What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Four

Welcome to Part Four of my oh-so-exciting (ha!) series:

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President Part 4

I’d intended for today’s post to cover the remaining of my “hot” political issues: Immigration, foreign and military policy, the economy, the environment, and education. But when I realized that the immigration issue had become a real stumbling block for me to write about (especially now that The Donald has released his immigration plan) – because it’s just so complicated and touchy, and because I consider it so consequential to our political future – I knew I needed to tackle it separately. Therefore, today’s post will be on immigration alone. I’ll cover the rest of my “hot” issues next week.

For an introduction of the series and an explanation of how my Catholic faith has influenced my political outlook, please see Part One.

For a discussion on some of the qualities I want in a president and a few of the broad issues that impact the more specific, controversial issues (like the one in this post), please see Part Two.

For my positions on the “hot” issues of: A social safety net, abortion, religious freedom, and capital punishment/euthanasia/assisted suicide, please see Part Three.

For my thoughts on how the presidential candidates (of both parties) measure up to my (unreasonably high) standards, please come back next week and beyond for parts Five through however-many-I-get-to.

(Mostly) Hot on the Hot Stuff: Immigration

As I noted in Part Three, I tend to run pretty hot on the social issues. They’re where my Catholicism really comes to bear: I’m for a social safety net for vulnerable populations, against abortion, for religious freedom in the workplace, against capital punishment, for immigration, against euthanasia, and for an active foreign and military policy that aims to resolve conflicts and protect persecuted communities. On a few other issues – the economy, the environment, and education – I guess I have a vague, limited opinion, but I’m just not too wrapped up in them. You can’t be hot on everything.

But immigration – immigration is most definitely an issue that gets people hot. Just look at Donald Trump and the success he’s riding due (in part) to his attacks against illegal immigration, most especially that which comes from Mexico.

Look too at those who railed against the arrival of Eastern European immigrants in the early Twentieth Century, Irish in the Nineteenth, and German in the Eighteenth. This fear of immigrants, this railing against immigration, has always been with us.

(Let’s pause to note, Catholic readers, who the undesirables were in each of those generations: largely Catholic Germans, Catholic Irish, and Catholic Eastern Europeans. And who are our Twenty-first Century boogeymen? Largely Catholic Latinos. Hm.)

I want no part of it.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a pretty comprehensive outline of my thought process on immigration. Rather than re-create the wheel, I include the bulk of that piece here. It’s my case for why conservatives should reconsider their positions on immigration reform and how politicians should treat it more honestly.

1)      People have always moved. (Diving right in to the looong view here.) Through all of human history, people have moved from place to place seeking food, better living conditions, and more freedom. They have fled famine, war, and persecution. They always will.

2)      People deserve a chance to protect and provide for themselves and their families. There are still plenty of places in the world where hunger and war abound. There are even more where corruption or drought or poor economic conditions stymie individuals’ abilities to provide their families with an adequate living. I would move to a different part of the world if doing so would protect my family and secure my future. You would too.

3)      Things change. My family has lived in my state for over 10 generations. The first ones came here in the 1630’s, the last came during the American Revolution. Other than being of Native American ancestry, I’m about as “native” as you can get. But in reality, my family lives in a very different place today than it did in the past. Our state has changed visibly since I was a child; it has changed dramatically since my parents were children. Not long ago, it was largely agrarian with a few long-settled, urban centers. It was the kind of place where the same handful of family names were seen, time and again, on businesses and place names and headstones.

Today it is mostly populated by people who came from someplace else. They came from different parts of the country and far-flung parts of the world. They drove massive development. They brought their own foods and languages and preferences and opinions. They are making this place their own. Never mind the families whose names still grace the towns and street signs. We have, in a sense, been relegated to the past.

But you know what? These newcomers became our friends and eventually, our family. (I, for one, married one of them.) They built businesses and gave us jobs. They brought their skills and came to work for us. In some communities they drove up costs to the point where we can no longer afford to live there. But they also drove growth in ways that have benefited us all.

At heart, I am a rural, small-town girl. I love my family, I am interested in our history, and the biggest part of me wants to live in a place where both are obviously present. It wants to live amongst people who share my values and my tastes. That’s just how I’m built. But things change. The old kind of community of my fantasies (and my family’s past) isn’t here anymore. I can let that frustrate and sadden me, or I can find the good in the way things have become. I choose to seek out the silver linings. I choose to cultivate that part of myself that rejoices in new experiences.

