Arizona’s recently enacted state immigration law has added fuel to an already volatile national debate. From television to radio, newspapers to magazines, chat rooms to churches, no matter where one turns these days the firestorm of reaction is practically unavoidable.
In the process of weighing the various opinions that have been flying around on the matter, three things stand out. One, a great many commentators — both ecclesial and secular, leftwing and right — trumpet a one-sided view that all but ignores critical details in this multi-faceted issue. Secondly, firmly in place is the ever-present double standard on the part of the media and others; something we’ve come to expect in our political discourse of late, but noteworthy just the same. Lastly and most importantly, Catholic doctrine properly understood and fully acknowledged, along with “the rest of the story,” can lend some much needed balance to the discussion.
ONE-SIDED: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wasted little time in denouncing the Arizona law as “Draconian,” alleging that it “criminalizes undocumented immigrants.”
DOUBLE STANDARD: If you were to sneak onto a commercial airplane bound for another country by cover of darkness — even if you had a very compelling story of hardship as your motive — who in their right mind would insist that you are the victim of criminalization thanks to the law? Who would come to your defense by insisting that you henceforth be referred to not as a “lawbreaker” but as an “undocumented passenger?” If that’s not unrealistic enough, who would chastise the crew on your behalf for daring to verify that you belonged on board in the first place?
BALANCE: It’s never helpful when ecclesial bodies and clerics adopt the lexicon of political activists, and let’s be honest; the “undocumented” label is taken directly from the leftwing playbook. The term most often employed by those on the political right, “illegal alien,” has been deemed too harsh by some for “criminalizing the person as opposed to the act.” OK… this strikes me as an exercise in hairsplitting, but in fairness; Catholics are called to distinguish between the sin and the sinner.
As a compromise, maybe it would be best to consider speaking of “immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.” Wordy for sure (and admittedly a little PC for my taste), but at least this terminology plainly acknowledges the most oft-ignored central fact of the matter; a large group of individuals have willfully broken the law. So let’s not pretend that it’s the state that somehow “criminalizes” an otherwise law abiding citizen. That’s simply untrue.
How refreshing it would be if the bishops of the United States would address the wrongdoing of the lawbreakers every once in a while as well, instead of preaching almost exclusively on how legitimate public authority should enforce, or even ignore, the law.
ONE-SIDED: The USCCB website offers a number of resources under the heading “Justice for Immigrants: Journey of Hope” for those who wish to learn more about the issue; presumably from a Catholic perspective.
You may view them here: http://www.usccb.org/jfi/backgrounders.html
The documents read far more like campaign flyers than materials for catechesis. For example, once again taking its queue from the political playbook, those who are not in favor of summarily granting legal status to everyone who successfully slipped into the country in violation of U.S. law is labeled as an “opponent of immigration.”
This is an example of either ignorance or calumny and it has no place in the debate; much less should it be put forth in the name of the bishops.
If the author of this rhetoric, whether bishop or bureaucrat, is truly so unsophisticated as to not know the difference between legal immigration and sneaking across the border by hook or by crook, then he’s unqualified to air his thoughts on the topic in the name of the Conference. If, however, this person does indeed realize that the vast majority of people who have misgivings about amnesty also fully support legal immigration, yet found it expedient to slap a misleading label on his ideological opponents anyway, then a trip to the confessional is in order. Either way, it’s a sad commentary.
I won’t parse the documents any further here. Go see for yourself, but be forewarned; if you don’t favor wholesale amnesty, be prepared to see how your money is being used to mock and belittle you.
DOUBLE STANDARD: Among the pro-amnesty talking points to be found on the aforementioned website is this gem: “Many unauthorized immigrants are low-wage employees whose hard work has helped produce more affordable goods for all U.S. consumers. Deporting these workers will lead to labor shortages that will increase the costs of U.S. goods.”
Setting aside the laughable warning of labor shortages in a country with massive unemployment, think about what this statement is really saying: It’s essentially a plea to “forget Catholic social doctrine; think about how much more your groceries will cost!”
The fact is some business owners do indeed take advantage of “immigrants in the U.S. illegally” who have little choice but to work for lower-than-market wages. This is called exploitation, and far from applauding it in support of their favored public policy agenda, the bishops should be denouncing the practice.
The argument being made above is absolutely shameful and it is unbecoming of any institution that bears the name Catholic. If the CEO of a large American manufacturing operation similarly touted the economic benefits of hiring the “unauthorized,” can you even imagine the backlash?
