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viewpoint

Immigration and morality: beyond politics

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014

As Congress continues to debate immigration reform, I find myself increasingly frustrated that the humanitarian issues with illegal immigration are so often overshadowed by a political debate.

While questions about whether illegal immigrants pay taxes, which, incidentally, many do, as suggested by Douglass M. Massey, a sociology and public affairs professor at Princeton, in his article, “Five Myths about Immigration,” and whether migrants take jobs that would otherwise have been taken by low-income Americans are legitimate, these concerns pale in comparison to the humanitarian crisis at the border.

Hundreds of migrants die attempting to enter the United States each year. This large number of fatalities is due to the fact that the border wall and border security tend to funnel migration to the most remote and dangerous portions of the desert. In addition to the dangers presented by crossing in the desert, migrants face cartel violence, human trafficking and even abuse by U.S. border patrol agents.

Conceptually, U.S. policy towards illegal immigration has been to heighten the penalties of illegal entry enough to dissuade migrants from crossing the desert. In practice however, these policies of dissuasion serve as a death sentence for hundreds of people a year. Somewhere in designing policy to prevent illegal immigration, we have lost track of the humanity and dignity of the individuals who, in the face of limited visas and long wait periods for those able to obtain them, make the choice to cross illegally.

Living in the United States, we may not know or understand the social, political or economic reasons people migrate, but we have to live with the reality that people do make that choice.

To continue to turn a blind eye toward the plight of migrants is inconsistent with the rhetoric of “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” upon which this nation was founded, incompatible with Catholic social teaching on human dignity and irreconcilable with the morality underlying our shared humanity.

Migration reform will not be quick nor easy. However, it is a mistake to allow the complexity of migration to prevent proposed solutions from addressing the moral issues surrounding illegal immigration, such as the methods of dissuading illegal immigration and the treatment of illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

Reform should actively seek to prevent migrant death, end human rights abuses, ensure that those who are about to be deported receive a fair trial and work to prevent the separation of families. This kind of reform should not be a political issue, but one directed at upholding human rights.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • John

    Great points all.