Aug 5, 2010
Ever since the Mayflower landed and one hundred English colonists set foot on the soil of this country, America has faced the issue of foreigners coming to a new land. For the last two centuries, our country has welcomed and absorbed millions of people from every corner of the earth and we have grown strong. The history of the United States is the story of immigrants.
The flow of immigrants has been constant, only interrupted by the two World Wars and the Great Depression. During the 17th century, immigrants came to colonial America mostly from England. In the 19th century, there was a greater influx of immigrants from northern Europe. With the beginning of the twentieth-century, immigrants came mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe. After 1965, greater numbers arrived from Latin America and Asia. Today’s immigrants come from Mexico, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, China, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ukraine, Russia and Jamaica. Some statistics claim that the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined.
Within the last ten years, there has been a growing concern that the arrival of an increasing number of illegal immigrants has a negative impact on our economic growth, our social system and our national security. Historically, our government has not been consistent in controlling our borders. Our federal government has not provided strong leadership in passing and enforcing laws governing immigration in a uniform way. As a result, state and local authorities have tried to cope with the situation in different ways, sometimes ineffectively, sometimes harshly.
When he was a senator from Illinois, President Obama made this statement on the floor of the U.S Senate: “The time to fix our broken immigration system is now... We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace... But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America... Where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should.”
When we talk about any reform of immigration law, there are two basic principles that need to be respected. First of all, any sovereign nation has the right and the duty to enforce just immigration laws for the common good of all its citizens. Public safety should always be safeguarded. The rule of law needs to be respected by all. This is a matter of justice.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “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” (2241).
Secondly, individuals have the right to migrate in order to provide for themselves and their families. As Pope John Paul II once said, “those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess” (Pope John Paul II, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 39). Therefore, every nation has the duty to welcome the foreigner insofar as that nation can, all the time respecting the dignity and rights of the human person. This is a matter of charity.
In terms of the particulars, a comprehensive immigration reform would include good law enforcement. Order is a sine qua non of a stable society. Those who threaten the common good, such as human traffickers, terrorists, drug dealers or thieves, should receive certain and sure attention from law enforcement so as to guarantee the safety of all. Both the border and the interior of the country need to be made secure. But these are only the externals.
There should also be provisions to replace illegal migration with legal migration. The many undocumented individuals who are part of our workforce and who make a substantial contribution to our economic well-being should be given a path to earn citizenship. This would balance both charity and justice to these individuals.
Furthermore, any reform should not ignore the human situation of the family. The family is the building block of society. At the present time, it may take years, even through legal means, to reunite families broken by migration. The consequences are not pleasant. At times, this only serves to foster more illegal immigration.
These three elements, proper law enforcement, a way to earn legal status and consideration for family unity, can be dealt with immediately and with good results. The deeper issues will take more time, but must also be addressed. We need to deal with the reasons why people freely migrate from other countries to ours. Most come for greater economic opportunities. They come because they want to work and they cannot find jobs in their home country.
In an interview during his flight to America on April 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The fundamental solution [to the situation of immigrants in the United States] is that there would no longer exist the need to emigrate because there would be in one's own country sufficient work, a sufficient social fabric, such that no one has to emigrate… This is in the interest of everyone, not just of these countries, but of the world, and also of the United States.”
From the beginning, America has opened its doors to immigrants. With silent lips, she has said to other nations in difficult times, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (Emma Lazarus, 1883). Our charity to others has made our country great. Those who have come to America have opened our tastes to such culinary treats as pizza, pita and pancit. More importantly, they have opened our lives to many cultural and social gains that have kept America young and growing.