BALANCE: To approach immigration or any other social issue from a Catholic perspective means keeping in mind that rights and duties go together; they are inseparable. In the present case, it is deceptive to focus on the rights of immigrants apart from their duties, and conversely to focus on the duties of the state apart from its rights.
Nations have a right to regulate immigration; yet those in authority also have a duty to pursue the common good (properly understood as a function of human dignity viewed in the light of the objective truth of Divine law) as it relates to both citizens and foreigners alike.
Law enforcement agencies have a right to enforce the law; yet they also have a duty to do so humanely.
Individuals have a right to migrate; yet they also have a duty to obey the laws set forth by legitimate public authority.
You get the point. “Feed my sheep” does not mean teaching cherry picked portions of the Faith while ignoring others in order to justify a public policy opinion. This is just another form of “cafeteria Catholicism.”
ONE-SIDED: Cardinal Roger Mahony weighed in saying, “The Arizona legislature just passed the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law. The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources.”
“The law is wrongly assuming that Arizona residents, including local law enforcement personnel, will now shift their total attention to guessing which Latino-looking or foreign-looking person may or may not have proper documents,” he continued.
If you think these comments are over the top, hold on to your rosary — Cardinal Mahony was just getting warmed up!
“I can’t imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation,” he said.
DOUBLE STANDARD: Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago on Good Friday that Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa was summarily castigated by liberals the world over for sharing the comments of a Jewish friend (entirely valid comments I might add) who compared the collective guilt being heaped upon the Church in light of the sex abuse scandal to anti-Semitism?
One wonders how Abraham Foxman of the Anti Defamation League, among others, could have possibly missed Cardinal Mahony’s cavalier reference to the perpetrators of the Holocaust? By all appearances the answer is simple; if you stake your turf on the left side of a particular issue there’s no limit to the kinds of calumnies you can invoke against your opponents.
BALANCE: Hyperbole like that offered by Cardinal Mahony only serves to further fuel the partisanship that has helped bring us to this point. This is a far cry from the Council Father’s notion that the Church (and by extension Her shepherds and their national conferences) do not exercise a political mission but rather a religious one that serves as a sort of leaven in society (cf GS 40, 42).
Consider that latter image well. In order to serve as leaven, our shepherds must first “rise above” the rancor of raw political discourse themselves. It would seem that the USCCB in general and Cardinal Mahony in particular have a long way to go in this regard.
As far as I can tell, Arizonans have not, in fact, reasoned that immigrants as a whole — including those who come to the U.S. legally as His Eminence implies — are intent on perpetrating mayhem.
What does appear to be the case is that the citizens of Arizona have grown weary of the fact that their state has become the primary gateway for drugs entering the U.S. from Mexico. They are concerned about the fact that the number of those who live in the state illegally equals the entire population of Cleveland, OH. The hard working and law abiding people of Arizona seem motivated by concern over the escalating incidence of crime that has resulted from this runaway problem. Parents, it seems, are justifiably terrified by the knowledge that Phoenix has become the kidnapping capital of the U.S. with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City — over 370 cases in 2008 alone. Think about it; that’s more than one kidnapping per day!
These appear to be the sober-minded reasons why a large majority of Arizonans favor the new law. It is unfair, and frankly un-Christian, to ignore the legitimate concerns of so many good people and to label them from afar as “mean-spirited” and “Nazi.” Name calling such as this is downright brattish and juvenile, shockingly so considering the source, and it does as much to undermine the Church’s moral authority as all the lies published in the NY Times combined.
While it’s reasonable to have concerns about the way in which the Arizona law will be enforced, it is irresponsible to instill fear in people by implying that an all out witch hunt is at hand. This ignores the fact that the new statute stipulates that police must first be engaged in “lawful contact” with an individual (meaning there must be a primary cause for engagement; e.g. the breaking of motor vehicle or other laws) before they can make a “reasonable attempt… when practicable” to determine the person’s immigration status, and then only when there is “reasonable suspicion.”
Yes, many questions remain as it relates to what is “reasonable” and what is not, but one thing we know for sure; fear-mongering and name calling doesn’t get us one inch closer to an answer.
The bottom line for Catholics is this; we are called to engage and influence the nation’s immigration policy debate as viewed through the eyes of faith, mindful that human dignity is the centerpiece of the issue, ever aware that innocent children and families are an undeniable part of the equation, with a commitment to seek the common good in a way that extends beyond our own borders. There’s nothing simple about this issue, and people of goodwill can disagree on how best to approach it.
One thing we should all be able to agree on is this; one-sided arguments and double standards do nothing whatsoever to serve the cause justice; in fact, they only serve to undermine it.