""Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'" -- Matthew 25: 42-45 (NAB).
The American right is opposed to immigration. They are especially riled up by what they regard as illegal immigration, but many too, simply seek curbs on legal immigration. And here's the interesting thing: this group includes the majority of evangelical Christians. Eduardo Peñalver over at Commonweal links to an interesting article exploring Christian reactions to immigration. According to the article, a poll of the Family Research Council's (FRC) members showed that 90 percent of them favored deportation of the 12 million or so undocumented workers. Deportation! Moreover, according to a Pew poll, 63% of white evangelicals view immigrants as a "threat to U.S. customs and values," compared to 48% of the population as a whole. And sadly, many on the Catholic right shares these views. The champion of this group is evangelical fundamentalist politician Tom Tancredo, who seeks to criminalize those who "aid and abet" illegal immigrants, and is running for president on a strongly nativist platform. It used to be that Catholics faced the ire of guys like Tancredo. It is yet another bad fruit of the marriage of convenience between many right-wing Catholics and evangelicals that large number of Catholics can embrace such a position.
Why? Some will say it to to protect against terrorism. Others will say it is for economic reasons, to protect low-paid native workers. But these are not the real reasons. The real reasons are cultural. The American right is uneasy with, and sometimes hostile toward, Mexican culture. This is the defining issue. And when speaking among themselves, they can be refreshingly frank. Long-time right-wing activist Phylis Schlafly wrote to her membership that the proper Christian response to illegal immigration in the United States is to "erect a fence and double our border agents in order to stop the drugs, the smuggling racket, the diseases, and the crimes." Less provocatively, the FRC's Tony Perkins announces that the core issue is to protect the "cultural fabric." Gary Bauer also acknowledged that culture is the "unmentioned undercurrent" in the debate. Catholics can join in too. Thomas Fleming, president of the Rockford Institute, said that "Whatever we may say in public, most of us do not much like Mexicans, whom we regard as too irrational, too violent, too passionate." And we all know the views of well-known Catholic Pat Buchanan.
How can these views accord with Christian philosophy, with Gospel values? One can only assume that these people know full well that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were migrants and refugees, and that Jesus calls on us to embrace everybody as brothers and sisters, regardless of race or nationality. Ominously, as the quote at the top shows, he damns those who ignore the stranger.
What's going on here? The position of many on the right derives from a secular nationalistic ideology. There is nothing "Christian" about it. In particular, these people seem to have lost all notion of the "Catholic principal", the idea that there can be no boundaries on who is and who is not our neighbor. But there may be a way out. Evangelical fundamentalism is inspired by a Calvinist belief in predestination, dividing the world into the saved and the damned, and often holds that God has somehow favored the United States above all others. It follows naturally that America should protect its culture, much as God favors the United States. Thus a secular ideology can be safely wedded with (bad) theology.
But the essence of Christianity is that God does not play favorites. It is catholic, universal. St. Paul stated clearly that all races and cultures are united in one Church. The need to welcome the migrant is at the core of Christ's teaching, and that message is preserved in the official teaching of the Catholic Church.
The Evangelical Catholicism blog has been doing sterling work in standing up for this aspect of authentic Catholic teaching. The teaching is quite old at this stage. The right to migrate to sustain one's family was laid down by Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum back in 1891. At the end of World War II, Pope Pius XII recalled the Church's support for "pilgrims, aliens, exiles and migrants of every kind." and reiterated the right to migrate if workers cannot achieve a life of dignity in their own land. While the Church acknowledges that countries have the right to regulate borders, that right is by no means absolute. Above all else, the human dignity and human rights of all migrants must be always respected, irrespective of what documentation they hold. Basic rights must always be upheld.
The Church continues to make these points. Pope John Paul addressed the issue frequently, and had the following to say:
"By her nature, the Church is in solidarity with the world of migrants who, with their variety of languages, races, cultures and customs, remind her of her own condition as a people on pilgrimage from every part of the earth to their final homeland. This vision helps Christians to reject all nationalistic thinking and to avoid narrow ideological categories. It reminds them that the Gospel should be incarnated in life in order to become its leaven and soul, also through a constant effort to free it from the cultural incrustations that inhibit its inner dynamism.
For the Christian, every human being is a 'neighbour' to be loved. He should not ask himself whom he should love, because to ask 'who is my neighbour?' is already to set limits and conditions. One day Jesus was asked this question and he responded by turning it around: it is not 'and who is my neighbour?', but 'to whom should I become a neighbour?' that is the right question. And the answer is: 'anyone in need, even if he is a stranger to me, becomes a neighbour I must help'. The parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:30-37) invites everyone to reach out beyond the bounds of justice in the perspective of gratuitous and unlimited love."
In other words, beware of secular ideology and nationalism. And yet many Catholics will dismiss Church teachings in this area as yet another example of prudential judgment that can safely be ignored. And it is true that if the Church issues a statement on a particularly policy matter related to immigration, it is indeed a judgment about particular circumstantial facts. But in this matter more than any other, many who disagree with the Church are not simply questioning its prudence, but disagreeing with core social doctrine, in other words, about the underlying principles governing the particular circumstances. The critics above-- Perkins, Schlaffly, Tancredo, Buchanan, Fleming-- fall into this category.
And one more thing. Dismissing the God-given human rights of a migrant can have serious consequences. Deportation is one of the examples that John Paul gives in Veritatis Splendour when addressing offenses against human dignity that are intrinsically evil, in other words, that can never be justified by appeal to intent or circumstance. Deportation, just like torture and slavery, can become intrinsically evil if it violates the God given dignity and integrity (the intrinsic worth) of human beings. In other words, if it treats the person as a mere means to end (in this case, the protection of the American culture). This is always and everywhere wrong. And, no, this is not a prudential judgment.