One element of the common good of the United States is the “rule of law.” The common good of our society thrives in part since people know that the laws are respected and enforced. Does it not hurt rule of law when aliens who illegally enter and reside in the U.S. are rewarded with amnesty and granted legal residence? This is relevant question to ask. But to the extent one concludes that the immigration laws of the U.S. should be reformed to more adequately promote a just immigration policy, such reform could include respect for the rule of law. For example, the failed immigration reform bill proposed by President Bush included provisions whereby illegal aliens would have to pay fines due to their illegal presence in the U.S, and/or return to their native country and then immigrate to the U.S. legally.
Nevertheless, the obligation of the United States is not limited simply to its own particular common good. “Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good.” For that reason, the United States immigration policy must also be concerned with what promotes the social conditions of all persons, even if they are not U.S citizens. Moreover, there is greater interdependence between the United States and certain countries, such as Mexico, given that we share a common border which brings with it greater social and economic ties.
Certainly, the United States’ facilitating the admission of hard-working law-abiding immigrants, whose life in their own countries has little human dignity, promotes their social condition. When I drive through the security gates to fly out of Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport, it is often a person of Somali or Ethiopian descent who cheerfully hands me my parking receipt. Their cheerfulness strikes me. I wonder if their joy comes in part from appreciating their life in the U.S, compared to the horrors from which they fled.
However, concern for the dignity of non-United States citizen is not simply a matter between the United States and the immigrant. “Migration today is practically an expression of the violation of the primary human right to live in one’s own country.” The point here is that people have the right to live in their own culture without having to flee because of persecution or poverty. (One need only watch a film such as El Norte to appreciate the truth of this statement.) Foreign policy and immigration policy must keep in mind what promotes the economic and social development of foreign nations and the rights of persons to reside in their own nation and culture with human dignity.
A closely related principle to the principle of the universal common good is that of solidarity. This is a broad term; among other things, the principle recognizes “the bond of interdependence between individuals and peoples,” and a desire for “the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” The principle is implicit in one of the more striking biblical exhortations regarding the alien – “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…” A nation that does not seek to help people in nations less fortunate than itself does not recognize the common aspirations that all men have to further their own development and that of their families.
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Finally, a key principle of immigration is family reunification. If someone can legally reside in the United States, his immediate family should be able to reside with him. “The family is a divine institution that stands at the foundation of life of the human person as the prototype of every social order.”
The principles set forth above provide a starting point to consider just and effective immigration law and policies. It is in the nature of principles that they are fairly straightforward and abstract. Applying them is more challenging, in particular given the complexity of immigration and the variety of potential immigrants. But understanding the first principles must come first.