Today I am wearing flip-flops for the first time this year. They are brand new flip-flops, and a little slick. Unfortunately I didn’t know this when I shoved them on my feet this morning and headed down the stairs in a hurry to get to work. My feet slid right out from under me, and I bumped down maybe four or five steps on my butt before I could grab the railing and stop myself. Yeah. It was exciting.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the immigration issue the last few days, mostly because of what I’ve been hearing in the news. A lot of my food for thought, however, has been coming from Catholic Church teaching, particularly in Gaudium et Spes, one of the major Church documents to come out of Vatican II. The part I’ve been reflecting on the most comes under #66, part of the section on Economic Development:
“Justice and equity likewise require that the mobility, which is necessary in a developing economy, be regulated in such a way as to keep the life of individuals and their families from becoming insecure and precarious. When workers come from another country or district and contribute to the economic advancement of a nation or region by their labor, all discrimination as regards wages and working conditions must be carefully avoided. All the people, moreover, above all the public authorities, must treat them not as mere tools of production but as persons, and must help them to bring their families to live with them and to provide themselves with a decent dwelling; they must also see to it that these workers are incorporated into the social life of the country or region that receives them. Employment opportunities, however, should be created in their own areas as far as possible.”
The idea that we could have a law that would make offering a cup of water to an illegal immigrant a felony makes me feel sick. It seems like a textbook case of an unjust law. But all the ideas I’ve been reading about are lacking in one (or both) of two ways. The first is that they don’t get at the root of the problem, which is that there are large numbers of people living in desperate poverty who are willing to do just about anything to make a better life for themselves and their children. The second is that immigrants are people, for whom Christ died, endowed with inalienable dignity. They aren’t trash to be discarded, or a poisonous contamination to be avoided. They’re people. The only ethical response to another person is love. For any solution to the problems of illegal immigration (and it is a problem!) to either work or be ethically acceptable it would have to both work towards making immigration unneccessary, and treat those who do immigrate (regardless of the legality of that act) with the dignity that their humanity deserves.
So how do we do this? I have no earthly idea. But it’s a starting place.