These last few weeks, I’ve sat back and watched debates and insults and virtue signaling raging like a California wildfire. Immigration is something I rarely post about due to how complicated it is and how relatively little I know compared to other hot button issues. But I have some thoughts to share.
Immigration policy is not a question of dogma. As a Catholic, there are some non-negotiable issues I am obligated to hold a certain stance on. However, immigration is not one of those. It’s an issue of what we call “prudential judgement”. This means that our opinion should be the conclusion of prudent consideration, and reflect the truth of our faith, but that there is legitimate room for disagreement in what exactly that looks like. There’s just no way a universal Church could come out and tell the world one way everyone has to handle immigration. Because of this, I 100% reject the idea many of my fellow Catholics have expressed in saying “if you’re a real Catholic” you HAVE to think this way or think it should be handled like X, Y, or Z. That’s not true. There are some things you can legitimately disagree with even your Bishop or Pope about, and this is one of them.
That being said, there are some basic tenets of Catholicism that should be part of our prudential judgement. For example, we recognize that every person is made in the image of God and thus warrants dignified treatment. We have escalating issues with this at our southern border that have been going on for years. We have drug trafficking, sex trafficking, kidnapping, killing, raping, and of course the violence some flee from to America. As a country in our position, I think it does little to solve the problem to only address the surface issues at our borders. No country should be so dangerous that people feel they have to flee for their lives. And in our relative position of power, I wonder what we could do to aid countries in solving their corruption. Do we have an element of responsibility there? Can we help fix it? I honestly don’t know. But I think it does little in the interest of reaching a long term solution when this isn’t part of the discussion. Yes, people deserve to be treated right. And if that isn’t happening at home, it needs to be addressed at the source.
For example, Mexico has been recognized as the second most dangerous country in the world, and their murder rate rose by 23% to a record high in 2017. New President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, and I sincerely hope violence there and elsewhere is reduced.
What about separating kids from families? Of course it sounds horrible. But what I fail to see included in the cries from so many about this is what we should actually do when families cross the border illegally. It’s inhumane to rip a child from his or her mother without just cause. So now we detain them together, which is complicated since children can only be held for 20 days. Or we go back to the utterly failed concept of “catch and release” where families are released into the US with a court date they don’t go to. Or we just send everyone back. None of those sound like sustainable options to me, so I’m honestly at a loss for how I think it should be handled.
There’s also the issue of asylum. We have ports of entry where people fleeing violence in other countries can come to seek asylum. This is perfectly legal. I think this makes sense. However, I read that the system is backed up for over a year. That’s crazy, and I think requests for asylum should be processed much quicker. Is that possible? Why is it backed up in the first place? I don’t know. And I imagine it’s difficult to process these requests quickly. If that could be expedited in some way so people sincerely seeking asylum could realistically go through the proper channels, it would help grant asylum to people who actually need it.
This brings up another issue: some people choose to circumvent the legal way of claiming asylum, and give it as their reason for crossing illegally when caught. Are some using it as an excuse? Do some not know how to do it legally? Is the system so backed up it doesn’t work to do it legally? I don’t know. But I do know you can’t just blanket together all people claiming asylum. The way to do it legally should be a straightforward enough process to make it possible for people who need it.
Here’s another distinction I don’t usually see: My personal responsibility to other individual people looks very different than my country’s responsibility to individual people. There’s no doubt our immigration process is broken and people have been mistreated. There’s also no doubt we need to treat people with dignity. However, what that looks like on a national policy level is different than how you or I would respond to a person right in front of us. It is not violence to the dignity of a human person to have a strict process for entering another country. It is not a mortal sin to say we can’t take everyone. The process should be straightforward and realistic. But it is not unreasonable to have rules and boundaries in protection of our country. I know people illegally crossing the border aren’t all horrible people, and I think we’ve done a huge disservice to them by letting things get to this point.
I think a big part of our problem is that the legal way to do it is backed up and the way we’ve treated illegal crossing of the border has given way to an underground market of thousands of people doing so everyday.
So what do we do now? The fact remain that there are thousands of people living in the US without legal citizenship. Of those with salaried jobs, many use fake social security numbers and are paying into a system they will never reap the benefits of. How would one become a citizen? This is what I read:
Before you can request to be a legal US citizen, you have to be a Lawful Permanent Resident (“green card” holder) for five years. There are currently three ways to apply for that:
i) Family-based petitions. A US citizen or Permanent Resident parent, spouse, adult child, or sibling files a petition for you, which takes 1-22 years to process.
ii) Employment-based petitions. A US employer can sponsor you, but only if you are in a profession requiring an advanced degree or unique skills. The potential employer generally has to prove that they made good-faith efforts to hire a US citizen for the position, but no qualified applicants applied.
iii) Diversity visa lottery. The US government annually selects 50,000 people who enter a lottery and pass background checks to enter as Permanent Residents. This is available to people from countries that traditionally send few people to the US – so, people from countries such as Mexico, the Philippines, China, Guatemala, India, El Salvador, and other countries that send larger numbers of immigrants to the U.S. do not have this option.
Does this seem realistic for people who are already here illegally? Nope. I think we clearly need a better process here. I think it makes sense to give people the options of a realistic path to citizenship, leaving, or knowing they may face serious consequences for not being a legal citizen.
