Administration began a policy of separating children from their parents when families cross the border either as undocumented migrants or when seeking asylum. Hundreds of children, some as young as infants, were taken from their parents without any legal due process, and moved to facilities far from where their parents were being held. Communication between parents and children were either not permitted or greatly delayed. The psychological impact on these young children is certain to be severe.

That injustice was bad enough. But in May, the Administration announced that the government would now prosecute all persons who cross the border with Mexico. Together with that, any parents would be assumed to be smuggling their child, who would be forcibly taken away without any judicial due process.  Even people who are seeking asylum from persecution and violence would be treated as common criminals and their children would be taken.

Crossing the border without authorization is illegal. But this policy is specifically designed to use the threat of loss of children to deter parents from coming across the border. In essence, our government has decided to use children as human shields against illegal immigration. That is not legitimate law enforcement, that is cruelty.

The callous way in which high government officials spoke about this situation shocks the conscience. The White House Chief of Staff John Kelly spoke dismissively about these immigrants as being poorly educated, overwhelmingly rural, and without skills — as if human dignity depended on those factors, and as if generations of prior immigrants were any different. Mr. Kelly then said, “a big name of the game is deterrence… The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” Hundreds of children, taken from their parents in a strange foreign nation and placed in group facilities or the homes of strangers — “whatever”.

But it gets even worse. The Attorney General, who oversees immigration enforcement, has issued a policy decision that domestic violence and gang violence will no longer be a ground for seeking asylum in the United States. This is outrageous. Women and children are subject to violence with impunity in many nations. Domestic violence and gangs are ubiquitous and they frequently go unpunished or are even facilitated by governments.

Our government will now separate mothers from children, incarcerate the mothers, and then send them back to their abusers. This decision overturns decades of humanitarian policies, under which our nation proudly offered protection to these most vulnerable people. This is a disgrace, and unworthy of a civilized nation and of a government that routinely brags about its Christian moral principles.

But it gets even worse. To handle the volume of people who have to be brought before courts as a result of these policies, the government has been holding mass court meetings. This practice began under the prior administration but its use has intensified due to the new policies. I cannot bring myself to call these “proceedings” or “hearings” — they are an appalling mockery of justice. Dozens of criminal defendants are herded into courtrooms, represented by one attorney who had minimal time to speak to the group and virtually none to speak to individuals, and then all plead guilty at once before a magistrate who is being held to a monthly quota of guilty pleas.

The Church has repeatedly raised her voice against these policies. Testimony has been given before Congress. The USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants Project has an action alert that everyone should use to contact Congress about it.

Yesterday, Cardinal DiNardo, the president of USCCB, issued a statement on behalf of all the bishops of the United States. It is worth quoting in full (emphasis mine):

“At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The Attorney General’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country. This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors. We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.

Additionally, I join Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of USCCB’s Committee on Migration, in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the Administration’s zero tolerance policy. Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.

There are lots of legitimate issues surrounding immigration that are worthy of debate. But this is not one of them. Our bishops have called us out — they have told us that our government is doing something that is immoral and that violates the fundamental right to life. We cannot stand idly by, no matter what we think about other immigration issues.

These policies are cruel and shameful and they must end.

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Myths and Facts about Immigration

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Every time I write something about immigration on this blog or post something on our Office Facebook page, there is a very strong negative reaction from many people. I am convinced that those reactions are based on  lack of accurate information about immigration and immigrants. Sound public policy is based on accurate facts. Knowing the actual facts about immigration and immigrants would also lower the rhetorical temperature on this issue. Several myths in particular are frequently heard:

“Immigrants are more likely to go to jail.” 
False. 
In fact, both legal and illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives. According to a study of US Census data, Illegal immigrants are 44 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives. Legal immigrants are 69 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives. The percentage of incarcerated legal and illegal immigrants is lower than their share of the general population – and the percentage of natives is higher.

