Monday, May 24, 2010

The Christian Response to Illegal Immigration

There has been much passionate debate of the immigration law that was recently passed in Arizona. I do not have much knowledge on the specifics of the law, but to my understanding the two most controversial elements are that law enforcement will now be able to request legal documents anytime someone is in suspicion of breaking the law, and law enforcement can be sued by anyone for not enforcing the law. This law has stirred quite the controversy, and people on both sides of the issue are very passionate. I find myself stuck in between the two groups. I don’t think that this law is the best solution to solving the immigration problem, but I also don’t think it is as bad as some think. I don’t think that the law itself is as much the problem, but the assumption of how the law will be enforced. I am not going to debate the law recently passed in Arizona, but I would like to take a moment to examine what I believe to be the proper Christian response to illegal immigration.

It should be pointed out that several Catholic bishops have made public statements on the issue of immigration. Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration recently outlined the bishops’ position on the issue. “We urge members of both parties to begin a process toward introducing and enacting bipartisan legislation which affirms the rule of law and basic human rights,” Bishop Wester said. The USCCB has been talking about the need for immigration reform for years. I found the following public comments from Archbishop Chaput of Denver, which he made a couple years ago. “The Catholic Church respects the law, including immigration law. We respect those men and women who have the difficult job of enforcing it. We do not encourage or help anyone to break the law. We believe Americans have a right to solvent public institutions, secure borders and orderly regulation of immigration.” … “We urgently need the kind of immigration reform that will address our economic and security needs, but will also regularize the status of the many decent undocumented immigrants who help our society to grow.”

The USCCB is requesting two elements to the immigration legislation; affirm the rule of law and basic human rights. I think that people on both sides of the aisle should be able to agree with those two elements. However, the difficulty in getting everyone in agreement with immigration reform legislation is in the details. It seems that every piece of legislation has political implications and several people are more concerned about the political effect on legislation rather than on how it will solve the immigration problem.

Many of the legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico are Catholic. This is a fact. The religious affiliation of the immigrants should not be a factor in the decisions of rule of law. I only mention this because we must be conscience of the situation and how many from the outside may interpret our position on immigration. I believe the USCCB’s motives for immigration reform are sincere; however we must be prepared for people to make an accusation that they are only for immigration reform because most of the illegal immigrants are Catholic. These accusations will be made to try to discredit the statements made by our bishops on immigration, and to prevent or slow any real immigration reform. It should be pointed out that the Catholic bishops in Mexico have echoed the sentiments expressed by the USCCB in regard to immigration reform.

Firstly, I want to make clear that immigration to the United States is not the primary problem, but illegal immigration. The country’s immigration policies may contribute in some ways to the problem of illegal immigration, but immigration itself is not the problem. In order to provide a potential solution to the illegal immigration problem we currently face, we must address and confirm what the actual problem is and what it entails. The United States shares a northern border with Canada and a southern border with Mexico. The primary area of concern lies along the southern border with Mexico. This will be a little bit of an oversimplification of the situation, but basically several Mexican citizens desire to migrate to the United States. Most of these people have this desire because they believe that the United States provides them the opportunity to achieve a better life either economically or socially. The problem we now face in this country is twofold: how do we prevent illegal immigration and what do we do with the undocumented immigrants who are already living here illegally. Now that we know in general what is happening, let us examine some of our immigration laws and procedures for becoming a US citizen.

If you are a Mexican citizen and you want to become a US citizen, what must you do to legally become a US citizen and how long does this process take? Because immigration law is too complicated and detailed, I won’t go into the specifics but you can read about the immigration process HERE. In summary, you can become a U.S. citizen by birth or through a process called Naturalization. A quick summary of gaining citizenship through Naturalization can be found HERE. A more detailed guide can be found HERE. Permanent residence in the United States for 5 years is the general minimum requirement before a person applies for citizenship through Naturalization. There are some exceptions to this rule, but around 90% of people becoming a citizen through Naturalization have resided in the United States for 5 years. That begs the question, how do you reside in the United States for 5 years without being a United States citizen. The answer is that you must receive a “Green Card,” which is generally acquired through a family member who is a United States citizen or through a job offer.

In summary, in order to legally become a citizen a person must first acquire a green card. Once a green card is acquired, the person must primarily reside in the United States for 5 years. At that time, they are to apply for Naturalization. This person must pass a test. If they fail this test twice, they must live in the United States for an additional year before reapplying. Although this is a generalization of the process, it gives you a good idea of what is required to become a United States citizen. It is a long process. It is a complicated process. It is probably not the best process, but it is the current law of the land. Now that we know the process of legally becoming a United States citizen, I will give my opinion on why several people are entering the country illegally and how we can limit illegal immigration, what I believe we must consider when thinking about how we deal with and treat illegal immigrants, and what I believe are essential elements to any potential solution to the illegal immigration issue.

I do not know any illegal immigrants personally, but I have spoken to some Hispanic immigrants that are concerned about the immigration policy. From my brief conversations and based on some other stories I’ve heard, it seems as though they find that becoming a citizen is a painfully long and sometimes stressful process. In many cases, these people have family members living in the United States and have no criminal history, and yet it takes them over a decade to become a citizen. I believe that many immigrants enter the country illegally because they don’t have the patience to endure the long and stressful process of becoming a citizen. I am not justifying their actions, but I think that I can at least understand their actions. I believe that our national security requires that we do a thorough background check on those immigrants who want to become citizens. I do not believe that we must allow any and all people to become citizens. It is not a God given right for all people to be a United States citizen. That said, I think that for those people who pose no security threat to the United States and simply want to become a citizen so that they might have a better life or so that they can join family members who already live in the country, there needs to be an easier and much quicker process for them to become citizens. There must be some form of immigration regulation, and not everyone who desires to become a citizen should be granted citizenship based on desire alone, but there must be a very real and justifiable reason to deny someone citizenship. I think if the process of becoming a citizen is improved; the incentive to enter the country illegally will decrease.

