Criminalizing the Good Samaritan

Except for the fact that she will very likely be the next Democratic Party candidate for the presidency, there is no reason to take seriously Hillary Clinton’s recent comment that House Bill 4437 on immigration “would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus Himself.”

The Senator says what she says to position herself favorably for her presidential campaign. A year ago, she was on the radio in New York City proclaiming her determination to stop illegal immigration and punishing employers who hired undocumented workers.

Why the difference between last year and this? We can’t read her mind, but it is fair to note that last year she was working to shore up her support among African-Americans and blue-collar workers who were losing jobs because of illegal immigration, and that this year she was speaking before what the press called “a multicultural coalition of New York immigration advocates.”

But Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles is another matter. He is a member of the hierarchy. Catholics owe him a respectful hearing. He has ordered his priests not to obey Bill 4437 if it is passed, calling it a “hysterical” approach. We have to weigh his words on immigration seriously — before we reject them. But we have the right to reject them. Not in regard to our obligation to be just and fair and charitable in regard to illegal immigrants. We have that obligation. The Cardinal is doing what he is supposed to do when he instructs us in these issues. But when he crosses into the area of how best to legislate to achieve that goal, it is a different matter.

This is not a debatable point, by the way. Catholics on the Left and on the Right, liberal and conservative, traditionalist and progressive, agree. Catholic clerics and commentators who call themselves “progressives” jumped all over Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Archbishop Raymond Burke of Lacrosse, Wisconsin, when they maintained that John Kerry and other “pro-choice” Catholic politicians should be denied Communion. Cardinal Spellman used to get slammed by Catholic leftists for his support of the Vietnam War. The point was always the same. The hierarchy was overstepping its bounds, conflating morality with government, mixing Church and state.

It is not that Cardinal Mahoney does not have the right to express his understanding of the best political approach to achieve social justice in regard to immigration. But when he leaves the arena of general moral principles and gets into the nuts and bolts of a particular piece of legislation, he is acting as a citizen, not as a teacher of the faith. It is right and proper, in other words, for him to instruct Catholics that we must not be cruel and hateful in our interaction with illegal immigrants; that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ and deserve to be treated humanely; that we must be willing to provide them with what is necessary to live with dignity even if they are in our country illegally. But a Catholic is entitled to react to the Cardinal’s entreaties by saying that, yes, we agree, we have an obligation to do all that — while we are engaged in a determined effort to round them up and deport them and not let any more of them into our country. It is not un-Christian to say that.

It is also not un-Christian to say that Cardinal Mahoney and Hillary Clinton misrepresented the truth in order to cast House Bill 4437 in the worst possible light. Only the Cardinal and Senator Clinton know if the misrepresentation was deliberate. But when Sen. Clinton argued that the House bill would “literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus Himself,” and when Cardinal Mahoney maintained that it would “outlaw acts of charity,” they were employing a smear tactic against their opponents, creating the impression that those in charge of homeless shelters or soup kitchen that fed an illegal immigrant would find themselves subject to arrest.

That is not what the House bill seeks to do. When the bill states that it will be illegal to “assist” an illegal immigrant to “remain in the United States,” its purpose is to stop those who smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States and those who run the organized “sanctuary” movements that are specifically dedicated to helping the illegals escape arrest and deportation. Volunteers in soup kitchens and nurses in emergency centers are not the targets of the bill. It is hard to accept that the Cardinal and the New York senator do not know that.

Look: We can argue until the cows come home about the proper level of immigration for the country. The point just now is that there is nothing immoral about standing firm against illegal immigration in the manner advocated by House Bill 4437, to say nothing of the watered-down versions of the bill being proposed in the Senate.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if waves of “Anglos” from the United States reacted with enthusiasm to the recent announcement of the officials at Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, who informed the press that a three-year, deep-water exploration project found areas that could boost Mexico’s oil reserves to 102 billion barrels. According to Luis Ramirez, the company's head of exploration and production, this would put Mexico “on a par with reserves levels of the big players like Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait or Iran.”

What if American oil companies leaped into action and bought out some of the wells and built company towns and encouraged American workers to sneak across the border to take over operations? What if the flow of American workers became a flood and whole areas of Mexico became “little Nashvilles,” filled with men in hard hats and pickup trucks who looked like John Wayne and Ernest Borgnine? What if these Anglos found ways to smuggle their families across the border and demanded that Mexican schools set up curricula to cater to Mexico’s new multicultural population? If they demanded that Mexican hospitals provide them with free medical care until they got their companies’ health insurance programs up and running somewhere down the line? If they insisted that English be spoken in Mexico’s courts and government offices to ensure that they did not feel like they did not belong in their new home?

What if the Anglos began marching in the streets of Mexico’s cities in large numbers to protest that Mexico was reacting ethnocentrically and not doing enough for the newcomers, waving American flags and singing “God Bless America” to express their outrage over the way certain Mexican politicians and civic leaders were reacting to how they had come south in an honest effort to better themselves financially? What if some of the Anglos formed a “Tom Dunson Society,” named after the John Wayne character in the movie Red River (who, you may remember, took Mexican land at the point of a gun to build his cattle ranch)? What if the Tom Dunson Society pledged itself to an annexation of parts of Mexico by the United States as fulfillment of the 19th-century concept of Manifest Destiny?

I know: This is a ridiculous scenario. It sounds like some Peter Sellers movie from the 1960s. No one would think the militant Anglos moral and just. The Mexican government would not stand for it for a second. Why then is it a moral obligation for American Catholics to buy into the scenario when the shoe is on the other foot?

James Fitzpatrick's novel, The Dead Sea Conspiracy: Teilhard de Chardin and the New American Church, is available from our online store. You can email Mr. Fitzpatrick at

(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)

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