Do the Nebraska Bishops Want Open Borders?

Deal W. Hudson
February 26, 2009

Early in the morning of December 12, 2006, 25 unmarked cars filled with federal agents pulled up in front of the Swift & Co. plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, to arrest illegal immigrants. “Operation Wagon Train” was part of a six-state effort to crack down on Swift, which was known to be employing undocumented workers at its meat-packing plants.

Swift was not charged with breaking any laws, but an undisclosed number of its Hispanic employees were arrested and taken to jail.

The three bishops of Nebraska – William Dendinger, Fabian Bruskewitz, and Elden Curtiss – reference that enforcement raid at the beginning of their pastoral letter titled, “Immigration: A Call to Be Patient, Hospitable and Active for Reform,” issued last month.

They admit at the start that the topic of immigration is “often identified with unauthorized entry into or presence in the United States,” and as such is a “subject of intensely felt concern and frustration.”

Further, the bishops tell us that Nebraska is one of the top ten states where immigration is on the rise (35,000 to 50,000 immigrants reside in the state). This influx, they admit, has led to “profound changes” in many communities, and particularly in Catholic parishes:

Often, the local church becomes an anchor for immigrant families and refugees, thus requiring a balancing of social and cultural differences.

The Nebraska bishops are bold in the face of this controversy, saying that immigration actually “presents opportunities” for Catholics: “understanding,” “personal growth,” “communication and dialogue,” “outreach, charity, and hospitality,” and “spiritual enrichment and a strengthening of faith in God’s divine plan for all humanity.”

Of course, it’s tough selling such intangibles to citizens deeply concerned about the cost of maintaining schools and hospitals that are already struggling to provide services to legal residents.

The debate over immigration exploded in 2005. Fueled by mass demonstrations and the consternation of conservative talk-radio hosts, this issue divided the nation and reversed the 2004 gains made by the GOP with Hispanic voters. The U.S. Catholic bishops came out strongly on the side of “welcoming” the immigrants, launching a Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform. (The Vatican and the USCCB were predictably accused of using Hispanics as “pawns” in an effort to increase their power in the United States.)

So, do the Nebraska bishops bring anything new to this debate? Yes and no. Their arguments are the same as those found in the 2003 pastoral letter written by the U.S. bishops and the bishops of Mexico, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” That’s unfortunate, as this approach pits the right of an immigrant to cross borders out of “economic necessity” against the right of a nation to “control its borders.” These conflicting rights are mediated by the principle that wealthier nations must accept their “greater level of obligation” to accommodate those entering their countries in search of work. Given the same set of facts, prudential judgments made on this basis will differ widely.

Nevertheless, the Nebraska bishops should be commended for sending out teams to conduct listening sessions with both native Nebraskans and the immigrants themselves. As a result, their pastoral letter neither romanticizes the plight of the immigrant nor demonizes those who care about the rule of law:

Those who express, emphasize, and even prioritize their concern about illegal immigration and the rule of law… are not being unjust or immoral or ‘un-Christian.’ Indeed, patriotism and respect for the rule of law are virtues.

The bishops argue – and not convincingly – that the solution to the problem is comprehensive immigration reform that both receive immigrants and respects our laws. After this reform, there would be “no reason to use terms such as ‘undocumented’ or ‘illegal.’ All newly arrived immigrants will have legal status, having attained such in accordance with a rational, just, and humane policy and process, based upon proper regard for the security, economic capacity, and common good of the nation.”

Unfortunately, Bishops Curtiss, Bruskewitz, and Dendinger never explain how immigration reform will treat the Mexicans who continue to sneak across the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California borders. How are they to be received in a manner that respects our laws? Are the bishops implying that the laws against clandestine border crossings should be eliminated – that we should have open borders? Their letter does not say.

Perhaps they are simply arguing that lowering the borders and allowing more workers to enter the country will slow the flow of those who arrive illegally. Fair enough. But it is clear that the Southwestern states want to decrease substantially the numbers who are crossing the Mexican border. Illegal entry will remain a problem, and the bishops are clearly uncomfortable with any concerted effort to find illegals and return them to their country of origin.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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