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Politicians also deserve blame

Prof. Emeritus Rice | Thursday, April 13, 2006

“This country has lost control of its borders.” Three years after President Reagan said that, a 1986 amnesty covered 2.7 million “illegals” amid promises of border control. Two decades later, “illegals” have quadrupled to 11 or 12 million. Let’s look at this issue in light of Catholic teaching.

The “original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind” entails a “universal destination of goods” which applies to the earth itself – Catechism, No. 2403. This gives rise to the right of a person, in the words of Pope John XXIII, “to enter a country in which he hopes to … provide more fittingly for himself and his dependents.” That right is not absolute. “[P]rosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner.” For the “common good,” they may condition “the right to immigrate.” And “immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the … heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.” – Catechism, No. 2241. We can note here three points:

1. The United States has a right and a duty to regain control of its borders, north and south, so that persons can enter only with permission. “Illegal immigration,” said Pope John Paul II, “should be prevented [and it is] essential to combat … criminal activities which exploit illegal immigrants.”

2. “Governments,” said John Paul II, have a duty “to regulate the migratory flows with full respect for the dignity of the persons and … families … mindful of the requirements of the host societies.” Once the borders are secured, reasonable criteria must be set for future admissions. That involves debatable issues, including doubtfully enforceable “guest worker” proposals to admit immigrants for a limited period. Nor is there any obligation to admit political agitators with no credible prospect of supporting themselves. In any event, as John Paul II said in “Ecclesia in America” in 1999, “the Church in America must [defend] against any unjust restriction the natural right of … persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another.”

3. What about the “illegals” now in this country? Whenever you see a problem that cries out for a government solution, look for the government program that caused the problem. For two decades and more, presidents, senators and representatives of both parties have abdicated their duty to control the borders. Enforcement personnel are too few to protect the borders and to detect illegals within the states. When they are detected, too often nothing happens. Some members of Congress have pressured officials to overlook violations by influential constituents who employ illegals.

In tort law, if you knowingly allow persons to use your land, you may confer a license, or even an invitation, on them, especially if you dismantle the fence that formerly prevented their entry and if you stand by and watch them enter.

The politicians’ refusal to enforce the border is, at least in major part, for the benefit of employers who want cheap labor and who support the politicians who enable them to get it. This is the flip side of outsourcing jobs to foreign countries. You can’t readily outsource an onion field, a construction or restaurant job or poultry processing. Non-enforcement of the border brings the cheap labor to the employers, with the medical and other needs of those “illegals” possibly shifted to the taxpayers. This is “neoliberalism” which, as John Paul II described it, “considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and respect due to individuals and peoples.”

The politicians’ refusal to enforce the borders has impliedly invited not only honest aliens seeking better pay but also criminals, security risks and committed terrorists. Such persons, on detection, should be deported if not imprisoned. But otherwise law-abiding “illegals,” who were impliedly invited by our own officials’ dereliction of duty, should be allowed to remain as long as they otherwise obey the laws. They should have a chance for permanent residence and citizenship, but only at the end of the line after those who came here legally. As the Catholic Bishops urge, immediate family members, including at least parents, spouses and minor children, should be allowed to join them.

Popular wrath, on talk shows and elsewhere, should be directed, not at those otherwise law-abiding “invitees” but at the politicians who subordinate the common good to their own benefit and to the bottom-line interests of influential employers. The politicians and those they serve are the real “illegals.”

Prof. Emeritus Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Thursday.

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