Principles Affirmed in Immigration
Upon death, I expect to confront, in some fashion, my countless errors of thought and of faith and to regret the actions to which they led me. On some issue, perhaps a habit, many of us will find it difficult to resist the urge to defend long-held beliefs even in the face of divine correction.
If it turns out, for example, that annual amnesties of illegal immigrants are a morally necessary practice, the task would be not to defend opposing beliefs — arguing that we better understood fairness in life than God — and to desire truly to understand why the option that seemed so wrong to us was, in fact, fair. I tremble to say it, but I’m wary of Bishop Tobin’s confidence that our individual final judgment will hinge on our correctly identifying “the right side of the issue” of illegal immigration, and his implicit argument that “comprehensive immigration reform” is that side.
Granted, the bishop has strong scriptural support in Jesus’ remonstration to welcome strangers as if they are He, and an Old Testament passage is a theologically weaker card to play, but I’ve been reading through Ezekiel, lately, and have been struck by God’s tone when repeatedly instructing the prophet to warn the Israelites of their sins, here, for one example:
… anyone hearing but not heeding the warning of the trumpet and therefore slain by the sword that comes against him, shall be responsible for his own death. …
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and fails to blow the warning trumpet, so that the sword comes and takes anyone, I will hold the watchman responsible for that person’s death, even though that person is taken because of his own sin.
The amnesty, or “path of legalization,” that Bishop Tobin urges seems not only to be welcoming strangers, but also to be confirming them in their implicit beliefs about boundaries and rules. Attempting to steal one’s way into Heaven, while not inevitably punishable by eternal damnation, seems likely to be a more painful path to salvation, ultimately, than taking the steps as laid out.
This is not to say that we should consider admission to the United States to be comparable to admission into Heaven, but that the mindsets by which we live as individuals should mirror our spiritual mindsets. And in this, the position that the entire conference of bishops takes, in America, strikes me as having the same essential problem as the grammatical phrase, “comprehensive immigration reform.” The first word of that phrase, when not applied purely for its beguiling sparkle, typically means “addressing multiple facets of the problem,” but it seems ever to fall short of allocating responsibility to all who have erred. As I’ve argued before, a comprehensive spiritual policy on illegal immigration must also correct the immigrants in their errors of thought.
I’d look to my religious leaders to convince me that the appropriate reaction to circumstances should not include an instruction to illegal immigrants to be happy in their penance of returning to their countries and taking a legal approach. Bishop Tobin acknowledges that it is wrong to ignore “the law in coming to our nation,” but he immediately nullifies that law as superseded by the “law of love.” How could such a higher law fail to hold them accountable, as sentient human beings capable of understanding consequences?
Illegal immigration is surely not the greatest of sins, and there are myriad mitigating factors, but the one-way nature advocacy on behalf of such immigrants is hardly comprehensive. They are requesting special dispensations, and I have yet to see their advocates admonish them that it is critically important that that they prove themselves, from the beginning, to be desirous of earning full citizenship (by, for one thing, learning the language of the country) and acknowledge fully and humbly that they have trespassed.
Instead, we are told to affirm the apparent lesson of the last amnesty, a couple of decades ago: that rules don’t really mean anything for the brash, and a society’s inclination to love and care for others will inevitably lead them to adjust the rules in your favor. For every essay urging fellow Americans toward leniency, shouldn’t there be one addressing the responsibilities and moral mindsets of those who would be its beneficiaries? After all, as attractive as it may be for them to become legal residents of the United States, it is of infinitely greater importance that they become members of the community of Heaven.