“Immigrants don’t assimilate to American culture and political values.”
False. 
There’s a reason immigrants come to America — they want to be Americans. Studies show that naturalized immigrants and natives have mostly similar political, ideological, and policy opinions and political affiliations. They are generally less liberal or moderate and more conservative than non-naturalized immigrants. Studies show no significant differences between naturalized and U.S.-born citizens on almost any major policy area — except immigration. This is an accusation often made against Muslim Americans – but a Pew Center study shows that 92% of U.S. Muslims say they are proud to be American, one point higher than native born Americans. Statistics also show that two-thirds of eligible immigrants have  already become naturalized citizens — a long process that requires passing a challenging test of their knowledge about America and our political system.

“Immigrants don’t bother to learn English.”
False.
According to one study of immigrants who arrived between 1995 and 2000, by 2015, 71% spoke English “well,” “very well,” or only spoke English and the proportion who “do not speak English” fell from 17% to just 9%.

“Immigrants are poorly educated.”
False. 
An analysis of US Census data showed that immigrants are in fact better educated than native-born Americans:
Less than Bachelor’s Degree — 68% Native, 51% Immigrant
Bachelors and above — 32% Native, 49% Immigrant
Bachelors only — 21% Native, 28% Immigrant
Advanced only — 11% Native, 21% Immigrant.

“Immigrants are a drain on the economy and cost Americans jobs.”
False.
Studies show that immigration is a net benefit to the American economy. The unemployment rate of immigrants is lower than for natives. There is little evidence that immigration significantly affects the overall employment levels or wages of native-born workers. Demand for goods and services by immigrants reduces prices in general, particularly in some areas like rental housing and real estate. The increase in labor supply has helped the US avoid the problems of an aging workforce and lower birthrates. The contribution of immigrants with high skills and education have been particularly important in the high-tech economy. As for public spending, it is true that first-generation immigrants (i.e., those born abroad) are more costly to state and local governments, mainly due to education costs. But the second generation (i.e., the children of immigrants) are among the strongest contributors to the US economy and government fiscal balance sheets — paying $92,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits — and subsequent generations are indistinguishable from other natives.

As Catholics, one of our contributions to a reasoned and not impassioned discussion of immigration is to rely on accurate facts, and also to apply to the issues some larger, more universal principles that are rooted in our faith. In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops of the United States touched on this:

What faith teaches about the dignity of the human person, about the sacredness of every human life, and about humanity’s strengths and weaknesses helps us see more clearly the same truths that also come to us through the gift of human reason. At the center of these truths is respect for the dignity of every person. This is the core of Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square. We are called to practice Christ’s commandment to “love one another” (Jn 13:34). We are also called to promote the well-being of all, to share our blessings with those most in need, to defend marriage, and to protect the lives and dignity of all, especially the weak, the vulnerable, the voiceless.

Whatever else one thinks about immigration, it is clear that they are our brothers and sisters whom we are commanded to love, and whose well-being we are bound to protect and promote.

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Support the Dreamers

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Immigration is a very contentious issue in our current political climate. For years, there have been efforts to reform what everyone considers to be a deeply flawed immigration system. But the federal government has consistently failed to produce comprehensive solutions. The result is that important issues remain unresolved, political opinions and feelings grow more and more inflamed, and compromises become more difficult to find.

The dilemma of the so-called “Dreamers” is a perfect example of how real people are caught in the crossfire. The “Dreamers” are people who came to the United States as children and who do not have any legal immigration status.

To be a Dreamer, and to qualify for DACA, the person has to have arrived in the US before 2007 when they were under 16 years old, and they can’t be older than 30 as of 2012. They have to have lived continuously in the US since 2007. They can’t have any criminal convictions or pose a threat to national security. They have to have graduated from a US high school or be enrolled in school now, or served in the armed forces. It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people would be eligible for DACA, but about 800,000 people actually have it, including about 42,000 New Yorkers.

The average age of DACA recipients when they arrived in the US was 6.5 years old. Many arrived as infants. They have grown up in our country, they have gone to school and worked here, some have served in the military, and they have become part of our work force and our communities. This is the only home they’ve known. They sit in the same church pews that we do. They are our neighbors. Deporting DACA recipients makes no sense. It would send them back to countries that are poor, violent and politically unstable, places they are unfamiliar with and they may not even speak the language.

In 2012, President Obama granted these people a temporary exemption from deportation, in a program that is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”). That program was based on a bill called the DREAM Act, which has bipartisan support in Congress but that has not yet been enacted because of the very difficult politics of immigration.

