This week the liberal presses throughout the world are decrying the "inhumane" treatment of illegal immigrants busted at the French port of Calais attempting to illegally enter the UK. As with most stories of this type, the emphasis is placed not on the fact that a substantial population is illegally squatting in a country and attempting to pass clandestinely into another one that does not want them, but rather on the "conditions" in French society that makes this type of behavior "necessary" on the part of the migrants. When illegals are busted, the French liberal presses are asking "What did we do wrong?"
Unchecked illegal immigration is a bane on any country, and it is illogical to tell these host countries that they need to permit unrestricted access to all manner of illegals from God knows where to come in for any reason. The media is trying to turn this crackdown into a human interest story by focusing on the poor conditions that these migrants were fleeing from when they came to Europe. Some fled starvation in war torn Somalia, others were seeking asylum from reprisals by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The unstated point is that we are all expected to feel so very sorry for these migrants and extend our sympathy to them in their quest to illegally enter other countries.
Let me return some sanity to this issue by pointing out that most countries have legal methods for persons to seek political asylum, and if such legal methods exist I can hardly see a justification for the type of clandestine, illegal operation these immigrants were attempting. Let's also be reminded that it is not as if the French police went out busting down doors and dragging these migrants out in the night; these immigrants were very publicly camping out in a tent city on the outskirts of Calais, in open and arrogant disregard for French law. The arrogance with which these illegal immigrants flaunt their crimes is staggering to me (and yes, sneaking into a country illegally is a crime just as much as sneaking into a house illegally would be). I am amazed at how they rally together by the thousands to protest for equal rights and care at the expense of the host country's taxpayers. When I see these rallies (like the one in Los Angeles a few years back), I stare at the TV flabbergasted and think, "Why doesn't the border guard surround this mob right now and start asking for Green Cards?"
But let's look at this problem rationally. Clearly, as the Catechism states, persons must have freedom to move and migrate to improve their lives and the lot of their family. It states:
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
So there is a right of persons to migrate, which is not in dispute. My dispute is with the way this right is absolutized in the modern world, and understood in a sense which no nation or kingdom has ever understood it in the past. Migration is not an absolute right that cannot be denied under any circumstances; in fact, migrants are obliged to render a certain duty towards their host country, the first of which (the CCC tells us) is to obey that country's laws. The very same paragraph quoted above goes on to say: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
An immigrant is obliged to share in the civic burdens of society and show gratitude towards their host country - but how can they do that if they violate the fundamental integrity of that nation's laws by violating those very laws they have a duty to uphold in the act of entering the country? It is like if I man were to kidnap a woman violently so that he could force her into marriage; how can a true marriage, built on love and mutual respect, be built if the very foundation of that union is based on fear and violence? An immigrant cannot enter the country illegally in flagrant defiance of the law and then claim that they are law-abiding persons. A law-abiding persons abide by laws, especially laws that dictate who can and cannot enter the country.
If we look back at Catholic (or rather I should say, secular medieval) tradition, we see that nowhere in history did kings, popes or prelates ever show the scruple they now show regarding the rights of immigrants. It was taken for granted in the Middle Ages that a king could close or open his borders as he saw fit. There were times when the Kings of England forbid anyone from leaving the isles (or from landing). There were many around who disagreed with these policies, but no pope or bishop ever denied that the king had a right to close his kingdom's borders if he so chose.
Likewise in ancient Rome, during the closing centuries of the Empire when the border was constantly under siege by Germanic invaders, we hear nothing of any bishop or pope lecturing Theodosius or Honorius on any natural inalienable right of the poor Germans to migrate into the more prosperous Roman domain. It was taken for granted in the ancient world and the Middle Ages that the ruler of the kingdom could decide, with absolute authority, who could and could not enter the realm. Exception was made for ecclesiastics, of course, and the only papal condemnations of these restrictions of movement comes when the kings tried to stop priests
from coming into their realms during various phases of history. But you would be hard pressed to show me an unmitigated right to immigrate in tradition.
