Immigration and the Family

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky (bio - articles - email) | Sep 01, 2016

In the Book of Genesis, when God created man in his image and ordered man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply,” He implicitly established the family as the foundational social unit. Communities, cities, and nations subsequently have been built upon that basic structure and share in the same rights and responsibilities in promoting and protecting family/community life. In particular, they share an inherent obligation to guard against unjust aggressors and intruders.

We all have borders. Children are taught to stay within the borders of the family property, close to their families for safety. Non-family members, such as mailmen and appliance repairmen, are allowed to cross the borders of our families in an orderly and customary way. Those who violate our borders—or, once inside, fail to observe our customs, written or unwritten—are intruders. In some cases, such as burglaries—they are guilty of vandalism and theft. And it would be just to use force to protect ourselves. In other cases, the intruders are more benign, merely pesky, as in the case of squatters: trespassers taking advantage of unattended property.

In virtuous communities (remember small towns in the 1950s?) locks are not necessary for the doors. But in most communities today, locks and even security systems are needed to protect the household from intruders. Depending upon the risk—in relation to prominent persons and high ranking government officials, or highly valued property—even armed guards are necessary and for many they are normal.

A nation is like a family home—with, of course, noteworthy differences. Borders bring order to the nation, and it is perfectly reasonable to be attentive to the security of their borders. When the risk of abusive intruders is slight, there is little need for locks on the door, little need for strict border control procedures (e.g., historically, our border with Canada). If the risk associated with the entry of illegal immigrants is high (drug running, pursuit of economic opportunities at the expense of host citizenry, wholesale lawlessness, etc.) there is a much greater need for border control.

The policies for managing orderly immigration laws varies according to circumstances. In communities there are economies of scale (a higher number of people) associated with sustaining an economic infrastructure. Without violating the borders of one's personal property, a community association may desire that more families enter into the community to share the costs: electricity, water supply, sewer system. But when an existing economic infrastructure risks overload, it may be time to limit entry into the community of homeowners.

Similarly a nation may require an increase of orderly immigration as a means to reduce economic costs and to improve an economy, but without "taking the jobs" or displacing native workers. During the settlement of the American expanse in the 19th century, for example, the need for immigrants was obvious. Job opportunities may actually increase with immigration. Migratory labor to handle seasonal harvesting work is common in many nations. And if a farm community is to prosper, farmers need people in their small towns to pump gas and provide groceries. Immigration to fill these jobs do not “steal jobs,” but actually helps sustain existing jobs. Immigrants may be more inclined to take these jobs, while the children of farmers emigrate in their own way: to college; city jobs; etc.

With a declining fertility rate in the West, and in the US in particular, this is no small matter. The fertility rate for the U.S. is about at the 2.1%, the threshold for the population replacement rate. But discounting immigration—legal and illegal—the fertility rate is only 1.6%. This means that the US needs immigrants to sustain a steady population as well as to prop up consumer spending in the long term and provide for economic growth. Indeed, it seems clear we could use the services of even more (legal) immigrants, just as central Italy could use a bigger population in the rural areas to fill the empty villas. In parts of France, some of the villages are literally devoid of people because the collapsing fertility rate. Similarly, in Germany, the reckless acceptance of all refugees is obviously permitted to counter Germany’s dangerous population decline. It doesn’t seem likely today that formerly Catholic Spain will ever recover from its extremely low fertility rate.

Because the US is also a country with a dangerously low fertility rate (although not as low as Europe), the problem of illegal immigration in the U.S is not so much one of "stealing jobs"—although that can't be ruled out in many cases. It is a problem of lawlessness and the refusal of many immigrants to assimilate. Illegal immigration is "theft" to the extent its lawlessness becomes the norm—with the breakdown of order—and a culture is degraded by refusal to embrace the existing culture, or civilization as we know it.

A community may desire more inhabitants for economic purposes (building up the tax base of the community) or just plain neighborliness. Of course, if the “immigrant” families are improperly vetted (a vetting process can happen formally or informally) it’s possible for folks to move in and trash the neighborhood by ignoring the rules of the community association. Resentment and even alarm rightly ensue. But if the community is quiet because the inhabitants are squirreled away in their basements occupied with internet porn, a raucous party of the extended family of immigrants may be far healthier. If a community is already trashed and dysfunctional, it might actually be better off with such "intruders."

We’re led then, of course, to the great issues of the "culture wars." Is our culture worth protecting from illegal immigration or would we be better off if we kept the immigration—including the illegal variety—spigot flowing? Does illegal immigration hasten the degradation of the culture over the long term? Is the lawlessness of illegal immigration as serious as the lawlessness evident throughout the existing culture? Such considerations are worthy of intelligent and robust argument.

The refugee problem is an added twist. A neighbor may graciously receive the victim of an abusive spouse, but usually not for the long term. It may be more appropriate to direct the person and the family to a public shelter. If the entire family is given refuge, it is easy to imagine that they are bringing considerable emotional baggage with them. As a result, accepting such “refugees” puts the host family at risk. Alternatively, the victim(s) may be justly directed to live with kinsfolk, a far more natural solution. Finally, it is possible that an alleged victim may be lying in an attempt to take advantage of the generosity of neighbors or the community.

Analogously, it is normally praiseworthy when nations accept refugees, if the reasons for seeking refuge are legitimate. But even here there could be abuse when a nation becomes a target of refugees because the public welfare benefits are better than those available in a more natural neighboring country. In general, in the family of nations, refugees should be accepted by their cultural “next of kin”—neighboring countries with similar ethnic and cultural traits. These variations suggest a nation need not accept every refugee that comes knocking at the door.

The problems our nation faces, brought about by decades of virtually unrestrained illegal immigration, need an intelligent debate for solutions. In invoking the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), the debate should refer to the rights and responsibilities of families. With the family as the model, a healthy debate will be attentive to the legitimate needs of immigrants. But the debate must also avoid the arrogant foolishness of accusing individuals and nations of lack of charity for simply safeguarding their families and properties from unjust intruders.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. Father Pokorsky also serves as a director and treasurer of Human Life International.
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  • Posted by: loumiamo - Sep. 01, 2016 12:56 PM ET USA

    Fr. Pokorsky, I hope u like it here in the U.S., I hope u have no aspirations ever to serve at the Vatican, cause clear and concise writing like this will never get you there. Also, you better keep an eye out, don't get caught unawares when you soon find a rip in your permanent record.