Can Catholics support a border wall?
President Trump is set to deliver a primetime address from the Oval Office tonight. The focus will be his proposal for a barrier on our southern border. Remember… this is the reason for the partial government shutdown. The President is requesting $5.6 billion for a wall/fence/barrier, and Democrats are refusing to compromise. Pelosi and Schumer have said they won’t allow a penny for the “wall.”
So who is right? Is a wall necessary? Is it effective? Moral?
Answer: Barriers of all types are commonly used for security everywhere in the world, including houses, properties, and even nations. In fact, we already have wall/fencing on nearly 700 miles of our southern border — approved and funded by Republicans and Democrats via the Secure Fence Act in 2006 and 2012.
DID YOU KNOW: The Secure Fence Act was originally approved by Senators Obama, Clinton…and yes, even Chuck Schumer.
The real question isn’t “should we build a wall” — but rather, should we finish it?
So what’s the problem?
The debate over the wall involves a lot of political posturing. Democrats want to harm Trump and keep him from delivering on a key campaign promise. But there’s more. Many progressives, including newly elected Democratic leaders, are calling for open borders, the abolition of ICE, and the end of laws that prevent the movement of people in and out of America — for any reason.
Nancy Pelosi says a wall “sends the wrong message” to outsiders. And she says the proposed wall is too “expensive.” Setting aside the irony of Pelosi criticizing the cost of any government program, the proposed border barrier would make up only 0.11% of spending in this year’s federal budget. Not 11%. Not 1.1%. But… 0.11%.
So is a border barrier effective?
According to experts who are responsible for defending our border, a wall/barrier is critical — both to prevent chaos at the border, but also for national security. Further, the current unpredictability and lack of enforcement at the border has emboldened sex traffickers, ‘coyotes’ who exploit families and children, drug trafficking, and even terrorists. We expect President Trump will emphasize the humanitarian consequences of our current porous border in his address tonight.
Of course a wall is certainly not a fix-all. These same experts have explained that virtual monitoring, drones, cameras, and more are equally important. Finally, many illegal immigrants living in America today arrived not via border crossing, but by overstaying their visas. So while a wall is important, it alone will not solve the chaos of our current immigration problem.
But the biggest question for Catholics to consider: Is a fence or wall “immoral”?
Walls and fences are obviously not, by definition, immoral. The answer depends on their purpose. With respect to walls to restrict immigration, a wall/fence/barrier can be perfectly legitimate if its aim is to establish order.
Our Bishops, citing the Catechism, argue that prosperous nations like ours must welcome foreigners to the extent we are able. But they also explicitly justify the use of security measures to protect the common good:
The second duty [of governments] is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right: ‘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.’ Catholic Catechism, 2241.
OUR TAKE: Immigration policy in America is broken. And until we get serious about enforcing our existing laws, immigration reform will never happen. Too many Americans, rightly in our opinion, are reluctant to compromise on “paths to legalization” when they know that our borders remain unsecure.
We support a big wall… with lots of secure gates. We want and welcome immigrants seeking to come to America to work, assimilate, and pursue the American dream. But we need a secure and orderly process to achieve this goal. Immigrants wanting to come to America should not be tempted by a dangerous illegal border crossing.
Finally, debates over the number and type (“skilled vs. unskilled”) of immigrants that we welcome will continue to be a big part of this debate — and people will have different answers for these questions. It’s important to point out that prioritizing the needs of existing American citizens does not make you immoral, racist, or bigoted.
The same Catholic principle of solidarity that obligates us to welcome the foreigner also obligates us to care for our fellow citizens. How to balance these obligations requires prudence. And good Catholics can and will disagree on how to best resolve these priorities.
The present chaos on our southern border demands action, and our elected representatives must not drag this out any longer.
President Trump is right to bring this important question to the American people.
We look forward to his address tonight.
P.S. After you watch the presidential address tonight, send me an email with your thoughts.