Using Bad Faith Arguments to Support Immigration Reform

Paul Zummo - Bad Arguments


I would like to use this space to talk with you about an issue of the utmost moral importance. It\’s an issue where no clear-thinking, righteous Catholic could possibly differ in judgment. Yes, it’s time that Catholics united and stood up for legislation that outlaws the use of incandescent light bulbs. Not only would such legislation help protect our environment, but it is actually mandated in the Bible. Are you not familiar with Mathew 25:35?

For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:

If you’re wondering what this Scripture passage has to do with banning incandescent light bulbs, well, it’s as applicable to this issue as it is to the Senate’s attempts to pass an immigration reform bill. Yet  our Vice President has cited this passage to shame  Christians into supporting immigration reform.

You’ll pardon me for failing to see how this biblical injunction means that I must support a bill that allows those who have entered the country illegally to jump ahead of those who desire legal passage into this country.

Unfortunately it has become something of a game to misappropriate bible verses in order to justify either legislation or, in some circles, to actually defend behavior or attitudes that contradict most other Bible passages. How often have you read a blog post criticizing, say, Nancy Pelosi for defending abortion rights, only to see someone in the comments to said post utilize the “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” non-argument? It\’s not enough to just cite the passage, you actually have to demonstrate how the passage you\’re citing actually links to the position you\’re taking. Sure, not every Bible verse will literally match up and you do need to interpret according to the proper context, but there should be at least a reasonable nexus between the Scripture quotation and your position on a semi-related issue.

What’s also infuriating about Biden’s sudden adherence to biblical literalism is that he glosses over, say 1 Corinthians 6:9 when it comes to same-sex marriage, and that pesky 6th Commandment when it comes to abortion. Yet strained references to unrelated Bible passages are perfectly acceptable according to ole Joe when it\’s a piece of legislation his boss and his party are really desperate to pass.

If only Joe Biden were the only Catholic stretching logic in order to justify Senate action. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, authored this letter encouraging support for the Senate’s bill. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the Bishops supporting immigration reform, it’s just that the arguments deployed in defense of the bill are, well, indefensible, starting with this:

Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and schools we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system. Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert.

This is a very unfortunate choice of words. Note the use of the passive voice: families are separated, migrant workers are exploited. What this passage does is essentially deny any agency in the migrant worker. In fact, the wording actually dehumanizes the worker in a certain sense because it takes away any moral culpability on his part. Those who have chosen to immigrate to the United States – legally or illegally – have largely not done so against their will (I will not discuss here those who have been forced to leave the country against their will thanks to our lack of effective border security). If families are separated, then that responsibility adheres to the individual or individuals who have knowingly entered the country illegally.

There is more:

We can continue on our current path, which employs an immigration system that does not serve the rule of law or the cause of human rights, or we can create a system which honors both principles.

I have admitted that the current immigration system could use improving, but this is complete hyperbole. Even if one grants – as I do – that the current system is overly restrictive, how does it not serve the rule of law? Is the system unjust? No. Moreover, Archbishop Gomez fails to recognize where the rule of law is not being respected. It’s the person who has entered the country illegally who has flouted the rule of law. If the system is broken, then perhaps we should point the fingers at those who have broken it by overrunning it.

We can maintain a system that fosters illegal behavior and undermines the law, or fashion one that provides incentives for legal behavior and is based upon fairness and opportunity.

Again, in trying to defend the migrant worker the good Archbishop is effectively dehumanizing him by suggesting that the person just has no other recourse than to break the law. Furthermore, the very bill that Archbishop Gomez and his fellow American Bishops are promoting creates dis-incentives for legal behavior. Those who are already here illegally will not be punished other than in the most minimal way, and most of the supposed restrictions being placed on them can easily be disregarded. In essence, they will have an opportunity to gain legal status ahead of those who have played by the rules. Where is the fairness in that? Where is the respect for the rule of law in that?

I am growing tired of those who misuse Scripture and who offer empty platitudes in an attempt to convince Catholics they are morally obligated to support certain public policies. Of course Jesus’s words and teaching should always be at the forefront of our minds as we’re formulating political opinions. What I find offensive are efforts to appropriate those teachings and infer a certain pre-determined end.

© 2013. Paul Zummo. All Rights Reserved.

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20 thoughts on “Using Bad Faith Arguments to Support Immigration Reform”

  1. Pingback: Catholic Church Opposed To Amnesty | SHEEPDOGREPORT

  2. Excellent, now send your article to the eight trying to reform the immigration laws that are already in place and has servedl us well thus far. Just ask anyone who has enjoyed America because they entered legally. Another platitude used is our country is made of people from other countries and way back when the Europeans came here…there were no immigration laws at that time. During the days when there were no immigration laws it appears that people and families desired to work (not break the law) and make America their home. They learned our language, studied for citizenship and felt honored and grateful when citizenship was granted. Today, too many want to come here but they don’t open their arms to our culture; they fail to fly our flag (in fact the records show us that some love to burn our flag)…America’s laws need no reform; who we let in illegally needs reform

  3. Coincidentally enough, I was just talking yesterday with a friend of mine from Venezuela (she’s here legally). She was talking about the Hispanic community in Annapolis, MD (near where we live). She said that they put themselves in such disgusting living situations (think 20 people in an apartment) when they come here & they are coming here for a dream that doesn’t really exist. She holds them responsible for ripping their families apart and doesn’t understand why the church doesn’t tell them to go back home and stay with their families, and also hold the respective governments accountable for the treatment of the people who flee for this imagined life. I was really surprised to hear her take on it. She was of the same mind as me thinking that illegal immigration is akin to stealing and there’s no justification for it.

