To my neighbors who think welcoming migrants is unpatriotic: I am not writing to change your minds, but to show you that my position is in fact patriotic. Although I have numerous religious reasons for welcoming the stranger and the uprooted citizen, the reasons I want to share here seem to me to be patriotic and reasonable. My positions are not based on the thoughts of any political party; I belong to none.

I think that our nation’s policy (theory and practice) toward immigrants and refugees should be humane, just, efficient, generous.

Humane. The founders of our nation declared that all men are created equal, with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our founders came here after the people who crossed into North America from Siberia, the Spanish, and the French and they brought and bought enslaved Africans. In the early history of our country, none of these prior occupants were consistently treated in humane ways. However, our country at its beginning asserted the equality of all people and their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, though they often didn’t live by those principles, just as we still don’t. In other terms, all people have inherent dignity, which implies a right to a decent life. It is the duty of the state to protect that dignity and that right. Still another way to put this is that the state, all states, in fact, exist to serve the common good of their citizens. A humane state, especially a prosperous one, looks to provide for the common goods of non-citizens as well — all of whom have the same rights. This does not imply no borders, but it does require respect for the needs of our most needy fellow human beings. Immigration ought not be aimed at helping our economy, but to help those in need.

Most of our ancestors were not welcomed open-heartedly to the country by the existing citizens, but they were able to enter and make a life for themselves. To look cold-heartedly at miserable refugees, whether economic or political, is not humane. To build a wall is what Ayn Rand’s characters in Anthem did: a wall around the sacred “I.” America’s strength has come from “we.”

Just. Justice means that everyone citizen or refugee or migrant is treated fairly. It is not fair to skim off the educated elites of poor countries to run our technological and medical establishments, nor is it just to favor engineers over motel maids or those who shovel out dairy paddocks. The latter do jobs that current American citizens are reluctant to do. One reason is the miserable wages those jobs are paid; another is that these are physically demanding.

The fair thing would be to give priority to those most in need because of poverty, oppression, or violence in their homelands. Eligibility should not depend on ethnicity, nationality or religion.

Immigration needs to be regulated. A country is certainly not required to accept drug dealers or thieves. People who embrace ideologies that are violent or hostile to others should not be accepted. On the other hand, children and battered women should be given priority.

Efficient. The immigration system needs to have sufficient resources to deal in a timely manner with those coming to the country to find refuge or to start a new life. While in the immigration process, they should be provided with food, housing and medical care. People should not be kept waiting for weeks or months at the border or detained in holding pens or kept in limbo for long periods awaiting a court date.

Generous. Our country has tremendous resources, a political system that has worked fairly well, and a history of generosity to those in distress. It is un-American not to be generous.

Critics say that those who are here without proper immigration documents should be expelled because they (or their parents) have broken the law. However, the law is itself broken; it is being manipulated and modified to limit drastically legal immigration. It seems wrong to let our unworkable immigration law trump international law and American tradition.

Others say that immigrants (legal and otherwise) are overburdening the welfare system. Is that really true? There is considerable evidence that immigration helps the economy more than it burdens it, and that the taxes immigrants pay more than offset the resources the government gives them. Suppose, though, that immigrants do cost us something, even lower our standard of living. Does that mean we should expel or exclude them?

Currently, our immigration policy and its execution are not humane, just, efficient or generous. Of late they have become less humane, less just, less efficient, and less generous. As a citizen of the United States, I am saddened and embarrassed by this; it seems we no longer are willing to say “give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” especially if they don’t come from Europe.

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Friar Hugh is a monk at Ascension Priory near Jerome.


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