Yes, immigration will change our country. It has many times over. And yes, I can understand how that is an uncomfortable, even frightening prospect for some people. Sometimes I feel it too. But things change. At the end of the day, we can’t stop change from happening. We can only control how we react to it.

4)      Laws change. The United States is a nation of immigrants. All of our ancestors, at some point or another, came here from someplace else. The vast majority came in the past 200 years. It seems to me that most of us have this idea that our own families arrived in careful consideration of American immigration law. That they waited their turn and filed all the proper applications and did everything By The Books. But that’s just not the case. The kind of complicated immigration system we have today is a product of the past few decades. Until the 1920’s, American immigration was wide-open to almost all Europeans. Nearly everyone who arrived at Ellis Island was approved for entry. In the wake of World War I, immigration laws became more restrictive. Later, they became much more complicated.

Today, immigrants gain legal entry to the United States in three primary ways: (1) through the sponsorship of a close family member, (2) through the sponsorship of an employer, and (3) through the Diversity Lottery, which is designed to favor immigration from countries less well-represented in the first two avenues. People from countries that send a lot of emigrants to the United States via family or employer sponsorship are ineligible to apply for the Diversity Lottery. In 2013, people from the following countries are NOT eligible to apply for the Diversity Lottery: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.

So if I’m from England or Canada or Mexico or the Philippines and I don’t have a close family member or a prospective employer in the United States to sponsor my immigration, I can’t go. There is no line to wait in. There is no application to fill out. There is no such thing as “legal” immigration for me.

This is entirely different from the system under which my ancestors – and most Americans’ – came to the United States. Our ancestors had wide-open ports or lines at Ellis Island. They had a chance to seek their fortune in an entirely new land with no one to depend upon other than themselves. That system simply cannot be equated to today’s.

To inject a little humor here, I’ll add that when I used to testify on immigration matters, I would tell legislators (truthfully) that my last ancestor to arrive in America was a Hessian soldier paid to fight against the Americans in the War of Independence. And I’d quip, “How much more illegal can you get than that?”

5)      Families matter. It is right that people can sponsor close family members to immigrate into the United States. But the system should be better at ensuring that sponsorship actually results in a successful and timely family reunification. As it is, the immigration system is so backlogged that reunification can take years. It can take five years for a legal permanent resident to bring his or her spouse or minor child into the country. It can take twenty years for a U.S. citizen to bring his or her adult sibling here. (Here is an interesting story about efforts to bring over the adult children of Filipino veterans who fought for the U.S. Armed Services in World War II.)

The family is the most fundamental unit of society. It’s just basic human decency to allow spouses, siblings, and parents/children to be together. Can you imagine having to live without your spouse or small child for five years? Your siblings or adult children for a decade or even two?

6)      Skills matter. It is also right that employers can sponsor workers who will bring vital skills and knowledge to their companies. There should be more of this. There should also be more opportunities for entrepreneurs to come and establish their own businesses in this country. The United States’ success has, in large part, been due to our entrepreneurial spirit and our culture of encouraging ingenuity and innovation. We should unabashedly pursue the immigration of people who will feed that spirit and culture.

7)      The labor market doesn’t lie. When millions of people can come into the United States and find work despite their legal ineligibility to do so, it is proof that the labor market can support them. At the same time, it is understandable that low-skilled Americans would be fearful of competition from an influx of similarly-skilled immigrant workers. I have sympathy for those in that position. But I am also hopeful that higher numbers of legal workers would encourage more entrepreneurial activity, more business, and better opportunities for all.

8)      Long borders will never be 100% secure. The U.S. border with Mexico is nearly 2,000 miles long – just about equal to the length of the East Coast. It goes through deserts and rivers, remote areas and urban ones. And that’s just the Mexican border. Undoubtedly, border security can be improved. Even just fully-funding current programs would help. But insisting that immigration reform wait on complete border security is another way of saying reform should never happen.

