I'm Fixin' a Hole Where the Rain Gets In

I hadn't noticed the fact that just when the Miers nomination was heating up, Michael Chertoff was telling the Senate that
Our goal at DHS is to completely eliminate the 'catch and release' enforcement problem, and return every single illegal entrant, no exceptions. It should be possible to achieve significant and measurable progress to this end in less than a year.
Sir Shane over at The Catholic Knight applauds this as an instance in which conservatives have gotten their way by complaining loud and hard about the Miers nomination.

I'm not so sure, though, that conservatives are exactly united on this one. It's true that there are some conservatives who are opposed to relaxing immigration laws, but there's quite a continuum out there, from the lunatic fringe of xenophobic ranting of the Pat Buchanan variety to the more docile economic and national security arguments of members of the Bush administration. But there are some conservatives, including, by the way, your Humble Blogger, who look at the whole immigration problem from a slightly different perspective: namely the perspective of social justice.

The United States, on this view, is arguably the best ordered polity in the world and, as such, represents a form of the Common Good to which the dignity of every human being is entitled. On this view there is a sense in which it is a matter of justice to let as many people as possible into the country. Indeed, as many people as want to come in ought to be let in. It is no accident that the few conservatives who hold this view happen, for the most part, also to be Roman Catholics, since the concept of the Common Good is a solid part of the Roman Catholic moral theology that goes back to St. Augustine and beyond. But I'm not claiming that it is a widely held view even among Roman Catholic conservatives. I do claim, however, that it is the correct view for Rolman Catholic conservatives to hold.

The argument in favor of the view is not a simple one, however, and it is complicated by the very problems of national security and economics that other conservatives use to argue for stricter immigration policies. I will have more to say on this issue in the coming days, however, as I attempt to articulate what I take to be the best argument in favor of an open immigration policy.


Darwin said…
I've long felt that open borders (or at least, open to anyone without a criminal record) would be the best policy -- though given that we still have restrictive laws on the books I'm generally in favor of enforcing rather than ignoring them.

My only hesitation in regards to open borders has been that such a policy would, at least in the short term, lead to greater poverty in the US. If you allow in unlimitted numbers of poor people seeking opportunities, they will, until they find opportunities, be poor. Now, as Catholics and as citizens I think we owe to to the poor to help them in every way we can, but it is not necessarily in our power to give them so much that they are no longer poor.

Now, in the long run, I think that the millions who would move to the US (especially given the benefits of legal status rather than living in the constant twilight of illegal immigrant status) would lift themselves out of poverty, and make us a better country for it as well. But I wonder how many of our countryman would be willing to give the situation the necessary time. This is, after all, the country that puts forward solutions like, "If we kill all the poor people's children, there won't be as much poverty."
Kathy Hutchins said…

I too have argued for a close-to-absolute open borders policy for a long, long time, from both Catholic and economic perspectives. But it's not clear to me you understand the change Chertoff is proposing, particularly since early news accounts of it were misleading, if not intentionally inaccurate.

It is currently INS policy that if a Mexican national is caught in the act of illegally entering the US over our common border, he or she will be returned to Mexico. If, on the other hand, a non-Mexican national is caught crossing illegally entering the US from Mexico the policy is to release the individual pending an INS hearing, which as you might suspect, the illegal entrant seldom attends, having disappeared into the urban void among thousands of other men without documents. Knowing, as the INS does, that this policy could be exploited by foreign terrorists, it seems gobsmackingly idiotic to continue it, does it not? The policy change has no effect on illegals already here; it concerns only those who are in future apprehended in the act of entering. It is entirely directed at security concerns, and does nothing to address the economic and cultural issues of immigration.

All this does nothing to address the fact that our current policy is the worst of all possible situations. It would be far preferable to essentially abolish all immigration quotas, and deny entry only on the basis of criminal past or serious health issues. To maintain an official policy of severely restricted legal immigration, while winking and nodding at the millions of illegal entrants, encourages both disrespect of the law and exploitation of the illegals. It maximizes danger and minimizes dignity.

I'm happy I settled on this position years ago. This past weekend, on my first ever trip to New York City, I spent Sunday afternoon on Ellis Island. If I were a nativist, or even your typical conservative, the experience would have made me extremely uncomfortable.

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