Thank you, JudyJ, for writing and sending this along. -revdbh
The placards say, “No human is illegal!” The phrase creates heated emotions but sheds little light on the issues raised by illegal immigration. Many political liberals and people of faith are especially outspoken in support of immigrant rights and access to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. I am a member of these two groups, but I believe that immigrants should be here as a result of democratically determined national policy, not because powerful economic interests in the U.S. and Mexico are well served by the oppressive circumstances that produce immigrants. I believe, to paraphrase Intel President Andy Grove, that we are a country not just a marketplace.
There are a number of reasons people of faith and people on the left support immigrant rights, but they have two things in common that motivate them on this issue. Both have deep concern for the underdog and both believe immigrants will be a source of new support for their causes.
For a religious person, welcoming the illegal immigrant may seem the right thing to do. Mass illegal immigration into our country, however, creates a safety valve that perpetuates the power of autocratic governments. The challenge to religious groups wanting to help immigrants is to find effective ways to attack root causes. Good Samaritans who risk prison and fines of $500,000 for taking illegal immigrants to the hospital are doing necessary acts of charity, but they need to realize they are putting a Band-Aid on the problem. Concerned religious people should picket the employers who hire and exploit illegal immigrants. They should also lobby for enforcement of employer fines. U.S. employers who violate immigration laws and hire illegal immigrants have largely done so with impunity. As jobs for illegal immigrants dry up here, immigrants will return home and their governments will have to begin to be responsive to their needs, especially if churches join with others to renegotiate NAFTA and develop the right to unionize across national borders. It is possible to be a person of faith and agree with the conclusions of the 1986 Select Commission on Immigration, which called immigration “out of control.” The commission was chaired by Father Theodore Hesburgh, a respected religious leader and former president of Notre Dame University. The Hesburgh Commission warned of special interests, including religious ones, who did not see a need to limit immigration, and this situation continues today.
Championing illegal immigrants may be based on an altruistic motive of helping the underdog, but there is also a self-serving motive. Both liberals and religious groups believe the influx of immigrants is a source of new blood.
Churches seek to grow by welcoming religious immigrants. Liberals, who over the decades have championed American workers, now seem more concerned about illegal immigrants.The union movement is stalled, and political progressives have felt embattled most of this decade. Liberals hope a new progressive movement energized by recent immigrants will materialize. And neither political party, though the Democrats are more united on this than the Republicans, wants to alienate a huge potential voter bloc.
History shows, however, that the very changes progressives want are less likely to happen when immigration is at its highest. The lack of gains made by freed slaves after the Civil War can be traced in part to the growing availability of immigrant labor. The U.S. today would probably be a more progressive society offering programs like universal health care if the U.S. had had a strong union movement like Western Europe. The U.S. has never had a labor movement, however, as strong as those in Europe in part because workers here who attempted to organize could always be replaced, and were, by the next immigrant wave.
It is no coincidence that the most progressive period in American history — from the New Deal to the Great Society, the 1930s to 1960s — was also the period that immigration was the lowest.
Both liberals and people of faith have a combination of admirable and self-serving reasons for championing illegal immigrants. Unfortunately the long-term result of their support of mass immigration will be more poverty and fewer progressive gains on both sides of the border.