9)      We should encourage immigrants to invest themselves in this country. I want people living in the United States to feel like they have a stake in its success. I want people to feel a connection to their communities. I want them to work hard, start businesses, pay taxes, buy houses, volunteer, report crimes, and help their neighbors. We encourage investment when we enable families to be together, when we bring people out of the shadows of illegal immigration, and when we provide people with an opportunity to someday become citizens. It is a terrible idea to legalize a person’s immigration status without providing them a path to citizenship. That sends the message, “We want your labor, but we don’t want you.”

In sum, I’m in favor of immigration reform. But not just that – I’m in favor of more immigration. I understand why some oppose it and I’m sympathetic to (and even naturally inclined to share) their concerns. But this is not an issue that’s going away. No fence or deportation camp or wacky/disturbing proposal to enslave those who come here illegally will deter desperate people from taking a chance on the USA.

As long as people who are oppressed or impoverished place their hope in the United States, there will be those who wish to immigrate. And as long as would-be immigrants see no legal avenue for coming into our country, they will pursue illegal ones.

We would do better, I think, to reform our immigration system wholesale:

We should improve our system of processing immigration applications, etc. so that wait times are cut, families are reunited, and those who are eligible for legal immigration don’t forgo it in favor of a quicker (illegal) route.

We should open the legal immigration application process to all people regardless of their nationality. (Note that I’m not saying that every application should be granted – I’m just saying that all people should be allowed to apply. Or at least given a chance to enter the lottery.) If people saw that there was actually a line for them to legally stand in, they may be less willing to take a chance on entering the country illegally.

We should take more seriously the priorities of reunifying families and attracting talented, innovative individuals.

We should provide a way for those currently in the U.S. illegally to make their status legal. Require clean records, make them pay a fine and taxes, and send them all the way to the back of the so-called line – but give them an option.

That — that practicality, that honesty about the realities of the current (messed up) immigration system, that kind of focus on designing a better one for the future — that’s what I want in a president.

See you back here next week to discuss a few more things I want.

These Walls -- What This Catholic Wants in a President Part 4 - 1

The Hessian Barracks in Frederick, Maryland, where my most illegal ancestor was held after his capture at Yorktown.


Just as I have for Parts One, Two, and Three, allow me to close by clarifying two points. (I may do so at the end of each of these posts.)

  • First, though I prioritize the Church’s teachings in my own political decision-making, and though I used to lobby for the Church, I do not claim to speak for it. For the Church’s official positions on national-level policy questions, please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of the issues I discuss in this series will have a clear connection to those the USCCB advocates on. Others will not.
  • Second, though I may hold a degree in political science, I am no political scientist. I’m a stay-at-home mom who pays a greater-than-average attention to the news. Feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve gotten wrong.

Thanks again for joining me. I hope to have you back next week for Part Five!

6 thoughts on “What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Four

  1. Wow! You said everything I believe about immigration and then some! I’m so excited that somebody so articulate and knowledgeable feels the way I do!

    One reason I’m passionate about immigration is that I taught ESOL for a year (and would have taught longer, but God had other plans). Knowing those students and learning about what they and their families had gone through made a huge difference in me. They were and are ***astonishing.***

  2. Thank you for writing this. This is one of the most confusing and muddled of issues for me, with hot-headed people on both sides. I didn’t even know that people from Mexico couldn’t apply for legal immigration without someone on the other side of the border to get them in!

    • And I should clarify that some people might be eligible for asylum, which is complicated enough that I didn’t want to get into it in this post. (FYI, refugees are taken into the US under some formal program/process, usually because of war or natural disaster in their home country. Asylum-seekers, on the other hand, have to already be in the U.S. to apply. Most come in on a tourist visa, then apply for asylum when they get here.) So it’s possible that a Mexican person could come here illegally, then apply for asylum on the basis that they’re, say, marked for death by gang members back home. But that’s the kind of option that’s only available to individuals who meet certain (dire) criteria – not the population at large.

  3. Such a thoughtful post – you put into words so many of my thoughts but more so gave me A LOT to think about!! You have a new follower in me – as I DO not pay enough attention to the news, and really connect with how you process it!

  4. I’m willing to bet that most people don’t know that about Mexico and other countries – I certainly didn’t before I read your original piece. Of course, there are an unfortunate number of people who don’t care, who have so much xenophobia that someone like Trump can exploit. That scares me, honestly, that so many people feel that way.

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