Bishops Say Immigrants’ Needs Come Before Border Security

Deal W. Hudson
November 22, 2007

The three bishops of Maryland have just released a statement on immigration, saying the right of a nation to control its borders is secondary to an immigrant’s basic needs. These three bishops – Archbishop O’Brien, Archbishop Wuerl, and Bishop Saltarelli – reiterate the policy espoused by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their program “Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope.

Immigration is one of the three most important issues in the 2008 presidential election; it is the number one political issue for Hispanics, who now outnumber African-Americans in the United States.

Immigration became one of the most divisive issues in American politics after the introduction of Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ). The visa programs in the bill allowed illegal immigrants to legalize their status without leaving the United States.

The outcry of “no amnesty” for illegal immigrants resounded throughout the nation, driven by major talk-show hosts and Republican members of Congress such as Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The two GOP Congressmen introduced an immigration bill without any so-called “amnesty” provisions.

President Bush’s own immigration plan, somewhere between the two extremes, went largely unnoticed.

Within a year, on April 11, 2006, hundreds of thousands of Hispanics filled the streets of America’s cities – the Washington Post proclaimed the awakening of a “Sleeping Latino Giant.”

In the aftermath of the controversy, the Republicans, who had received an astounding 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 presidential election, were viewed, fairly or not, as the anti-immigrant party.

By the 2006 mid-term elections, Hispanic support for GOP candidates fell to 30 percent. Some political analysts have said the golden opportunity of creating a long-term coalition of Hispanic voters and the Republican Party has been squandered.

The bishops’ “Justice for Immigrants” program was launched two days before the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill. The bishops’ viewpoint and that of Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 were basically the same. Though there were a handful of Republican co-sponsors of the 2005 immigration bill, including Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, most Republicans argued the bill was too lenient in dealing with immigrants who had broken the law to enter the country.

Once again, the Republican Party was seen to be on the wrong side of a debate aggressively engaged by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It seemed like a replay of the struggle in the Reagan years between the bishops and the White House over Central American policy and the treatment of the “contras.”

Now the three Maryland bishops have issued a statement to press the point once again. Here is the key paragraph:

All people have the right to have their basic needs met in their homelands. When the means to fulfill those needs do not exist at home, people have the right to seek them abroad. At the same time, sovereign nations have the right to control their borders, provided the regulations promote the common good of our universal human family. Not surprisingly, these two rights may conflict. When they do, receiving nations with the ability to accommodate migrants are urged to respond with generosity so individuals have the opportunity to meet their basic needs and so families remain united.

In other words, when the two “rights” are in conflict – the right to secure borders and the right of a person to have basic needs met – the nations with the “ability” should respond with “generosity.”

The problem with such an argument is simple: Who decides which country has the ability? Who decides what “basic needs” are and whether they are available in the country of origin? Who decides what “generosity” is? Clearly, this argument is a prudential matter and can be argued openly without insinuating any disrespect for the bishops or their teaching office.

I witnessed a bishop give this argument on immigration to a group of Catholic businessmen and women in California a few months ago. There was not a single person in the room, as far as I could tell, who agreed with the presentation. The bishop read directly out of the material supplied by the “Justice for Immigrants” program. Upon finishing, he was immediately questioned about the position on border security. “Why can’t a country choose who can enter and who cannot?” was the question.

The answer given is contained in the paragraph above: “At the same time, sovereign nations have the right to control their borders, provided the regulations promote the common good of our universal human family.”

Again, it is a prudential issue to decide what kind of border regulations “promote the common good.” Catholics can disagree about how to secure the borders as long as they do take the “common good” into consideration. This is a difficult and divisive question, second only to the abortion issue.

When Senator Brownback first went to Iowa to campaign for the presidential nomination, he did not receive the welcome you would expect for a man with such pro-life credentials. The voters of Western Iowa were troubled that he had co-sponsored the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill, and they told him so.

At the same meeting in California, the bishop aired a video documentary created by the USCCB as a part of “Justice for Immigrants.” The documentary followed a Mexican family as they were led on foot, illegally, over the U.S. border. The film glorified the journey and gave it spiritual overtones. The audience was truly aghast that the bishops would be party to an act of breaking the law. (Yet this film is being shown in parishes throughout the United States.)

Unfortunately, the film never explains why a nation’s control of its borders is trumped by the material needs of the citizens of another country.

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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