What the DACA program involves is widely misunderstood — it’s not an “amnesty”, it doesn’t create “open borders”, it doesn’t forsake our nation’s right to enforce our laws, and it doesn’t reward people for breaking the law.

DACA was a short-term fix for the larger issue of what to do about the Dreamers as a whole. In the long run, the only real solution is legislation like the DREAM Act. The bishops have seen this. USCCB and many individual bishops have expressed their support for the DREAM Act, and polls show that wide majorities of Americans — as much as 90% in some polls — support a policy that would allow the Dreamers to stay in America.

The Bishops of the United States have called on all of us to contact our legislators on Monday, February 26, which they are calling “National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers”. USCCB has a great deal of information on the Dreamers, DACA, and how we can help them. The Bishops have said “Our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters.  We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way.  Now is the time for action.”

Taking action is very easy — here are the instructions. All we have to do is call the Capitol (855-589-5698), ask for the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and our own Representative, and then convey a very straight-forward message:

I urge you to support a bipartisan, common-sense, and humane solution for Dreamers: Protect Dreamers from deportation and provide them with a path to citizenship. Reject proposals that undermine family immigration or protections for unaccompanied children. As a Catholic, I know that families are not “chains,” but a blessing to be protected. Act now to protect Dreamers, our immigrant brothers and sisters.

The Dreamers should not be used as bargaining chips for political deals. Our Bishops have called on all Catholics to show support for our neighbors and to bring a Catholic perspective into this very difficult and contentious debate. Please call your legislators to support the Dreamers.

Betraying the Dream

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

The President has announced that his Administration will end the program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This was put into effect in 2012 by President Obama. The recipients of DACA are frequently called “dreamers” after the Dream Act, a bill that would have established the program by statute, but which has failed to pass Congress.

There is a great deal of controversy about the way President Obama created the program. Naturalization of citizens is under the exclusive authority of Congress according to the Constitution, so many allege that unilaterally creating DACA by executive order was an unauthorized exercise of Executive power. Others respond that the President has inherent authority under the Constitution to use his discretion in how to enforce the law. Regardless of the merits of these arguments, President Trump has rendered them moot, and it is now up to Congress to act or the dreamers will be betrayed.

The DACA program is widely misunderstood — it’s not an “amnesty” by any means, it doesn’t create “open borders”, it doesn’t deny that the US has a right to enforce our immigration laws, and it doesn’t mean that people should be rewarded for breaking the law.

The requirements for DACA are quite strict. They have to have arrived in the US before 2007 when they were under 16 years old and they can’t be older than 30 as of 2012. They have to have lived continuously in the US since 2007. They can’t have any criminal convictions or pose a threat to national security. They have to have graduated from a US high school or be enrolled in school now, or served in the armed forces. If they qualify, they receive a “deferred action” form that prevents their deportation for two years, and they also receive employment authorization documents that allow employers to hire them legally during that time. It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people would be eligible for DACA, but about 800,000 people actually have it, including about 42,000 New Yorkers.

Under the President’s decision, there will be no change in DACA for six months, but after that the deferred action permits will expire at the end of their term. This six-month delay will allow approximately one-quarter of all DACA recipients to renew their permits for another two years. The rest will have their permits expire, all will expire by early 2020, unless Congress acts.

I wonder if would be possible for a moment to talk about this issue as if it actually involved real, live human beings, and not just numbers on a spreadsheet or slogans on talk radio.

The average age of DACA recipients when they arrived in the US was 6.5 years old. Many arrived as infants. That means that a great number of DACA recipients don’t even remember what their homeland was like and they haven’t been able even to visit there. Many of them didn’t even know their illegal status until they were teenagers and found out that they couldn’t get a driver’s license, financial aid, or have a Social Security number so they could work on the books.

This is the only home they’ve known. All their friends and memories are here in the US. They’ve gone to school and worked with us and our children. They sit in the same church pews that we do. A quarter of them have children who are American citizens. Many have now been able to work on the books, and their income has risen as much as 80% — and they’re now paying taxes. Some have started their own business and bought a home. Hundreds have served honorably in our armed forces. They’ve put down roots among us. They are our neighbors.

