When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:33-34 )
Before my mother died at eighty-eight years of age, various members of the family urged her to write her biography. She actually complied with this request a number of times, including a rather extensive interview with one of my cousins. I have typed out a number of her autobiographies, coming to about 60 pages, but just recently started reading a handwritten bio that hadn’t been printed up.
In this document, like many of us who have family biographies, I found stories of immigration. My grandfather, born in 1892, whose father died in 1893, and whose mother was a wealthy businesswoman in Vienna, Austria, was placed in a Catholic orphanage and was an erstwhile medical student, finally emigrating to St. Paul, Minnesota when he was sixteen; but then sailing back and forth, and becoming acquainted with a beautiful woman (my grandmother) in a hospital burn ward, he enticed her to go to America with him. After arriving at Ellis Island, they ended up in Los Angeles, had a large German-speaking family, experiencing plenty of persecution during World war I.
On the paternal side, my great grandfather and great grandmother were converted by Mormon missionaries in Austria and accepted their offer to migrate to Utah. My grandfather moved to Inglewood, California, and had a large family, including my father, who married my mother during the Great Depression at 4:30 A.M. in St. Michael’s parish in Los Angeles, before returning to work. My Mormon relatives have been very prolific, and I may have a hundred Mormon cousins.
All the immigrants in my family came to the U.S. seeking a better life, but in the aftermath of World War II, my mother, sending “Care” packages to relatives in Austria and Germany, and corresponding with them, was informed about “displaced persons” from Russia and Eastern Europe, and contacted her Congressman who authored special bills to bring in several to Los Angeles. She submitted the required guarantees of support, and the immigrants, once settled, began to initiate processes for bringing in other relatives and friends from Eastern Europe.
This latter process, of course, was a different species of immigration – not just to “find a better life” but to escape from dire living conditions or find asylum.
The recent Amazon Prime movie, Human Flow, focuses on potential emigrants facing much more dire conditions and even death if they returned to their homelands. The movie focuses on the massive emigrations from countries in the Middle East and Africa, offering landscape views of refugee camps with tents disappearing into the horizon, in twenty countries – Germany, Greece, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Kenya, and elsewhere – millions upon millions of men, women and children, not just looking for “a better life,” but for basic security.
I have some limited personal experience with immigration, having utilized the help of an immigration lawyer to bring in my son-in-law from Mexico. This is a lengthy and expensive process. In the various refugee camps around the world, U.S. representatives are surely engaging in a more complex process of interviewing and vetting potential immigrants to our country. On the one hand, we don’t want to repeat America’s massive rejection of Jews asking for asylum in 1939 from Nazi tyranny, but deported to France, Belgium and Holland to be victims of the Holocaust, but there also exist sinister “emigrants” whose intentions to damage our country must be counteracted.
It is important to remember that under our Constitution, the “buck” of decision-making about immigration falls (or should fall) to Congress. In 2009 Barack Obama tried to persuade Congress to pass the “Dream Act” (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors). Since the Act was defeated, Obama as President took the matter into his own hands, using an executive order to grant legal status to numerous illegal immigrants under the age of 30, thus trumping Congress. The Dream Act, although never passed by Congress, functions as a law. The Trump administration’s attempt to modify DACA (the provision of work permits for children of immigrants) has been blocked by some judges.
Unfortunately, political factors have entered into the contemporary immigration issue. In the last two presidential elections, the vast majority of Latinos voted for Democrats, so there is a purely political advantage for Democrats in facilitating immigration from Mexico and Latin America to “sanctuary cities” in the U.S. The massive amounts of immigrants from the Middle East admitted during the Islamophilic Obama administration were mostly Muslim, with only a minuscule amount of Christian refugees allowed. Current attempts by Republicans now to limit these two types of immigration may of course also be politically motivated.
What to do with “Dreamers”? It seems to me that this is the wrong question. Most Dreamers had nothing to do with breaking the law. The question should be about their parents, who are the true “illegals”.
A law is meaningless unless there are sanctions for breaking it. Should deportation for recent arriving parents be among the sanctions? The differentiation of illegal arrivals seeking “a better life” and those seeking political asylum involves a gargantuan vetting process.
Statutes of limitation may be relevant – e.g. for a parent who arrived 30 years ago. Should they be subject to fines or imprisonment? Possibly the most important sanction for this type of crime should be a permanent retraction of voting rights in federal and state elections for them and their children if they ever become citizens. This will dampen the incentive of Democrats to curry favor with the “undocumented”.
Should we build a wall to stem the influx of illegals from the southern border? Our experience with drug lords building tunnels may be a disincentive. With a little imagination, we can also envision drones spying for clear areas and even carrying people in nets over the wall. And we know that there are enormous military machines or vehicles that can smash through walls.
Step Up to the Challenge
What is absolutely certain, however, is that Congress as the ultimate Constitutional authority must step up to the challenge. Processes for legal immigration can also be simplified and made less expensive. Considerations of the effect on the American economy and American workers will have to be taken into account. The recommendations of charity by Catholic bishops are relevant, but cannot and should not nullify regulatory laws.
In the Old Testament, there are mandates for the Israelites to treat “aliens” with justice. In those days some cities had walls with guards at the entrances, but in general, there were no clear boundaries or border guards. No signs like “you are now entering Syria.” Individual immigrants entered into Israelite territory to find jobs, visit family or friends, buy and sell, and occasionally rob or kill. In our era developed nations have a veritable phalanx of officials trying to identify and vet immigrants – an especially difficult task in cases of illegal entry. Some, perhaps channeling the romantic vision of “here comes everybody” in Finnigan’s Wake, opt for “open borders.” This is a major oversimplification, rendering legal immigration meaningless.