When considering immigration reform, there are several things I think we must consider. Immigration is an issue of humanity, the economy, and national security. Let us first look at the human aspect. Any laws that we enact must be just laws. By a just law, I mean that the law must in no way dehumanize the human person and must respect the dignity and freedom all people deserve. If a law is unjust, enforcement of said law is immoral. This brings up a second requirement in immigration reform; the immigration laws must be enforceable. A law could be nicely worded, but if it is not practical in reality or if there is no possible way to sufficiently enforce the law it will largely be unsuccessful. Enforcement of immigration laws should be done in an ethical manner and discrimination or harassment should be avoided at all costs. While a gross majority of illegal immigrants are of Hispanic ethnicity and it would be irresponsible for us to completely ignore this fact, we must not make a generalization on all people of Hispanic ethnicity. We must not incriminate a whole group of people when only a small percentage is guilty. In drafting immigration laws, we must consider the perspectives of the immigrants and their families as well as the American citizens. Our laws should be compassionate to those immigrants who have a just reason to become a citizen. We must consider how citizenship or denial of citizenship affects the families of these immigrants. Because the family is one of the central backbones of society, we must see that our laws protect the family including those families of prospective citizens. We must not simply throw a person out of the country if it will damage and separate families. The well being of the immigrant’s family must be considered as well as the immigrant themselves.

Immigration also has an effect on the national economy and national security. One mistaken notion that many people make is that immigration hurts the national economy. This line of thinking is very much in line with those who believe population control will help the economy. These ideas have been refuted by several economic minds much smarter than me. What I do know is that many immigrants provide services that many others are unwilling or incapable of doing. Also, as the population grows increasingly older, more and more young workers are needed to help pay for social security. Catholic social teaching recognizes the right of an individual to seek work to support their family. While ideally individuals would be able to find this work wherever they live, it may not always be the case. While it may be true that an immigrant takes a job that otherwise may have gone to the American born citizen, the immigrant may also be able to create new jobs and stimulate the economy. Immigration also effects national security. The nation is more secure when we know who is in our country, and so ideally everyone who is living in this country should be documented. One essential element that will limit illegal immigration and protect national security is to strengthen the border security. If it is more difficult to enter the country illegally, fewer will even attempt to enter illegally. I will discuss national security in more detail in talking about the problem of undocumented immigrants living in our country.

Up to this point, I have focused on illegal immigration and how we might be able to limit illegal immigration. Now I would like to talk about our problem concerning what we should do about those who are living in our country illegally. The USCCB have made a strong case for the legalization of undocumented immigrants HERE. The number one concern I have about the legalization of undocumented immigrants is that it must not accept or encourage illegal activity. I believe that there should be a process for undocumented immigrants to become legal citizens, but those who are attempting to become a citizen legally must not be penalized. Justice requires some sort of penalty for those undocumented immigrants. Punishments may not need to be severe, but at least some sort of punishment needs to be present. Punishment for breaking just laws is not inhumane but in fact charitable and necessary in order to protect the validity of the law and the common good. If there is no punishment for breaking the law, what is the purpose of the law at all? Without justice, there can be no peace or security. Amnesty for illegal immigrants is not charitable to the countless immigrants who entered or are entering the country legally, and those citizens who abide to the rule of law. Punishment for illegal actions is a deterrent for bad behavior, and is charitable for the individual him or herself in that it encourages good behavior. It is also necessary to maintain order and peace. Assuming that the legalization of undocumented immigrants does not harm those immigrants who have waited to become a citizen legally and reward those who entered the country illegally, I fully support a process to legalize the undocumented immigrants. It would enhance national security in that those undocumented workers would come out from hiding and we would have a better idea who exactly does live in the country. It would help our economy because more people will be paying taxes and wages would increase since undocumented workers are often paid well below what normal wages would suggest reasonable. It would help keep families together and strengthen community bonds. Once all undocumented immigrants complete the process of becoming a citizen, once our immigration policies are greatly improved so that the process of becoming a citizen is not such a great barrier, once our borders are sufficiently secure so that illegal immigration becomes much more difficult and less attractive to immigrants, and once we have laws in place in the country that punish businesses that hire undocumented workers and offer unfair wages I believe that our illegal immigration problem will be greatly reduced if elimination of the problem is not possible.

I have learned a lot about immigration in recent weeks. Until only recently, I had never really taken any initiative to examine the immigration issue because I did not believe that it affected me. However, I was wrong. Immigration affects all of us, and we should all be concerned about the well being of our citizens and the dignity and respect of all people. I now believe that immigration reform is one of the most important issues in our country. It is important that we become educated in this issue so that we can properly form our conscience, so that we can make informed decisions when electing representatives, and so that we are able to provide insightful knowledge to those who know little about the immigration issue. It is important to have knowledge of the actual problem, because without this knowledge it is impossible for a positive solution to be achieved. As more and more people become educated on immigration reform, I believe we can enact and enforce immigration laws that will provide U.S. citizens safety and economic security, offer immigrants a humane and speedy process for becoming a citizen, and greatly improve the tension around the Mexican/United States boarder. I hope this post has helped educate you a little bit more about the immigration issue, I know that the research I did certainly educated me greatly. I pray for a quick and positive solution to illegal immigration in this country. God bless you, and God bless America!

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