Deporting DACA recipients makes no sense — in fact, it would be cruel. It would subject them to terrible poverty and oppression in nations they are unfamiliar with and may not even speak the language. It would take parents away from their young children, leaving them without a stable home life. Imagine being deported to Pakistan or Venezuela — you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But our government will be doing it to people who have served in our military. Wrap your brain around that one if you can.

DACA recipients aren’t criminals, and don’t deserve to be treated so inhumanely. These are people who want to be Americans and share the prosperity and freedom that we hold up as ideals and take for granted — and which they’ve experienced for most of their lives. To pull the rug out from under them would be, in the words of the President of the US Bishops, nothing short of reprehensible. Our nation is better than that

Following the Higher Law on Refugees

Monday, January 30th, 2017

The news has been filled over the past few days with the new President’s Executive Order on immigration and refugees. The refugee part of the order bears very close examination, and, I believe, unequivocal condemnation. The order temporarily suspends the admission of any refugees into the United States, slices in half the number of refugees that will eventually be admitted, and places an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.

The plight of refugees, especially from the war-torn areas of Syria and Iraq, is well known. It is a catastrophic tragedy, and has caused the worst humanitarian crisis involving refugees and displaced persons since World War II. Over 6 million Syrians have been displaced because of the civil war, and over 4 million of them have fled their country. Over 3 million Iraqis have been displaced, with over 200,000 fleeing the country. Religous minorities have faced brutal persecution to the point of genocide — primarily Christians, but also Yazidis, and Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Many of them are sheltered in refugee camps where the living conditions are awful, and in which some of the persecution has continued.

There’s no doubt that the President has the legal authority to impose regulations and limits on refugee admissions. That’s a settled matter under both American and international law. It’s also clear that the primary obligation of civil authorities is to protect the people in their community.

There certainly can be a healthy debate about the extent of the threat posed to the United States by refugees. Studies of terrorist strikes against our country shows that very few were carried out by refugees, and that the great majority were by citizens or permanent residents. There can certainly be concerns about the potential for future radicalization of refugees. But that is all speculative and conjectural and in some ways beside the point — we have no idea what will happen to these people in the future, but we do know exactly how they are suffering now.

But apart from the prudential issues under secular law and public policy, there is a higher law that we must consider — God’s law. In his Message for the 2017 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Holy Father said this:

we need to become aware that the phenomenon of migration is not unrelated to salvation history, but rather a part of that history. One of God’s commandments is connected to it: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21); “Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:19). This phenomenon constitutes a sign of the times, a sign which speaks of the providential work of God in history and in the human community, with a view to universal communion. While appreciating the issues, and often the suffering and tragedy of migration, as too the difficulties connected with the demands of offering a dignified welcome to these persons, the Church nevertheless encourages us to recognize God’s plan. She invites us to do this precisely amidst this phenomenon, with the certainty that no one is a stranger in the Christian community, which embraces “every nation, tribe, people and tongue” (Rev 7:9). Each person is precious; persons are more important than things, and the worth of an institution is measured by the way it treats the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.

Jesus himself was also quite clear that we will be judged based on our conduct towards our least brethren, including “strangers”:

`Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ (Mt 25:41-45)

The President’s order is utterly incompatible with God’s law. It rejects the inherent solidarity that exists between all human persons, and fragments the human family into competing camps. In God’s eyes it is utterly irrelvant that a person happens to have been born within arbitrary national boundaries, most of which were invented out of whole cloth by cynical European imperialists. Arbitrarily suspending all refugee admissions, reducing the number of refugees that we will take, and closing the door indefinitely to refugees from Syria, is to condemn our brothers and sisters who are made in God’s image to continued persecution and suffering.

This all may sound idealistic and naive to modern ears, particularly in a world that lives in fear of terrorism. But I have faith that if we follow God’s higher law, we will actually reduce the threats to our nation. We can show the world that the American Dream is not just material prosperity, but is a welcoming society in which all kinds of people can flourish in freedom and peace. We can prove that we are vigilant but also compassionate, and that we are confident that once people come to our nation they will be converted to our values. True American values are the antidote to radicalization and terror.

I am proud to stand with George Washington, who shared my faith in America. He once said this to an association of Irishmen who had recently emigrated to America, most of whom were Catholics, an oppressed religious minority:

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.

