Are you angry about immigration? I am, and that puts me (for once) in the majority. Millions of Americans feel overwhelmed, threatened, and frankly outraged at the prospect of our country being inundated by tens of millions of poor, uneducated people who carry with them the habits engrained by corrupt, authoritarian countries. We fear that they will suppress the already low wages of unskilled American workers, that many will become new burdens on our strained public welfare system, and that most of them will vote for the party that will promise them more government benefits—the party of gay “marriage” and abortion. We resent the fact that most new immigrants (including those amnestied) will benefit from affirmative action—that is, discrimination at the expense of white male war veterans who have paid U.S. taxes all their lives.
In other words, we consider the prospect of mass, unskilled immigration both damaging to our country, and unjust to the citizens of every race who already live here.
But what about justice for immigrants? Let’s examine that. As I explained in the National Catholic Register, strict justice for illegal immigrants would mean that they would be deported. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the right to enter a country is conditional on fulfilling certain duties—exactly as a worker deserves a “just wage”only if he shows up for work and performs it. To keep his conditional right to immigrate, each entrant to a country must “obey its laws” (CCC 2241). That includes a country’s immigration and labor laws. By evading border guards, working “off the books,” and often committing identity theft in order to skirt America’s laws, most illegal immigrants have sadly forfeited their moral right to be here. That’s not me talking—that’s the Church.
I suspect that it would not be prudent to grant these immigrants what the Church says that they deserve—a swift return to their countries of origin. It might not be merciful. But it would be perfectly just.
When people call for “amnesty” or a “path to citizenship,” what they are asking for illegal immigrants is not justice but mercy—just as a criminal’s relatives might petition for parole based on good behavior. The state grants parole based on many factors, including how crowded the prison is, and how likely the person paroled is to reoffend. Likewise, when we consider granting an amnesty to the millions who have squandered their right to be immigrants by violating our laws, we have to consider the concrete effects of doing so.
Given that our borders are woefully insecure, that rumors of amnesty have led tens of thousands of parents to risk their children’s lives by shipping them to America, it certainly would not be prudent to grant an amnesty any time soon. Not till our borders are tight as a drum, and employers face prison time for hiring illegal workers, would it be safe to offer an amnesty. A hasty “path to citizenship” would simply lead thousands more to die in the desert, and leave our border states on the brink of chaos—at the mercy of human traffickers and narco-terrorist cartels.
Is there a sane way forward that would allow us to offer some measure of mercy to millions of people who have mostly worked hard and obeyed (some of) our laws? I would like to think so. I would hope that the liberals and the cheap labor lobby could put aside their naked self-interest for a while, and cooperate with conservatives in securing America’s borders, mandating enforcement of workplace verification, and tracking people who overstay their visas and removing them. At that point, the justified anger of Americans might subside. We might cease to fear that our country is lapsing into anarchy. And then, with cooler heads on every side, we could reexamine the question of granting mercy to illegal immigrants.
But I do not expect such a compromise any time soon. The open-borders lobby thinks that they smell victory, that they can mau-mau Americans into leaving our frontiers unguarded, and also granting citizenship (plus welfare benefits) to some 12 million people—in return for empty promises, exactly like those that came with our 1986 amnesty. Marco Rubio’s bill in 2012, which was already insufficient in its efforts to guard our borders, was gutted by Democrats and turned into such a sham that even its sponsor had to renounce it. The cheap-vote left and cheap-labor right refuse to bargain in good faith, so the best thing that Americans can do right now is stand firm until an electoral shift brings in better legislators. I am grateful to the Tea Party congressmen and senators like Ted Cruz who had the patriotic good sense last week to block reckless bills that would have offered cosmetic solutions, and increased the influx of illegal immigrants. Let’s remember the Hippocratic Oath and “first, do no harm.”
John Zmirak is co-author of the upcoming The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom, and a Culture of Life.