Of Bishops and Business: The Folly of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

By William W. Chip on May 12, 2014

First Things, May 12, 2014

Advocates of a mass amnesty for 11 million illegal aliens, under the banner of “comprehensive immigration reform,” seldom fail to mention “church leaders” and “faith groups” as part of their “coalition.” One might think that the complex issues of how many and which aliens should be permitted to immigrate and how we should deter unlawful immigration by the millions who will not qualify comes down to a simple moral question: What would Jesus do?

I don’t know what Jesus would do, but as a Catholic who opposes mass amnesty, I have a few words to say about my own “faith group.”

Like every parochial school student, I was taught the story of Frances Xavier Cabrini, a nineteenth century Italian nun who pleaded with the Pope to send her on a mission to China but was told instead to go to America and minister to Italian immigrants. She did as she was told and founded many schools, orphanages, and hospitals. In 1946 Mother Cabrini became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Her “feast day” falls in November.

Last November, while the House of Representatives were deliberating on “comprehensive immigration reform,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops designated St. Cabrini’s feast day as a “National Call-In Day to Congress.” Lay Catholics were urged to call their Congressmen, promote a “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens, and oppose legislation that would authorize state police to arrest illegal immigrants. The response from the laity was tepid, to say the least, and on the first of April, 2014, a delegation of Catholic bishops took matters into their own hands by celebrating a well-publicized Mass at the Mexican border, offering communion to Mexicans through the steel border fence and laying a wreath to commemorate migrants who died attempting to reach the United States.

Practicing Catholics like myself accept the “Magisterial” of the Church—the duty and authority of our bishops to teach the Christian faith and preserve Christian traditions. While that authority is held to be infallible under certain circumstances, the Church also recognizes the fallibility of its bishops when venturing to instruct the faithful on “prudential” matters, i.e., matters where the right moral judgment depends on complete knowledge of the relevant facts. In the view of many Catholics, “National Call-In Day” and similar intrusions by the Catholic hierarchy into U.S. immigration policy is living proof of their fallibility in prudential matters.

No Christian could object to the Church’s offering food, shelter, and other life necessities to impoverished aliens regardless of legal status. However, as we celebrate our generosity, Catholics must not forget that the battalions of selfless nuns who, like Mother Cabrini, used to staff the Church’s schools and hospitals in exchange for room and board are no longer with us. A call to legalize millions of needy aliens is a call for the government, not our Church, to pick up the multi-billion dollars tab.

Where, then, should Christian compassion lead us? Certainly away from our current policy of lining the border with tall fences and armed patrolmen and then throwing up a sign saying “Open for Illegal Employment.” We need the fences and patrolmen to keep out criminals and terrorists, but our need for cheap lettuce and landscaping does not justify enticing impoverished Mexicans and Central Americans to run a gauntlet of fences and deserts in the hands of “coyotes.” According to Amnesty International, as many as six of ten illegally immigrating women are raped on the way to our maid’s quarters.

In my opinion, formulating a compassionate immigration policy first demands an answer to how this immoral system has remained in place for so long. The 1986 law that authorized the first mass amnesty for illegal aliens also imposed sanction on employers who failed to verify that new hires were eligible to work in the United States. The sanctions were quickly undermined by the widespread availability of fraudulent identity papers, prompting Congress to authorize a decade later what today we call the E-Verify system, which gives every employer the option to confirm online with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security the legality of every new hire.

Making E-Verify mandatory for all employers would have removed the chief incentive for poverty-stricken foreigners to risk their lives to become “undocumented aliens” waiting for the next amnesty. Unfortunately, ethnic advocacy groups and cheap-labor lobbyists whose interests are advanced by uncontrolled immigration have fought tooth and nail for two decades to block every federal or state regulation that would mandate E- Verify for all employers. Indeed, these same interest groups had lobbied to repeal the employer sanctions themselves (making E-Verify irrelevant) before the ink had dried on the 1986 legislation. Before the ink dries on “comprehensive immigration reform,” they will surely unleash their lawyers to undo in the courts any enforcement measures contained in that legislation.

When the enemies of employer sanctions and E-Verify now weep crocodile tears for the 11 million victims of their self-interest, I accuse them of hypocrisy. They cannot achieve their goals based on their own interests, which would never survive public scrutiny, so they enlist Catholic bishops and other well-meaning immigration-policy amateurs to front for them. I do not accuse the bishops of hypocrisy. How could their hearts not respond to the growing number of Hispanic faces they see in the pews, behind which are many humble, well-meaning, and hard-working people? However, as the bishops ponder their next venture into this complex and controversial topic, they should pay some attention to whom they have chosen as allies and whose interests are truly served by “comprehensive immigration reform.”

William Chip is an international attorney and a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Topics: Catholics