My Immigration Story

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

In a nation of so many descendants of immigrants, there are a million stories. Most of them are about an ancestor who left their home to find a better life and to live in freedom. The stories are filled with heroism, idealism, and perseverance.

Here’s my story. It’s actually not about me, it’s about my mother’s mother, whom I always knew as “Grandma Sheridan”. But because I wouldn’t be an American without her, I like to think that it really is my story too.  It’s the story about how she became an American.

Grandma lived down the street from us when I was growing up, and we were always in and around her house. She was a wonderful, kind woman, who had seen many tough times but was always willing to help others. But her story wasn’t easy to piece together. Grandma didn’t like to talk about herself, or where she came from. And we had no contact with relatives from “over there”. So we’ve gradually accumulated documents, and drawn on the memories of relatives who are now gone to eternal life.

Grandma was born and baptized Elizabeth Dowe, in 1885, in a tiny hamlet named Aghabullogue, in County Cork, Ireland. (I don’t speak any Irish, but I’m told that the town’s name sounds something like “Ah-Buh-Log”, with a long “o”, emphasis on the last syllable and a barely pronounced hard “g”). As a child, she was known as Lizzie, and she lived with her parents John and Hannah Hill Dowe, along with three sisters and a brother. She was the youngest in the family. They were farmers, and if you know anything about 19th century rural Ireland, you know that was a hard life.

Her father and brother died at some point before 1900, when my Grandma was a young girl. According to the laws at the time, the farm passed to her uncle, so her family was turned out of their home and lost their livelihood. They lived for a short time in a house in a nearby area called Clonmoyle, but in 1901 they decided that they had enough of poverty in Ireland. They would go to America.

This is the point in every immigrant’s story that always makes me pause and wonder. My Grandma was only 15 years old. Her mother was illiterate in English and Irish, and she had nothing waiting for her in America — no profession, no job, no place to live. My Grandma and her sisters could read and write English, but only one was employed in Ireland, as a dressmaker. As far as we know, the only people they knew in America were some cousins, who had come over earlier. That’s not a lot to go on.

But what they had was an abundance of faith, hope, courage, and a yearning for a better life.

They arrived in New York in 1902. And here’s the funny part of the story. They were on a ship that entered New York harbor, and thus passed under the watchful eye of the great lady who lifted her lamp beside the golden door to welcome my Grandma. When the ship arrived at Ellis Island, there was an announcement that all passengers in steerage had to get off. But my Grandma’s mother had managed to get Second Class tickets, so they decided that the announcement didn’t apply to them, and they didn’t get off at Ellis Island. Instead, they sailed up to the pier in Manhattan and set foot in America without ever going through any of the legal immigration process.

And so — my Grandma Sheridan was an illegal alien.

They settled in New York, and my Grandma worked for a time as a domestic servant in the household of the publisher of the New York Times. In 1911, she married John Sheridan, another Irish immigrant who was a greengrocer with the A&P Company. He was an American citizen already, and that’s how my Grandma became a legitimate American citizen. They lived mostly in the northern Bronx (in the same neighborhood where I still live), and had six children, the youngest of whom was my beloved mother, Claire.

My grandfather died in 1932, leaving Grandma to finish raising her young family — my mother was only 5 years old at the time. Grandma struggled, relying on income from the older children and dividends from A&P stock. But she was a firm believer in education, and she sent all of her children to college, even the three girls — which was certainly remarkable for that time. She was also a committed Catholic who took her faith seriously. There was never any question about the faith being handed down to her children.

Grandma took her American citizenship seriously. The flag flew every holiday. She was a voracious reader of the newspapers, followed current events very closely, and was absolutely committed to voting in every election. I recall very clearly her insisting that we had a duty to vote, and that if we didn’t vote, we couldn’t complain.

Her three sons all served honorably in the military in World War II — one was an officer in the Navy, another an officer in the Army Air Corps, and one was a grunt in the Army who landed on D+2 and went on to be awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. At least six of her grandchildren have served in the military, and many of us have served in government offices. Patriotism runs deep in the Sheridan blood, which you would expect with Grandma as a role model.

