Well, the whole world has blown up, apparently, now that President Trump has actually done what he said he was going to do – start restricting immigration from certain countries, and limiting refugees from entering the country.
As a Catholic, I think it is incumbent upon me to try my best to separate politics from the moral questions that come into play with certain complex issues. I don’t think there is a strict right or wrong way to look at this. It’s complicated, there are a number of considerations that come into play, and in many ways this is a good example of looking at an issue and trying to come up with the least problematic of bad options.
So, let’s start with our moral obligation to others, just on a general basis: Every individual has the infinite dignity that comes with being made in the image and likeness of God. Every individual needs to be treated with this dignity and respect. Further, Jesus is very clear that we have an obligation to the poor. In particular, those in dire situations who are the victims of war or civil/social unrest, forced to leave their homes are people who desperately need our help. To completely turn our backs on these people is morally reprehensible.
Now, let’s move first to the administrative approach of the President’s order. It is clear that there are some deficiencies in the details here. Whatever one might think of the temporary ban of people from the seven specific countries and the stay on refugees, it is hard to imagine that it was intended that people in flight should be held indefinitely at an airport, or that anyone with an approved green card should be refused entry back into the country. It certainly does seem like there are some holes in the declaration as issued, and that corrective action is in order.
Now, we get into the muddy waters of conflicting moral questions: (1) Our obligations to help those in need of help, and (2) the safety and security of our nation. The Catechism itself recognizes (and the Pope – sympathetic to the plight of immigrants as much as any Pope has ever been – recently recognized) the authority of a nation to define its border and immigration policy. The Bible also recognizes the borders and governance of nations as being divinely ordained. While this doesn’t automatically suggest that a country can do whatever they want without there being moral implications, it does suggest there is latitude that is given to countries to make governing decisions they feel is appropriate.
The question is one of intent. In the medical field there is an issue of double-effect, when treatment for one condition could lead to the death of a fetus, or even the individual. If the intent is to treat the medical issue, and the intent is NOT to cause death, then a death caused by that treatment is tragic, but not morally problematic. Likewise, as a country, our leaders have primary duties and obligations, and the defense of our nation is at the very top of that list. This primary duty has always been, in traditional times, defense against a nation-aggressor. But times have changed. The real threat of terrorism, and terrorists themselves saying they plan on coming into our country to do us harm, has made the defense of our nation more complex, and almost by the terrorists’ own intent intermingled with the debate on how to deal with immigration questions in our country.
People are concerned, and rightly so, that the Executive Order may cause harm to innocent refugees who now have one less place to go. It is a difficult thing to say that “there is no room at the inn.” People also are concerned that there is a purposeful targeting of Muslims with the Executive Order. This also is a difficult question of intent. Nobody who is rational can deny that the threat of terrorism rests squarely on Islamic extremism. It can be a difficult thing to bifurcate the subset of perpetrators of evil from the whole set of the religion that they practice. These concerns are considerations in the debate, but in the end they cannot outweigh the more rational consideration of what is the right thing to do to protect our nation.
There is a clear and obvious example on a personal level that has been used many times before, but is worth repeating. As the father of my family, I have a lot of obligations. Setting aside the obligation to raise children who believe in God and to set them up as best I can to live a life that gets them to heaven, I also have obligations in the material world. Foremost among those obligations is to protect them as best I can. If I kill an attacker who wishes to kill or harm in a violent way my wife or children, this is a tragic obligation. But I also protect them in other direct ways, and in other passive ways. Firstly, I may choose where my house is to raise my family in a safer area. Some may see this as discriminatory or judgmental, because a safer neighborhood may look different from an unsafe one. It may also place more distance between us, so my ability to help make that neighborhood a better place to live is more difficult. That’s all too bad, but my primary moral obligation is to my family. My obligation may change if I were single and only have myself to worry about. But that is not the case. Secondly, I lock my doors. yes – I keep out those who I have not invited. Not because I hate everyone outside of my home, but because I don’t know who might come in, or their intent. People are free to come over, even uninvited, and make the case for why I should let them in. But it is up to me entirely who I let into my house. I may turn people away. I mean no ill will, and perhaps my criteria for selection is overly cautious and even discriminatory. But these considerations do not outweigh the assessment that this is what I must do to protect my family. Now, I may be misguided in some ways, and I may learn to relax my standards, but nothing I have done is morally wrong. (Now, this doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to offer aid and kindness to others. I need to do that – it is an obligation. But I will find other ways that do not breach the fundamental responsibility of protecting my family.)
This is directly analogous to our country and its borders. Those who claim it is not are not thinking reasonably, in my opinion.
So, good and honest people can disagree as to what is the right or wrong way to go about protecting our country. We can and should have a discussion about how we may be able to help people in other ways whom we otherwise refuse to let in. We may even have a reasonable discussion about the moral balance of the position we are taking, and learn and grow from it so that we find the proper moral balance wherein we maximize our ability to help and aid others without compromising the primary obligation of defense.
What I am seeing, mostly, at the moment is not rational argument. I am seeing horrible claims that if you worshiped Jesus on Sunday and you agree with the Executive Order, you are a hypocrite and un-Christian. [Most of these claims come from people who aren’t particularly religious] I’ve seen claims that you need to rip the Pro-Life sticker off your bumper if you agree with these immigration reforms. [Usually these posts are from people who aren’t Pro-Life, except apparently in the case of Syrian refugees]
The main issue is the hyperbole of all this:
Jimmy Carter suspended immigrants from Iran. Barack Obama (remember him?) suspended immigrants from Iraq. This may be on a wider scale, but it is not without precedent.
The suspensions are temporary. The idea is to ensure a vetting process sufficiently rigorous to better know who is coming into the country.
The suspension of Refugees is similar. The order does not eliminate an inflow of refugees. It puts the number (50,000) at approximately the levels prior to the previous couple years.
Yes, the countries are Muslim. But what are you going to do? It’s an unfortunate reality that these countries have produced terrorists. If anything, it seems more reasonable to argue that this order didn’t go far enough. Saudi Arabia, for example, is not on the list. Nor is Pakistan. If anything, the criticism might be that the countries selected are not internally consistent and other considerations were made that may have had more influence than it should have in our national security conversation.
The discussion is a good one, and Christians do need to step back and try and do whatever we can to make sure that our intent here is not to harm or discriminate, but to protect our country. In my opinion, it’s a bit sloppy and needs improvement, but the primary goal here is to protect our country. That there may be the “double-effect” of some harm to immigrants and refugees who could benefit from entry into our country is unfortunate, but it is not morally problematic because that is not the aim. It does mean we have an obligation to expedite our vetting, establish clear parameters for entry, and do everything we can to aid them in other ways in the meantime.