Reading about the migrant caravan of 4,000 – 7,000 people marching through Mexico heading for the land of the free and the home of the brave, made me recall my mother’s words from when I was a kid.
When I was a child complaining that I didn’t want to eat the food on my dinner plate, my mother would tell me to stop complaining, eat my dinner and be grateful that I had food on my plate. Then she’d add that I should be grateful that God decided that I should be born in the USA and not in some country where the children were starving.
So why had I been born in the USA instead of in Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala? I know it’s not because God loves me more than Roberto or Daniela or the millions of other souls who were born in Latin America. God loves us all equally. I can only conclude that it must have something to do with God’s plan for mankind.
In God’s plan for mankind, He must intend that we should all be born where we are born for a pretty good reason. Perhaps God intended that all those people who now make up the migrant caravan would one day leave their communities and attempt the long trek from Latin America through Mexico to the U.S.A. So it’s possible that the caravan is all part of His plan.
But it’s also possible that God had another idea in mind. Maybe all these would-be immigrants were born in their respective countries so they could work to bring order and stability to them. It’s just possible that in abandoning their homeland and their communities for what they hope will be a better life, the would-be immigrants are saying ‘no’ to God’s plan for them.
What’s the Plan?
Since it’s impossible for any human being to know God’s mind, other than those truths He has revealed to us, we don’t know how God has things planned out.
It’s conceivable that the would-be immigrants were born in a region that has long suffered from political instability, poverty, crime and a couple recent modern natural disasters, to take a path other than the path they have chosen. It’s conceivable that there are potential leaders in the caravan who, in leaving their homeland and their communities, are abandoning their fellow countrymen and women to more hardship and suffering. So it’s also possible that God’s plan was for them to remain in their respective communities and work to alleviate the problems their communities are facing.
Our Founding Fathers were born in what was then an English colony, where life was not exactly peaches and cream. Life was hard and the government wasn’t doing much to make it any easier. Our founding fathers got fed up with their tyrannical king, the unjust laws, and the unfair taxes being imposed on them. So they rebelled against what was then the most powerful nation on earth. The colonists fought a long and difficult war for their freedom. And they won. Perhaps the would-be immigrants in the caravan should learn from this example. Maybe instead of abandoning their homelands and their communities, they should be working to bring about needed changes that would benefit all who live there. Hard to know for sure.
Pope Francis and many bishops are saying that all nations should welcome immigrants and asylum seekers. According to the Catholic News Agency, the U.S. bishops’ conference and leaders of Catholic various aid agencies issued a joint statement “urging government officials to treat migrants compassionately.”
According to the article, “Signers of the joint statement, released on Monday, included Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Bishop’s committee on migration, Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Sr. Donna Markham OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.
“We affirm that seeking asylum is not a crime,” they said in their statement.”
They are right, of course, that seeking asylum is not a crime. But are these would-be immigrants “seeking asylum” or are they just looking for a better life for themselves and their children?
As Mona Charen points out, “The caravan coverage on the left is all about babies in strollers and desperate women seeking refuge from criminals. And those stories are heart-wrenching. What they rarely acknowledge is that many migrants, especially able-bodied young men, are simply seeking a better life.”
“Further, only the hopelessly naïve would deny that advocates for immigrants do sometimes coach them. Our asylum law permits entry for those who have a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, sex, religion, or national origin. Would-be entrants are told how to phrase things: “You will be asked why you are coming to America. Don’t say ‘I want to work.’ You must say you are afraid to return home because of persecution.”
The Other Side of the Coin
As Charen points out, those on the left are saying the migrant caravan is made up of poor, downtrodden, desperate people. As Monsignor Arturo J. Bañuelas says, “Sending the United States military to scare innocent families with babies who are seeking a better life for their children is not pro-life. Dispatching the most powerful law enforcement and military force in the world to confront harmless immigrants struggling to survive is cruel, inhumane and evil.”
Monsignor Bañuelas is the pastor of St. Mark’s Parish in the diocese of El Paso, TX. He is also a Latino theologian and founder and chair of the HOPE Border Institute. So it’s worth listening to what he has to say. But it also makes sense to not let emotions cloud our judgment.
Asylum vs. Abandonment
No one in Latin America, or in Mexico for that matter, is being persecuted on the grounds of race, sex, religion or national origin. For the most part, these would-be immigrants from Latin America, and the many illegal immigrants that sneak across the border into the USA from Mexico as well are abandoning their homeland and their community because they are hoping to find a better life in the United States. They are impoverished and fed up with their governments’ inability to provide for the common good and keep them safe.
