Last Crusade: Trespassers and Refugees

We are investigating the question of what the proper Christian is obligated by his love of Christ to support on the matter of illegal immigration. That a Christian nation has some moral obligation to help refugees in need is clearly announced in Scripture: but this is not the sole word the Scripture speaks on the issue.

For the Scripture also makes it clear that those who are immigrants or sojourners in a land not their own also have obligations:

  • And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (Jer 29:7).
  • Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil (Rom 13:1-4).
  • Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, (Titus 3:1).
  • Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.( 1 Peter 2:13-16).
  • Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set. (Prov 22:28)

The landmarks and boundary stones mentioned in Proverbs include the borders and boundaries of nations.

And thus the scriptures promotes two clear principles: the first is to be generous and just to the sojourners and foreigners among you; and the second is to obey the law.

The sojourners and foreigners among you bear this responsibility no less than you.

Scripture means, if nothing else, that illegal immigration has no support in Christian teaching.

There is really no such thing as an “illegal immigrant.” That is a contradiction in terms, like “collective rights” or “political correctness” a phrase where the first word contradicts rather than modifies the second. If a man is in a permanent resident legally, he is an immigrant. If he is there illegally, he is a trespasser.

Even if pity and mercy were the overriding motive, the duty of the secular magistrate requires law and order be upheld.

Consider that Paul’s words were written to command Christians to obey the Imperial power of pagan Rome even as that Power was engaged in the unjust persecution, dispossession, torture and mass murder of Christians.

If the faithful Christian is to obey edicts of a mad tyrant like Nero, how much more loyal must be his obedience to laws his elected representatives enacted.

There are certain laws which, if a nation does not enforce, she is a nation in name only. Preventing the trespass of one’s own borders is one such law.  The secular authority who does not enforce any border has no real secular authority.

For better or worse, the faithful Catholic, in addition to consulting scripture and his own conscience as informed by the Holy Spirit, must also consult the magisterial teaching of the Holy Church, as defined in the Catechism. The pertinent passage at CCC 2241 reads thus:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens. 

In many circumstances the two principles come into conflict, and a balancing point that partly satisfies both must be found.

Where shall the balance point be found? Reasonable men can differ on where the balance rests, and a just a charitable debate must be held.

Anyone who argues that Christian charity requires neither walls nor borders to surround any nation merely ignores half the Christian teaching on the issue. Anyone who argues that Christian nations have no duty whatsoever to aid honestly needy refugees ignores the other half.

Each one finds it rhetorically convenient to pretend the only option to their extreme and simplistic reading of Christian teaching is the opposite simplistic extreme. This is done so that any argument at variance with theirs can be met, not with a counterargument, but with an accusation.

These are unbalanced ideas. To embrace either is to depart from Christian thought.

Whether they know it or not, whether they admit it or not, these two extremist errors act in concert to conspire against the wise and prudent moderation which they flank.

You can have simplicity, which fits on a bumper sticker and makes for lazy and loud internet rhetoric; or you can have prudence, which fit reality and makes for delicate, uncomfortable but just conclusions. Pick one.

Please note that the first principle enunciated in the catechism included specifics often overlooked.

First, the refugee must be seeking security and a means of livelihood not found in his home country. This does not mean that if he as a poor job in his home nation, but a better job is available in our nation, we must welcome him. It means that if no job is available in his home nation: if he is not starving then whether we welcome him or not is a matter of prudent politics, not a Christian duty of charity to the needy.

Likewise, this does not mean if our laws make him more safe and more free ergo he is welcome. The duty to welcome him as a refugee only applies when safety and freedom are impossible in his homeland, and, even then, we are not obligated to welcome him as a citizen, and make him one of us. Nor does it forbid a Christian nation from sending the refugee home again once his nation is no longer a threat to his safety and freedom.

Second, ‘to the extent they are able’ is a phrase whose application involves more than one reasonable prudential judgment. Should a nation tens of trillions of dollars in debt go further into debt to support aliens from overseas? Should a nation at war with another invite refugees into the homeland without vetting them?

Finally, and more to the point, the Christian teaching does not limit the Christian nation to merely one small set of possible solutions. The Christian teaching does not necessarily mean we must offer any refugees space in our own backyards. Sending soldiers to conquer and pacify areas in their barbaric lands, or, more to the point, ceasing to send bombs and arms to once-civilized areas unwise overseas adventuring have turned barbaric, will fulfill the duty of charity owed to refugees, if conditions warrant.


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