August 26, 2016


Borders should not be barriers

Pope Francis’ admonition to young people in Poland for World Youth Day to refuse to see “borders as barriers” hasn’t gone over well with everyone. One commentary went so far as to say, “Communist Pope Francis told the World Youth Day gathering to reject borders and barriers. This pope is a very dangerous man.”

The pope’s actual quotation to the youths was, “People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers, and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded.”

The pope and his detractors are two sides of one of the great issues in today’s society, here in the United States as well as in most prosperous countries: Should we welcome immigrants into our countries, or take measures to keep them out? There are names for both camps: those who favor “drawbridge down” and those who favor “drawbridge up.” (The designations seem to have originated in 2005 with a British man named Stephen Shakespeare.)

The Catholic Church has always been on the side of “drawbridge down,” encouraging laws that will make it easy for people to migrate in order to better their lives and those of their families. That’s what the ancestors of all Americans except the Native Americans did, most of them before laws were enacted by “drawbridge up” xenophobes, usually anti-Catholics.

It’s why the archdiocese has a Refugee and Immigrant Services department to help immigrants and refugees resettle here.

It appears that most Americans are “drawbridge down” people. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in March, and reported in The Economist, asked the question, “Do you think having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in our country makes it a better or a worse place to live?” A hefty 58 percent thought it makes it a better place, and only 7 percent thought it made it worse. Thirty-five percent said it didn’t make any difference.

As our country ages because of our low birth rate, it needs immigrants. Fortunately, immigrants almost always assimilate quickly, speaking English by the second generation and finding jobs.

Recently, Indiana business leaders issued a report that estimated that immigrants in Indiana earned $8.1 billion in 2014, paying $702 million in state and local taxes and $1.6 billion in federal taxes. They wielded $5.8 billion in spending power, the report said.

The report also said what everyone really knows, that immigrants fill many jobs that native-born Americans aren’t interested in, especially manual labor.

The last time we addressed this topic in an editorial was in our May 27 issue. A Criterion reader responded in a subsequent issue, asking a number of important questions about obeying laws concerning immigration. Specifically, the person asked about our obligation to obey laws concerning illegal immigrants. Those questions deserve answers. Perhaps these quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church will answer those questions:

“The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him” (#2241).

“The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teaching of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community” (#2242).

The Church has always taught that we must not obey immoral laws. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Most martyrs were and are being killed for refusing to obey unjust laws.

Because something is legal doesn’t make it moral. Abortion is legal, but certainly not moral. The immigration laws in our country are immoral, and must be changed. Until that happens, we must resist them.

—John F. Fink

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