  4. Pingback: Bad Faith Arguments and Immigration | The American Catholic

  5. I can’t figure out how you propose to reconcile some of what you say with Catholic teaching. For example, from Pacem in Terris #25: “When there are just reasons in favor of it, [every human being] must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there”. And the Catechism indicates what kind of just reasons apply: “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.”

    You seem to claim that humanly established law trumps these considerations. It doesn’t. It never can. An unjust law is no law at all.

    1. You left off the very next sentence from the Catechism, Paul. It continues:

      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.

      In other words, respect for the law is a two-way street.

      You seem to claim that humanly established law trumps these considerations..

      Not at all. I’m merely suggesting that people incorporate ALL of Catholic social teaching when making political judgments, and not merely those parts that fit their political agenda.

    2. “In other words, respect for the law is a two-way street.”

      I certainly agree. But I should point out that the whole thrust of your post seems to be to put all the responsibility for the current situation onto the shoulders of the immigrants.

      And whereas the Catechism is careful to say that countries are permitted to place legal regulations on immigration for the sake of the common good, you seem to apply a standard that requires potential immigrants to obey all the laws of the country, regardless of whether they are for the common good. Where do you get that standard from? I have found nothing in Catholic teaching that indicates such a thing.

    3. What I’m saying is that the nation’s immigration laws, while perhaps slightly restrictive, are not unjust. We’re not talking MLK going to prison for using the white-only fountain or for fighting for voting rights. What we’re talking about here is, at worst, bureaucratic inertia, though I hesitate to put it that way because many of our immigration agents are over-worked as it is,

      I am amenable to certain reforms in the immigration laws and for relaxing some of the legal barriers to entry. What irks me about the language coming from many of the Bishops and other Catholics in support of the Senate bill is the attitude that the laws are fundamentally unjust, and that those who have broken immigration laws to enter this country are therefore completely non-culpable.

    4. “the nation’s immigration laws, while perhaps slightly restrictive, are not unjust”

      As one particular example among many, in the current system a spouse or minor-age child of a legal US permanent resident will not get permission to live with their family member in the USA until a legally-obligated waiting time of about 2 years has elapsed. This is not just. Could you please explain why you think it is just?

      As a second example, many entirely legal migrant workers (e.g. on temporary H2 visas) are exploited because they are highly vulnerable to all kinds of pressure from their employer — since even a slightly vindictive employer can fire such a worker at any time, and immediately make the worker’s immigration status invalid. (In other words, the law as written is almost wholly balanced in favor of the employer, not the employee.) How is that just?

      As a third example, suppose an illegal immigrant worker has had their wages reduced for some unjust reason. How does their illegal status make them morally culpable for that injustice? Aquinas is quite clear that even illegal workers are entirely entitled to their wages, as a matter of justice. Your post seems to suggest otherwise, but I cannot see why.

  6. Greg Mockeridge

    I’ve been waiting for someone in the mainstream Catholic blogosphere to say something like this. Unfortunately, Archbishop Gomez and yes Vice President Biden, are speaking for the vast majority of U.S. Bishops on this issue. In fact, they have even included this issue alongside of opposing the HHS Mandate in their Fortnight for Freedom statement. If this is not defining religious liberty down, what is?

    Although I vehemently oppose the Gang of Eight’s bill, I would object to them coming out against it just as much as I oppose what they are doing now. On issues like this capital punishment, and other issues where a Catholic can licitly take divergent views, the bishops’ responsibilities are to state the binding moral principles and hold all side accountable to those principles. Beyond that, they are to remain neutral. This is all the more crucial in the times are now find ourselves.

  7. The problem with your point of view is that you fail to see the big picture. Sure we must always keep in mind the individual responsibility we all have for our choices, but it’s naive to think that migrant workers aren’t to a large degree influenced by forces beyond their control. I suppose in a literal sense they have the “choice” to stay in places ravaged by civil war, rampant crime, and economic policies that leave them with few if any viable options for making a living. But it’s not the kind of choice most of us in this country have to make. I’m not saying that all illegal immigrants fit this description, but a great many do. It’s frankly not very Christian to heap blame and resentment upon them for technically breaking the law by coming here in desperation, while at the same time we just take for granted the cheap food prices that result from their labor and ignore how our own government and business community shares much complicity for the devastating poverty that exists in the areas so many of them come from. We love to demand responsibility of poor and largely powerless people, but of the rich and powerful agents that create the political and economic environments that lead to such a mess? Crickets…

    1. I have been looking for work since 2011 and in all of my job searches I have seen no positions for field work…now you are splitting hairs by saying there are justified reasons to break the law? I don’t know where you live but food prices are not cheap here. In fact, breaking the law is reason for a Catholic to go to confession! Its not Christian or otherwise fair or humanlike to break the law for your own benefit. If this were permitted in all spheres of society we would not enjoy a civilized society.

