Stranger Welcoming

Yesterday, Dan Yorke played a clip of Bishop Thomas Tobin on one of the Sunday news shows (which does not appear to be online, yet) discussing immigration. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be more Catholic than the bishop, to modify a phrase, let alone the College of Bishops, but it seems to me that his human inclinations, and perhaps a touch of the subconscious workings of self interest, might be misdirecting his application of the faith to this prudential matter.
The Church differentiates between the behavior of the governing authority (i.e., the state) and the individual when it comes to moral action. The state can tax; it can imprison; it can even kill and conduct war. The lessons of the Bible, in the government context — such as Jesus’ explanation that “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” which Bishop Tobin quoted — apply less directly. To some extent the U.S. government must be welcoming, of course, and it must always act with at least the minimum compassion due a person simply as a human being, but it must set an immigration policy based on a complex array of considerations, and then, for the sake of fairness and security, it must enforce that policy. To simplify and exaggerate for the sake of discussion: You might decide not to take visitors after 5:00 p.m. because you must run to give your ailing mother her life-saving medicine; you are not morally obligated to open up the door and start a pot of coffee for a stranger who catches you at the end of the driveway at 5:10. A stranger who has broken into your house need not be given a special path to membership in the family on the grounds that he is a stranger who has broken into your house.
The question of how to deal compassionately with strangers who are in our country illegally has become tangled in our modern notion that compassion requires the meeting of expectations. Out of compassion, we meet the immediate needs of illegals — food, say, or desperately needed medicine. Out of compassion, we ensure that their passage to wherever is safe. But compassion does not require a declaration that the laws do not apply to a particular group of people based on their act of breaking the very law that ostensibly does not apply (else we’ll find the breaking of that law to become more of a goal than complying with it).
To the extent that the Catholic Church needs to have a stance on the matter of illegal immigration that goes beyond simply a demand that all people be treated humanely and fairly, there is nothing in doctrine or, at least that I can see, in the binds of conscience, that is in conflict with a policy of increased pressure on employers and a willingness to return as many illegals as we can to their home countries.

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Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
13 years ago

The church needs to understand that charity begins at home.

George
George
13 years ago

You cannot blame anyone for coming here for a better life when you consider the conditions and absence of opportunity they came from and how easy we make it for them to enter illegally and then “use” the sytem.
Most, if not all of us would do it for our families, if we were faced with the same choices. “Illegal” doesn’t mean much when your children could starve or die from disease.
We really need to stop talking about securing the border and “git’r done”!

brassband
brassband
13 years ago

I heard the interview with the Bishop.
This is one of those issues where it is not always clear how the requirements of Christian charity (“I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . .” Mt. 25:35) are to be reflected in law or public policy. [As Gov. Mike Huckabee so aptly put it, “Jesus was too smart to run for public office. . .”]
Bishop Tobin’s message, I suggest, was that we need to dial down the angry rhetoric and try to address the legal and public policy problems in an atmosphere that remains faithful to Jesus’ teachings about charity.
Face it, there is a lot of angry, demagogic rhetoric, particularly from the right.

smmtheory
smmtheory
13 years ago

The laws need to be reformed so that there is as much if not more incentive to immigrate legally than illegally. Currently, they are unjust. Justice to the extent of enforcing those unjust laws is a miscarriage of justice. Yes, the state can make laws and enforce them, and I’m not advocating that people disobey laws already on the books even though I think they are unjust. But you must acknowledge the possibility that a state may be in the wrong and acting outside of its God given authority if it enacts immoral laws. And when that is the case, are we morally obligated to obey that law? Are we morally obligated to see that that law is enforced?

George
George
13 years ago

I’m not advocating we change any laws. I’d rather see we enforce them… and not provide such a huge incentive to break them.

Monique
13 years ago

“The laws need to be reformed so that there is as much if not more incentive to immigrate legally than illegally. Currently, they are unjust.”
Both of these are inaccurate statements. There is nothing unjust about our immigration laws. In fact, they are actually more relaxed than those of many other countries.
Smmtheory, why do you not believe that the United States is not entitled to have sovereignty or to enforce its borders? Because that would be the effect of making our immigration laws more “just”.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

My point is very far from suggesting that morality requires us to obey the law on the grounds that it is the law.
At any rate, the bishop was’t arguing to injustice of current law. He was advocating a ‘path to citizenship and making that silly argument about the logistics of stuffing illegals on boxcars.

smmtheory
smmtheory
13 years ago

Smmtheory, why do you not believe that the United States is not entitled to have sovereignty or to enforce its borders?

Why do you assume I do not?
Why do you think restricting immigration to college educated upper middle income immigrants is just? Why do you think the would-be immigrants find it more economically feasible to pay thousands of dollars to a Coyote to sneak them into this country? Why do you think the would-be immigrants who would like to immigrate legally should be penalized by a quota system that counts estimated illegals toward the quota?
If my spouse’s great-grand-parents (Irish) had to satisfy the same requirements they would today, I would have had a totally different spouse. Finally, ask yourself – why up until 45 years ago, the wretched refuse that came together from all over the world to make this country great were no longer good enough to do so?

smmtheory
smmtheory
13 years ago

At any rate, the bishop was’t arguing to injustice of current law. He was advocating a ‘path to citizenship and making that silly argument about the logistics of stuffing illegals on boxcars.

It may take him a bit to get to the point of arguing the injustice of the current law. I don’t think that makes the current argument he was making any less valid though. Try going through the exercise of calculating how much more manpower and infrastructure would be required to deport thousands (or more) of times more people than currently get processed. And that is just to keep up with the current estimated inflow. It’s a pipe dream to think it would be as simple as enforcing the laws with the employers.

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