Grandma didn’t have any interest in being considered an “Irish-American” — she was absolutely American, through and through, and she was proud and grateful for this country. When she died at the age of 95, she had lived a rich, long, generous life in her beloved home country.

A few years ago, my wife Peggy and I visited Ireland, and went to Aghabullogue. It’s still a tiny hamlet, with little more than a church, a store, a football field and a pub, surrounded by beautiful rich farmland. I stood in the graveyard of the old parish church where my grandmother was baptized, and where she went to Mass for the first fifteen years of her life. The chapel has since fallen into ruins, replaced by a more modern building close by. It was profoundly moving to look around, and realize that the scene was virtually identical to what my Grandma saw every day of her youth. I was able to see the world that she left so that her future family — and mine — could be born in America.

Grandma Sheridan’s story is about an America that was willing to give a poor homeless girl a chance at hope and prosperity. I believe that story is still true today. I believe that America is still open to other young girls and boys who are yearning for the same kind of life that my Grandma was able to have, the kind of life that she was brave enough to give to her children, grandchildren, and beyond.

I believe in my immigration story. I think it is the story of America. And I thank God for it, and for Grandma Sheridan for having lived it.

Trying to Think about Immigration

Monday, July 21st, 2014

The debate over immigration has reached a fever pitch in America, fueled by the heart-rending spectacle of the plight of all those unaccompanied children who have been coming to our southern border in recent months.

I am no expert on immigration, but I’ve been trying to think about this issue from a Catholic perspective, guided by the teachings of our bishops and our Holy Father. It seems to me that there are a number of fundamental principles that are in tension in this area, and it extraordinarily difficult to make them all fit together well.

Let’s take as our starting point a teaching from St. John XXIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris:

Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country; and, when there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that one is a citizen of a particular State does not detract in any way from his membership in the human family as a whole, nor from his citizenship in the world community (25).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the basic issues very clearly:

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. (2241)

These principles show us that the way we think about this problem is the key consideration.  There is no question that our civil authorities have an obligation to preserve and protect the common good of our particular political society, which includes enactment and enforcement of just laws. People have a right to emigrate to seek prosperity and freedom for themselves and their families, but they also have an obligation to obey the laws of the nation they enter.

But we always have to remember that human laws and political structures don’t exist as ends in themselves, and they don’t have the preeminent place in the hierarchy of goods. They don’t define the full scope of human aspiration or fulfillment. States are purely provisional entities that exist solely to provide for the good of the people within them.  I love America, but it is not a divinely-ordained institution, and it is not essential to the divine will or to the plan of salvation. To think otherwise can come very close to a form of idolatry.

As a result, we have to think outside of our political boundaries, and be concerned with all members of the human family — not just those who happen to hold a particular citizenship, or who speak a certain language, or who had the good fortune to have ancestors who emigrated prior to a certain date, or who managed to find a home within some arbitrary political boundaries.

Our policy solutions also can’t be dominated solely by economic factors.  We have to beware of any way of thinking that treats immigrants as mere means to be used for ends, welcomed to the extent that they are useful to us and discarded when they are not. People are not objects, and must be treated as the image of God among us.

Articulating these principles is easy.  Finding the right policies to implement them is certainly not so easy.  Our bishops and the Holy Father are not saying that we have to have open borders, or that people can disregard the law at a whim.  They are saying that we need to address the humanitarian needs of immigrants — particularly the unaccompanied children — as best we can, as our top priority.  We then have to work to reunite them with family members, without just throwing them on buses back or interning them in refugee camps.  Long-term answers would then include repatriation, or admitting them as refugees or as temporary residents based on an evaluation of their individual cases.

On top of this, we have to make sure that we work with the governments in the source and transit countries to improve the awful social conditions that have led to this emigration, and to prevent exploitation of migrants.  This is crucial.  The drug trade — largely fueled by drug use in America — has led to a disastrous disintegration of much of Latin American society.  The problem of immigration can’t be addressed without confronting this reality, and accepting our responsibility for correcting it.

When we listen to the Catholic perspective on this issue, we see that persons come first in our considerations, and our priorities start to fall into place.  We won’t’t make decisions based on fear, suspicion, party politics, or prejudice.   And we can work together to formulate sensible public policies that promote the common good and respect the fundamental human rights and needs of all.