    2. Carl….Our *ancestors* who came here (as in my case well over century ago)
      did so for much the same reasons they still do today. Rather than stay in places that were ravaged by civil war, rampant crime, bad economic policies, etc. they made difficutl but LEGAL choices to leave and come here to start anew in an orderly fashion.It took decades for our family, as well as hard work and sacrifice to achieve that *new life*. Not so with those entering our porous borders to the south from Mexico. No one is denying the deplorable conditions in Mexico, nor the fact we must always make room for the poor and down-trodden. But a nation not given to rule of law becomes chaotic and broken in short time. Thus our lawsneed to be updated to accomodate the poor and mistreated who wish to escape to better life here. BUT IT MUST BE DONE IN A LEGAL FASHION if we wish to treat all involved justly.
      Our politicians ( both parties) have been all to willing to look the other way
      in order to achieve cheap labor and a larger work force. Our religious leaders
      see this ( the illegals) as a way to fill the pews being emptied out by the priest scancals, etc No one in leadership, either political or religious, seems willing to take on the humongous but rightous task of placing the blame where it belongs: on the drug lords, the political despots and socialist nations that are making life miserable for its citizenry. Yet these same leaders are always talking about the benefits of a global socio-economic open-ness. Why not place the blame where it belongs instead of wrongfully placing guilt on those who are least responsible for the mess. Let’s have immigration reform that is fair to all who are here legally and make it much easier for those who want to enter legally and end this costly folly and foolishness of illegals. Most who came here illegally have not suffered any penalty for their
      lawlessness. Yes, they need some empathy in getting their affairs in order
      but we cannot encourage further lawlessness by passing the current reform
      bill. It is unfair for the USCCB to burden us with their political agenda and
      pass it off as a necessaryily moral obligation from which they alone stand
      to benefit!

  8. Well done Dr. Zummo. As a long time USCCB observer I have come to realize that the institution over the years has provided “theological” cover for statist and leftist policy agendas. And before, as is so often the case, I or anyone of my viewpoint is characterized as “nativist”, etc, the issue of illegal immigration is a travesty brought to us by three groups—the sanctimonious, the America hating left, and the corporatists. I have seen first hand what illegal immigration does to wage rates and to small communities—it’s devastating. American Catholic bishops, and more particularly the USCCB, do not confront Mexico (a land rich in natural and agricultural resources and which should be a wellspring of economic freedom and opportunity) and its stifling corruption and socialist policies. They do not demand from that country’s leaders real economic reform and a freedom agenda. They do not demand from those here illegally to do what is right and return to Mexico so as to honor this country’s laws. Instead, they insist that we honor illegality and blatant criminality, and consequently these same bishops provide succor to the statists and corporatists. I’m sorry but simply from a moral theological analysis, what are these bishops truly advocating beyond the initial sentiment we all have for these people. Perhaps when bishops and the USCCB present intellectually honest policy assessments, then we can have a discussion about solutions, but as you aptly point out, letters like above, while using careful language, are in essence chilling any debate by castigating those of us, who seek more serious solutions, as the bad guys. This is all very disappointing.

    The issue of American citizenship, and illegal immigration, is more of a reflection on how we now define ourselves. Corporatists and statist (and the Senate) see the individual in terms of economic utilitarianism—a deeply cynical and dangerous view of humanity. If any of us still cherish the American ideal of freedom and liberty, then citizenship is something to be shared and granted—but not by advocating the travesty found within the senate bill. We have, paraphrasing Chesterton, broken our compact with the dead—those like my grandparents who came here to build lives and families and to live is a system of ordered liberty.

    1. Thanks, cthemfly. There may have been a time when I would have said that you were overstating things with regard to the USCCB, but I can’t say that now.

  9. —you make a solid case for the necessity of a clear and permanent wall of separation between Church and state in the USA

  10. Excellent summation of many points that really infuriate me when reading how the Bishops and their representatives attempt to guilt-trip the American people re immigration. Your points are so reasonable and concise that I do not expect anyone from the USCCB or to respond. And talking about using a ‘very unfortunate choice of words’ Archbishop Charles Chaput in the ncregister on 19 May said: ‘If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become.’
    What!! Are we sheep simply to be led by our betters?

  11. Pingback: The Human Family and the Family of God -

  12. Pingback: Using Bad Faith Arguments to Support Immigration Reform - CATHOLIC FEAST - Every day is a Celebration

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