But as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
1880 A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and prepares for the future. By means of society, each man is established as an “heir” and receives certain “talents” that enrich his identity and whose fruits he must develop. He rightly owes loyalty to the communities of which he is part and respect to those in authority who have charge of the common good. [Emphasis added.]
So when these would-be immigrants decide to abandon their respective countries are they being disloyal to the communities they were born into and of which they are part? Instead of working to improve conditions for everyone in the community in which they live, aren’t they really saying, in effect, ‘I don’t care about the rest of you; I’m going to where the grass is greener’?
Talk of poverty and immigration, legal or illegal, makes me think about an article in America Magazine by Congressman Joe Kennedy III, “Dignity for All: Justice begins with economic security.” In the article, Kennedy talked about when he was “a young Peace Corps volunteer” who went to the Dominican Republic to work in a village that was in dire straits.
Kennedy was trying to make a case in the article that poverty is caused by greedy corporations and that more government and more government programs are the solutions to the problem. And he failed miserably.
In this specific village, Kennedy wrote, “Economic instability was constant, electricity intermittent, schools haphazard, illness frequent. Try as they might, families struggled daily to put food on the table. But their poverty was not by choice or even chance; it was the result of a system that had left them powerless. Corporate interests operated with impunity, the government turned a blind eye, and workers were denied the simple dignity of providing for their families.”
Kennedy tried to say that the poverty was caused when some greedy businesses (“tour companies from the North Coast”) discovered a great natural tourist attraction near the village and began bussing in people to see it. These tour companies exploited the locals, he said. But what he avoided saying was that the poverty problem existed long before the tour companies arrived. He also avoided saying that the tour companies actually helped provide a path to prosperity. The tour companies put the natural tourist attraction of Rio Damajagua on the map.
Subsidiarity and Solidarity
The poverty problem got fixed, Kennedy said when the villagers got together and convinced the government to give them control of the Rio Damajagua park area. “We raised money and built a small business to run the park operations with more local autonomy. We set up a community reinvestment fund so that a portion of every entrance fee went into the local neighbourhood – to build a bridge, buy a school bus, bring clean water to the community.”
In other words, by drawing on the Catholic Social Justice principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, the people in the community turned their lives around. Big government and more government programs did not fix the problem. The people of the village, with guidance from Peace Corp volunteers, fixed their problems themselves.
People in the village could have said “the heck with it,” and left their community to try to find a better life elsewhere. Instead they stayed, worked together, and ended up making life better for everyone in the community.
Is it safe?
Some have argued that people have a right to be able to live somewhere safe. The “right” to live where one feels safe seems to make perfect sense. But is it really a “right?” And is there such a place? When throughout the history of mankind has anyone anywhere been completely safe from danger, loss, or harm? War, tyranny, terrorists, insurrections, crime, murder, disease, and natural disasters have long been part of life on this planet.
The people in Poland probably felt pretty safe after World War I. But in 1939 Hitler’s army invaded, subjugated Poland, and kicked off World War II. The people in the rest of the European countries were soon subjugated as well.
And the people working in the World Trade Center and in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, probably felt pretty safe. But many of them died from the terrorist attacks that day. In total 3,000 people who probably felt very safe and secure lost their lives on 911.
The folks living in New Orleans also probably felt pretty safe before Hurricane Katrina hit. It devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005 and claimed 1,800 lives. And even in Chicago, 788 people were murdered in 2016. So living in the USA is not a guarantee of safety or a better life.
The truth is that tragedy can strike anywhere in the world at any time. And if “being safe” is what these would-be immigrants are looking for they should not be coming to the USA. The USA is not even in the top 31 safest countries in the world, according to the think tank “Institute for Economics and Peace.” The top 10 safest countries in the world are Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, Denmark, Canada, The Czech Republic, Singapore, Japan, and Ireland.
To be sure, there are people in parts of the world who are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs, much like the early Christians. But the early Christians endured. And they eventually changed their communities, and their world, for the better.
Should we open our border and welcome the people in the migrant caravan? Or should we be saying to them, ‘Go home? Work to make a better life for yourselves and all the others in the communities into which you were born.’
Maybe ‘tough love’ is the right kind of compassion here. Or maybe not. I’m not God so I don’t know for sure.