The reason for this is that for most of European history, the kingdom was regarded as the extension of a house; in many cases it literally was, if the nobles and the king were all of one bloodline. People swore allegiance to a personal king and saw him as a father figure, and the nation, the patria
, was the extension of king's paternal authority. What the house was to the father the kingdom was to the king (at least in theory); hence the literal Latin for nation or kingdom is patria
, or "fatherland."
Therefore, to sneak into the domain of the king illegally was tantamount to breaking into a private home. Just as a private individual has the right to bar from or admit into his home whomever he chose and on whatever conditions, so too did the kingdom have this authority with regards to its own borders.
I know many will say that the concept of the nation as an extension of the king's patrimony has passed away with monarchy, but it is still true that in the democratic society the state is still the "commonwealth"; i.e., the common inheritance of all. In effect, the situation is now that the nation represents the common inheritance of all
its citizens, which is passed on and established by the sacrifices, legislation and labor of the prior generations. Just because monarchy has regrettably passed away does not mean we should stop seeing the nation as a type of "house" or extended family. Just as a person has a right to defend his own home from unwanted intruders, so a nation as a right (even a duty) to protect its own borders - to secure its own "house."
To put this in context and bring it back to immigration: Let's say I break into your house. Let's say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, "I've made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors. I've done all the things you don't like to do. I'm hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).
Now, here is the insanity in all this: according to those who support unrestricted illegal immgration, you are required
to let me stay in your house. You are required
to add me to your family's insurance plan. You are required
to educate my kids. You are required
to provide other benefits to me and to my family (my husband will do all of your yard work because he is also hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part).
If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my RIGHT
to be there. It's only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I'm just trying to better myself. I'm a hard-working and honest, person, except for well, you know, I did break into your house. And oh yeah, I get a free education, where you have to pay your own way through college. I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of cold, uncaring, selfish, prejudiced, and bigoted behavior.
Oh yeah, I DEMAND
that you learn MY LANGUAGE
so you can communicate with me. And don't forget to make sure your forms are in MY
language - I need to understand them...
This is absolute insanity. The state has a perfectly legitimate right to admit or not admit whom it chooses for whatever reason (so long as it has some
legal process for getting people in, but even then I would say it would be justified in restricting immigration considerably).
We also have to stop being duped by those who pull the rug over our eyes by focusing only on the human interest element of these stories. I know
a Mexican immigrant from Tiajuana will probably be able to find a better life in the Midwest; I have no doubt
that the Somalis arrested in France were fleeing poverty and war. These things may be true - but we cannot continue to focus narrowly on the plight of the individual immigrant and ignore the cumulative impact of millions of them
. We are talking about movements of persons in the millions and millions, movements of populations not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire. Any nation that failed to see this problem cumulatively would be acting at its own peril; I'd say ignoring this problem would be suicidal. The Romans were ultimately unable to fight off the Germanic invasions, but they would have been even less effective had they saw each German as someone just trying to better himself and his family; at least the Romans had the common sense to see unwanted illegal immigration for what it is: nothing other than a foreign invasion
I also hope Catholics stop being duped by the argument that just because we are a "nation of immigrants" means that we must grant unrestricted and unlimited access to all immigrants until the end of time, as if there is no difference between settling an untamed wilderness and coming to a depressed economy with an already overflooded labor market; as if there is no cultural distinction between a largely homogenous European-Christian influx in the 19th century and the Muslim, Hindu and non-European immigration we see today; as if the fact that the verdant fields and limitless forests of frontier America were enough to sustain the immigrants of the 1800's means that the overtaxed, debt-ridden populace of the 21st century is able to accomodate an unlimited number of non-productive beneficiaries of state handouts indefinitely. Don't even go there with that "nation of immigrants" nonsense.
Well, I've ranted long enough about this. The bottom line is that if you want to come in, obey the law and do it by the book. That's what any decent person expects of someone entering their home, and if we really believe that our country is a Republic (res publica
- public thing or common work) then we'd be utterly insane not to expect the same of those pounding at our door.
I'd like to hear especially from some of the readers in the UK - how do you feel about hordes of illegal immigrants crowding the shores of Brittany just waiting for their chance to sneak into your