How many migrants and refugees the United States should accept and how many it should send away is a hard question. Politically progressive Americans concentrated in affluent coastal enclaves see few problems in admitting large numbers, but low-skilled native workers report more complex viewpoints. Clearly some immigrants, whether escaping poverty or as refugees fleeing direct dangers, should be received, but how many is hotly contested.
Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life recently hosted a panel on the subject of immigration in the United States with National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Walter Kim and Mark Seitz, Roman Catholic Bishop of El Paso. It also included Sabrina Rodriguez, an immigration reporter for Politico and Loren, a Georgetown student and DACA recipient. Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life co-director Kim Daniels of Georgetown facilitated the panel.
None of the nuance that makes immigration debate complex was present during the panel. Immigration can be an intractable issue; some see a humanitarian crisis that needs as much attention as possible, others a source of economic instability and a security liability. All of these perspectives matter and there’s middle ground to be found, but not with the kind of platitudes on display with the webinar.
Leaders of Christian organizations being farther to the political Left of their congregations isn’t a new phenomenon, as IRD’s Mark Tooley has discussed regarding immigration. The United Methodist Church, for example in “its policy statements officially (although unbeknownst to most members) favors non-enforcement of current immigration law and full entitlement benefits for all immigrants.”
But despite the preference for some religious elites for a far-left stance, immigration is an example where honest Christians can have legitimate disagreement. As the late Catholic cleric and writer Richard John Neuhaus articulated, “Christian citizens can and do disagree on specific policies, resulting in different political alignments” but Christian theology “does not provide directives of immediate applicability to policy questions on which people of good faith, guided by reason and conscience, can come to different conclusions.”
Immigration’s prudential reality as a complicated policy decision instead of a cut-and-dry morality makes the Georgetown panel look at best misleading and at worst manipulative. Against his political opponents, Seitz said that “maybe it’s time to stop politicizing these issues and begin Christianizing them, because it seems that many of us who consider ourselves Christians have pretty well set aside what our faith should be telling us about these issues… We’ve just got to start living as though we really believe what [God] says.”
Clearly Seitz believes all that stops advocates of lower immigration numbers from agreement with him is an inauthentic theology.
Walter Kim offered similar bromides.
“The Bible is a story of migration,” the NAE official stated, citing examples of Abraham in Genesis 12 and the Jews leaving Egypt to eventually arrive in Israel and so “to be a Christian is to be a migrant.” Kim volunteered the experience of his own father fleeing communist China and for Korea, where he earned a medical degree before immigrating to the United States. There, Kim described the welcoming Christians in his community that gave him an impression of Christ.
It’s great that Kim could come to America, but his description of the Bible and his personal story don’t warrant a massive increase in the number of migrants allowed into the country. While there are undoubtedly many instances of biblical characters moving around geographically, this isn’t a divine injunction to cease enforcing borders. It’s wonderful that he had welcoming neighbors, but he’s conflating the kind actions of individuals with the macro-level policies of the world’s biggest economy. By all means, we should welcome immigrants in this country, but that doesn’t mean we have to abolish ICE as some on the Left argue.
On top of that, there is irony that Kim’s own father became a doctor before immigrating to the U.S. while he urges Americans to admit as many immigrants as possible. Highly in-demand professionals like doctors are prioritized in the immigration line because it’s assured that they will contribute more to our nation than they consume. If everyone on the southern border was an engineer, doctor or lawyer there wouldn’t be as much concern about how they could detrimentally hold down wages for other low-skill workers.
Maybe the strangest element of immigration discourse though is the way usual liberals suddenly adopt libertarian-style Koch brothers Cato Institute arguments for why open borders are essential. “Immigrants form the backbone of our economy” said Kim, and without them we can’t function. Without getting into the weeds economically, mass migration probably is good for overall GDP growth, but huge numbers of low-skill workers can crowd out native low-skill workers, hurting those already at the bottom.
Immigration is a tough debate, but platitudes won’t bring us any closer to finding an answer.