The more I hear about immigration, I realize that I used to see it as more of a black and white issue. Obviously people should just get in line and come here legally, many say. And yes, that’s true. People who break just laws should incur the consequence. But we need a better system. We need a quicker way to determine if people are truly seeking asylum. We need violence fixed back home. We need a more realistic path to legal citizenship. We need congress to get their butts in gear and agree on a bill to pass.
But one last point: not all moral issues are equal. It is always gravest to protect our fundamental right to life, the first basic right we are endowed with by our Creator. Any attacks against it are the gravest battles to fight. We are not all called to fight every battle, and that is okay.
Immigration is not the most important issue to squabble over. It’s still important to be informed and work toward better policies, but not all problems have the same priority. You take your gifts and skills and use them to better the world. I will do the same. We are no less human, no less Catholic, for choosing where to focus our world-changing efforts. I don’t mean that in a callous way, but we’ve got to be realistic.
As I said in the beginning, I don’t talk about this often because it’s so complicated. And as you can see, I still have many questions. But I wrote and rewrote this many times, sincerely sharing what I know and think. I welcome your civil discussion, and really am interested in discussing this more.
For more quick takes, head over to Kelly’s place!
5 thoughts on “7QT, vol 70: Immigration”
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! While it saddens me to see all the controversies and challenges with immigration recently, I guess the one good thing coming out of all this is that we are talking about immigration more and realizing just how bad the system is.
I particularly appreciate how you mention that “We are not all called to fight every battle.” I think it can be easy to get swept up in the current of feeling like we personally have to invest wholeheartedly in every single issue (particularly since so many issues, even if they aren’t all equal, do pertain in some way to the dignity of human persons). But like you said, that’s not realistic-or even possible. If we tried to fully study and dive headlong into fighting every single battle ourselves, we’d very quickly get overwhelmed and burned out. There are many parts to the Body of Christ, and it’s a beautiful thing to use our gifts, talents, and passions fight for human dignity and life in various issues.
Thanks AnneMarie! I agree it’s so good that people take opportunities Iike this to learn more and discuss. Glad you appreciated that point on choosing our battles. I think there’s a danger in the “seamless garment” approach to issues of human dignity when they all start getting treated the same. I’ll have to write more on that sometime!
Hi Laura! I came here through your 7QT link and I hope you don’t mind if I answer a couple of your questions.
#3 One alternative to “catch and release” or holding families in detention centers is releasing families with electronic monitors (aka ankle bracelets). These are relatively cheap (cheaper than feeding/housing people) and in an initial pilot program, 95% of people showed up for their court dates.
#4 Under current US law, people actually have up to a year after crossing the border to file for asylum, and it doesn’t matter if you come on a tourist/student visa or cross illegally or any other method. This is called “affirmative asylum.” You can also file an asylum claim if you’ve been living in the US illegally for over a year but you’ve been caught and are about to be deported. This is called “defensive asylum.” I haven’t heard many discussions about the possibility of changing this asylum procedure (maybe it’s a requirement of international law?) but that’s what the current laws say. (See: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum)
For people who claim asylum, there is a quick initial screening, but about 75% of the people claiming asylum can demonstrate that they have “credible fear” that their lives are in danger. At the moment, there just aren’t enough immigration judges to hear asylum cases — they hear about 700 a year but they would need to hear 1400 a year just to keep up.
I hope this helps! I really think there are some common-sense solutions to many of these immigration issues, but the system is so complicated and there are so many misunderstandings of what the law actually says, that it makes conversation difficult.
Hi Jessica! Thanks for stopping by and sharing that info.
I have heard some discussion on tracking devices, but from what I heard, it was not at all successful. Where is the 95% statistic from? I’d be interested to read more on that, because my initial response is that it doesn’t seem like the most dignified thing either.
As far as asylum, I’m clearly no expert, but it makes no sense to me to have that kind of leeway. I’m of the opinion that the kinds of situations people can claim asylum from should be very strict (as in, beyond the scope of issues their local authorities or government should manage). I think with such serious issues we should have a quick enough process so that there’s no reason to have people living in limbo or waiting to claim it. I know this is all very complicated, so thanks for bringing up some interesting points!
Hi Laura! The 95% comes from a 2012 Department of Homeland Security report, which I found linked in this article: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-immigrant-family-detention/
(The actual report is here: https://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/Mgmt/2015/OIG_15-22_Feb15.pdf#page=11)
Other stories I’ve read have reported a nearly 99% court appearance through ankle bracelet monitoring and other devices.
I agree with you that electronic monitoring is not the most respectful of human dignity, but as a compromise solution it seems to me to be the most workable. The absolutely best option, as far as I can tell, is releasing migrants into the care of charities/social workers who help guide them through asylum claims/the immigration process. This seems to have about equal success in making sure people show up for court dates, etc. But I think that solution might not be politically workable since it doesn’t sound like we’re being “tough on immigration” that way.
The reason that there’s a year-long period to apply for affirmative asylum is that it can actually take awhile to pull together evidence that your life is in danger in your home country. But I agree with you that the defensive asylum applications might be clogging up the courts and slowing down the system too much, and that maybe we should limit those somehow.