Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Neighbors

Bishop Grahmann of Dallas has ruffled some feathers by speaking negatively about the proposed ordinance for the city of Farmer's Branch, Texas, which will forbid property owners from renting to illegal immigrants. Some Catholics who heard a recent homily apparently didn't like the way the bishop equated the plight of illegal immigrants to that of Mary and Joseph when, in crowded Bethlehem, they couldn't find a place to stay. Of course, the situations don't exactly coincide; Mary and Joseph weren't being prohibited by law from renting a room at the inn, there just weren't any rooms available. But as much as it pains me to have to agree with the bishop on this one, I don't really have any choice in the matter.

The situation in America today in regards to illegal immigration is complex and unjust. On the one hand, people from other countries don't have the right to show up here and demand the goods and services to which American citizens are entitled. It is an offense against justice for them to do so.

But on the other hand, companies and employers don't have the right to recruit employees from across the border, in many cases colluding with those who facilitate their illegal entry, in order to bypass American employment laws, including laws governing minimum wages and mandatory payroll taxes. Further, these companies don't have the right to put unfair pressure on the political system to ensure that those who are charged with enforcing the laws against illegal immigration will refuse to do so. Even more, these companies don't have the right to mount huge public opinion campaigns designed to convince the rest of us that we'll be paying $20 a head for lettuce if we don't turn a blind eye toward their importation and exploitation of illegal workers.

It's easy to focus on the less powerful lawbreakers in this scenario and ignore the powerful ones. It's easy to make scapegoats of the families of immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who are here due to this situation. But I blame them less than I blame the system, which covertly encourages them to come here and only makes a show of attempting to deal with the problems arising from too much immigration occurring at far too rapid a pace.

We could put a stop to illegal immigration in America, if we wanted to. We could close our southern border, either by building a physical wall or by stationing soldiers along it. We could restrict immigration more carefully, and be far more ruthless in expelling those who enter legally but then overstay their legal welcome. We could deport all those caught here who are here against the law, no excuses, no exceptions. We could change the law that grants citizenship to those born here regardless of the status of their parents, ending the 'anchor baby' phenomenon once and for all.

If we wanted to.

But apparently we don't want to, at least those of us who own or run huge corporations which rely on the cost savings of employing illegals to keep the stockholders happy with promises of endless profit increases and ever greater financial rewards.

The rest of us do have some options, though. We can work for some of the changes I mentioned above; in particular, we can insist that those who come here illegally and then continue to break our laws should be sent back to their home countries at once. For those who have been here some time, who really do want to be Americans, we can consider showing mercy for their original infraction in exchange for the promise of assimilation, including an insistence that they learn our common language for their good as well as our own, and for the sharing of our burdens as well as our benefits, particularly in the form of equal taxation.

We are supposed to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, after all. The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us that our neighbors aren't always the people we want them to be. I sympathize with the people of Farmer's Branch for wanting to take on themselves the job of enforcing immigration law that the rightful authorities just won't do, but in the end all they'll succeed in doing is turning their town into a giant gated community; a grand, but ultimately empty gesture in a country that refuses to consider realistic ways to solve the problem of illegal immigration while remembering to be merciful to the people who already live among us.

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