Since the election of President Donald Trump, American and Mexican bishops have issued statement after statement about border enforcement and migration. Unfortunately, each of their pronouncements is more heated and unhelpful than the last.
When the Archdiocese of Mexico City accused Mexican businessmen of “treason” for supporting Donald Trump’s border wall, I wrote an open letter to the Mexican bishops. By publicly shaming their flock at the outset, these bishops were squandering an opportunity for leadership. I begged them to reconsider.
Similarly, when my friend Steve Bannon expressed his opinion about DACA, several Church leaders attacked him publicly. When they did so, they showed their failure to grasp a point Bannon made in the first place:
When it comes to policy issues like these, we’re all equals who deserve a hearing, and a bishop is just “another guy with an opinion”—not a moral authority who must be obeyed on pain of sin.
Laypeople Have a Duty to Lead the Border Debate, Not Bishops
Bannon’s argument was straight out of the Catechism. It’s the distinction between
Bishops are meant to lead laymen like you, me, and Steve Bannon by painting the bright-red lines of faith and morals that we are bound to follow. Laymen can’t dissent from these principles and still consider themselves Catholics in any meaningful sense.
Laymen have a duty to take the lead in Christianizing the world around us in everything we do, working always toward a humane culture that is hospitable to our fellowmen. Taking our cues from the timeless teachings of the Church, we should robustly debate how best to apply them in business, politics, art, and activism.
When bishops throw the full weight of their moral authority around, recklessly applying it to prudential policy questions, they discourage us from fulfilling our duty as laypeople to engage in the kind of reasoned, respectful debate that is so needed today.
I don’t even agree with Bannon’s position on DACA. But it’s acceptable for him to express it. What is absolutely unacceptable is that Catholic laymen can’t seem to have a respectful conversation on prudential questions of policy without their own shepherds attempting to shut down the debate with moral condemnations.
Imagine if bishops were to do the same on absolute moral issues like abortion and natural sexuality—as they should! When was the last time we heard a bishop aggressively intervene in the midst of a discussion on LGBT identity politics to slam a layman on the liberal side of the debate?
Secure Borders and Clear Migration Policy: Toward a More Humane Future
Here’s my brief, good-faith effort to set aside all the heated rhetoric and restart the border conversation in a more humane, respectful, and truly Catholic way.
First, I am thankful that President Trump has made it a priority to secure the border between the United States and Mexico, and to implement mandatory verifications of worker eligibility in the United States.
Just like Americans, I believe Mexicans have good reason to see the wisdom of these policies.
For too long, the border has been controlled not by elected governments, but by violent gangs and by people smugglers, who abuse vulnerable people on both sides. Thousands of Mexicans have died in the chaos. Americans have suffered too.
The people of both our nations have also struggled economically. When Mexicans enter the United States illegally to find work, they can’t appeal to our labor and safety laws. Instead, they find themselves trapped in an underground economy that takes advantage of migrants and undercuts American workers’ wages.
Together with a Strong Border and E-Verity, DACA Makes Both America and Mexico Great Again
The economic reality of foreign workers in the United States has existed for so long that it raises another policy question: The status of Dreamers, and the continuation of DACA.
Dreamers were raised here, they were educated here, they married here, and they work here. Their culture, their friends, and their coworkers are American. In many cases, even their spouses are American, and not even of Mexican descent.
I have Mexican friends, and I have American Dreamer friends whose parents migrated from Mexico some twenty years ago. I can tell you, these Dreamers are not Mexicans. They are Americans.
I was glad to see President Trump make a similar observation when he recently tweeted, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?”
Since Dreamers are Americans in fact, it is only right that they should be Americans by law.
As an American and a Catholic layman, I feel it’s my duty to begin this dialogue. I hope my Catholic brothers and sisters both in Mexico and America will join me. We shouldn’t be aiming for each other’s throats. We should aim for the common good, and a win-win solution that benefits both the people of Mexico and the people of the United States.
Each of our great nations has the right to control its border. And when we do, we defend the rights of our people. A secure border and a mandatory employee verification system for workers in the United States will move both our nations toward a much more humane future.