In a recent interview with a French magazine, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said it is wrong to use the gospel to defend illegal immigration. The reason many priests, bishops, and cardinals will not say so is because they are “afraid of being frowned upon, of being seen as reactionaries.”
Sarah is not afraid of that. “It is better to help people flourish in their culture than to encourage them to come to a Europe in full decadence,” he said. “It is a false exegesis to use the word of God to promote migration. God never wanted these heartbreaks.”
This is a radical thing to say, and no doubt Sarah will be criticized by people with acceptably liberal views on immigration. But his remarks get to the heart of an uncomfortable truth about illegal immigration, which is this: for many migrants, and especially for families and children now caught up in mass illegal entrance into the United States from Central America, it produces misery.
For some, it means death. Last week, an infant drowned in the Rio Grande when the overcrowded raft he was in capsized. Three others, two of them children, are feared dead. Days earlier, a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala fell ill and died shortly after arriving at a shelter for unaccompanied children. In December, two Guatemalan children, ages 7 and 8, died in Border Patrol custody.
For others, especially women, the journey north means being sexually assaulted by smugglers they paid to keep them safe. Others are extorted by criminal gangs. Still others are kidnapped and held for ransom, trafficked as sex slaves, or pressed into the service of drug cartels, transporting illegal narcotics over the border to pay off a debt or “tax” incurred simply by passing through cartel territory. In some cases, children are rented or sold to adult migrants seeking to present themselves as a “family unit” and thereby claim asylum.
On top of the perils of the journey itself, mass illegal border-crossing tears families apart. Most of the families showing up on the southwest border consist of a man traveling with one child. Many have wives and other children back in Central America, and have no idea how long it will be before they are reunited. Some, having arrived in the United States, regret the decision to leave home and wish they could go back but can’t because they are in too much debt to smugglers and loan sharks.
So when Sarah refers to “heartbreaks,” and says mass migration is a “new form of slavery,” he’s talking about a grim reality that many people, out of a misguided desire to been seen as compassionate, are unwilling to confront.
Our Leaders Neglect Border-Breaking For Personal Profit
That is not to minimize the conditions migrants are fleeing in their home countries. Central America is one of the most violent regions in the world, plagued by endemic poverty and corruption. Many families are willing to risk everything, including their children’s lives, to get out. Some have little choice but to leave or face certain death.
How unjust, then, for the United States to maintain a dysfunctional immigration court system that forces people to wait years for their asylum claims to be heard? Whatever one thinks of President Trump’s somewhat heavy-handed efforts to streamline the asylum process and reduce the 850,000-case backlog, at least he is trying to reform an outdated system that neither political party has wanted to touch for years.
Or consider that for the past 54 years America has had no viable guest worker program that would allow low-skilled laborers legally to enter the country, work, send money home to their families, then return safely to them after a set period. We don’t have such a system because U.S. employers would rather exploit cheap illegal labor for profit and U.S. politicians would rather been seen as compassionate than risk their careers protecting migrant workers.
This rank profiteering on the one hand, and sanctimonious virtue-signaling on the other, has defined our politics on immigration for half a century, irrespective of party. Whatever their motives, our governing elite do not have the best interests of foreign citizens in mind, even as the crisis on our southwest border deepens.
Nor do they have the best interests of the American people in mind. To be sure, many on the right want to restrict immigration, legal and illegal, for the wrong reasons. But those who worry that mass immigration hurts American workers are entirely correct. In his 2016 book, “We Wanted Workers,” Harvard economist George Borjas shows how large numbers of low-skilled immigrant workers drive wages down for low-skilled American workers, especially blacks and Hispanics.
That doesn’t mean there is no place in the American economy for low-skilled immigrants, but it does mean that our political leaders need to consider the effect those foreign workers would have on American workers, who should be their first priority.
Whatever the policy solution, mass illegal immigration isn’t something we should encourage, whether out of a misguided notion of Christian charity or a secular idea of compassion. That we have done so for this long, even in the face of mounting misery along our southwest border, is an indictment of our culture and a testament to the moral bankruptcy of our ruling elite.