“Time Magazine” hit the stands last week with an intentionally provocative cover, picturing people from around the world with the caption “We are Americans – Just not legally.” I appreciate the sentiment and de facto reality of this statement. However, the impact of the cover and the corresponding article by Jose Antonio Vargas, may not be all that constructive. Both are a bit too menacing to move the immigration debate in a positive direction.
It is no surprise that TIME is stirring the melting pot rather than settling the tempest. Besides their interest in selling magazines, the immigration debate has an inherent tendency to devolve into either xenophobic, hyperbolic doom-saying, or myopic accusations of injustice. Due to the confluence of legal, moral and economic issues involved – not to mention the politics of a campaign year – immigration rarely seems to get the positive, rational treatment it deserves.
At the center of the debate are four flashpoints: first, there is the question of the law. Some would prefer that the immigration debate focus entirely on the “illegality” of entering or staying in a country without legal permission. No matter how hard-hearted or a-historical this is, these hardliners are adamant that the law alone should dictate the fate of the un-documented.
The second boiling point counters the above. Immigration advocates vehemently argue that undocumented immigrants come to the US to find work and better lives. They point out that immigrants are net contributors to society. They question why, especially given our culture, we would want to criminalize the pursuit of a better life. Obviously, this group gets a lot of behind the scenes support from factory operators.
The two remaining emotionally charged discussions involve undocumented adults who entered the US without status as children with their parents, and children born in the US to an undocumented parent or parents. Debates on these cases also beg tough questions. Should children suffer for the sins of their fathers? Should families be separated? Should a 30 year old undocumented immigrant, who has lived, worked and paid taxes in the US for most of their life, be deported?
Thankfully, President Obama has decided the answer to these questions is no, at least for those brought here as children. We can only hope for an equally positive decision in favor of keeping families together in the case of the estimated 4 million citizen children born to undocumented parents. Breaking up families and sending home constructive aspiring citizens makes no sense.
Immigration is a difficult topic because it sits at the crossroad of order and justice. But, if we are serious about discussing it rationally, we need to remove the heat of the moment. We must strive to see migration as the constant drive of humans to manifest their full potential, not as a political issue. We need to see migration for what it is – the well-trodden path of human advancement.
Migration has always been a positive event for our country. Beyond the ingenuity and workforce that has been provided by each new wave of immigrants, we have gained the pride of being the country that takes in the world’s tired, poor masses and transforms them into an economic powerhouse. This makes supporting the right to migrate to work not only morally correct and economically smart, but overtly patriotic.
What needs to be avoided is the segregation and xenophobia that we have seen of late in France. To date, the US has succeeded in this. However, we should be concerned given the rising tension around the nation. A June 18th Washington Post article describing the impact of Alabama’s tightened immigration laws on the local industry and Mexican community of Albertsville was peppered with words likes upheaval, confusion, and fear. The President’s decision, while also politically expedient, shows he knows when to release pressure. But, it comes down to us, the common citizen, to remain reasonable and civil.
Borders have a purpose and immigration must occur in an orderly fashion. However, to act as if a country can reach a point where migration is no longer a positive ignores both the reality of declining birthrates in developed nations and history itself. Absolute borders, which are what gigantic barrier fences suggest, are neither tenable nor morally defensible. A country cannot simply shut itself off from the world. That’s just not rational while migration is.
He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.
Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.