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Immigration, Faith and Economics

Raymond J. Keating

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On the Church and Society
March 27, 2006

Raymond J. KeatingImmigration is one of those hot button issues where otherwise sober people sometimes go a little loopy. That is particularly the case when the topic is illegal immigration, including what the U.S. should do about an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in our country.

Most notably, immigration leaves the conservative-free market political coalition in tatters. Many conservatives and free market folks favor immigration, welcoming those who choose to come to the U.S. and make positive contributions to our society and economy. After all, that's how our nation was built.

On the anti-immigration side, though, some focus on potential national security risks. For other conservatives, it is a law-and-order issue, and they want to stop people from entering the nation illegally and boot out those who are here against the law. Others believe that immigrants take jobs away from natives, and drive down wages. Unfortunately, it also must be acknowledged that a few oppose legal and illegal immigration on thinly veiled racist grounds.

Interestingly, the debate recently has moved into the religious realm, with a rift developing between some Republicans and various leaders in the Roman Catholic Church.

The problem is an immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives late last year that makes it a felony to help or hire undocumented immigrants. Church officials are worried that those providing charitable aid to immigrants would be exposed to prosecution.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington was quoted by The New York Times recently declaring: "This is a justice issue. We feel you have to take care of people." In the same article, New York Congressman Peter King, a Republican, a Catholic and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, countered: "This is the left wing of the Catholic Church. These are the frustrated social workers."

King then got into it with a fellow New Yorker in Congress, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton. On March 22, Clinton, according to a Newsday report, declared about the House bill: "It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures. This bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."

King responded: "I hope Hillary's a better senator than a theologian. She's facilitating clerics who have a martyrdom complex and slandering good people such as myself." The next day, Newsday quoted King saying: "Stopping alien smuggling gangs is doing God's work. These people who are supposed to be speaking for God, saying this [bill] is a sin, and they should go to confession."

Well, whose side is God on in this immigration debate? In reality, of course, Holy Scripture does not serve as a policy guidebook for immigration. Christians can and do disagree on how a nation should best handle its immigration policies. Naturally, to the degree that the House bill would impede charitable work with immigrants, it deserves to be criticized.

But for all the political heat, King has declared that he would fight to ease such potential penalties in the final version of any bill to be voted on by the House and Senate.

In the end, the focus needs to be shifted off of scoring cheap political points with religion, and instead placed on what immigration is really about, that is, security and economics. Any reform measure solely focusing on border security, as is the case with the House bill, would be grossly shortsighted.

The U.S. economy, businesses and consumers create demand for more work and jobs than can be filled by only the native born, or through current legal immigration channels. People from other nations see these opportunities, and find ways into the country to meet this demand. They contribute by becoming workers, consumers, and many of them, eventually entrepreneurs. As most economists recognize, immigration is a net economic plus.

Immigration reform, therefore, needs to open avenues for eventual citizenship for undocumented workers already in the nation who have worked hard and stayed out of trouble, and to expand legal immigration channels. By expanding opportunities for legal immigration, that also allows for more efficient use of border security resources to focus on stopping the bad guys from sneaking into the country.

Meeting the needs of our economy and tightening up our border security are not in opposition, but instead go hand in hand. A sober view of immigration should make this clear.

Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Copyright Raymond J. Keating

Posted: 29-Mar-06



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