G.K. Chesterton famously wrote:
Elsewhere, Chesterton quipped: “every heresy is a truth taught out of proportion.”
When it comes to President Trump and immigration, it often seems he can be his own worst enemy. His laudable and genuine belief that our leaders have a duty to protect the interests of American citizens can sometimes obscure another important truth: namely, that every person, regardless of circumstances or place of birth, has inherent dignity.
The President’s flippant and crass comment yesterday on underdeveloped nations is now being used to paint his policy efforts as demonic and racist.
Is this fair?
I know, I know…he didn’t attack people. He was criticizing the conditions of certain countries—countries that everyone admits have problems, hence the reason for the visa lottery system to begin with. And ok, he now says he didn’t say it. And the media hates him. And Hillary called millions of Americans “deplorables” … etc. etc.
Here’s the point: Our immigration system is broken and badly in need of reform. And part of that reform requires debating properly the purpose and goal of immigration policy to begin with. How many immigrants should we allow? Should it be exclusively merit based? What about refugees? From any country? Who should be given priority? Who should be excluded? What about those already here? And those brought illegally as kids?
We cannot have a sensible and civil conversation on the prudence of such policies if we don’t regularly affirm the very first principle, namely that every human person, regardless of birthplace, is of inestimable worth, dignity, and value.
Does this mean America must allow every immigrant or refugee in? Of course not. The Church has made clear that wealthy nations, to the extent they are able, have an obligation to welcome the stranger. But the Church has also made clear that borders are sensible, and enforcing them is moral and legitimate.
Furthermore, despite our great wealth, we cannot ignore the impact of certain immigration policies on large portions of our own country. Many of our own citizens have suffered economic and cultural catastrophe through no fault of their own. They have equal dignity and worth, and their lives ought to matter too as we weigh policy options.
So once the dust settles, where are we left?
President Trump scheduled the termination of the Obama Executive Order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for March 5, 2018—asking Congress to come up with a permanent fix. This policy prevented the deportation of people who entered the country illegally as minors, often with their parents. Many of them are over 18 today, but have been in the United States for most of their lives.
Democrats have pushed hard for a “DACA-only” legislative fix that provides a pathway to citizenship for these childhood arrivals, and legal status for their parents. But there’s absolutely no way a DACA-only bill will pass the House, much less get signed by President Trump.
In fact, Democrats didn’t even try to do this in 2010 when Obama was president and they had supermajorities in the House and Senate!*
Republicans likewise won’t support a DACA-only bill. Instead, President Trump has called for a compromise that would include a series of reforms in exchange for a permanent DACA fix, including such things as: ending the visa lottery, restricting chain migration to only nuclear families, and new funding for the wall on the southern border.
Of course, a compromise of this type will require at least 9 Democratic votes in the Senate. And that’s going to require both sides to work together, including some brave Democrats who, like Trump, are willing to ignore the extremists in their own party.
Any deal on immigration is guaranteed to upset some people. You and I both know there are deep divisions that cannot be perfectly reconciled. Sadly, there are partisan voices already attempting to score political points, putting a potential solution in jeopardy.
But we don’t have to pretend to solve every single problem with immigration all at once. Let’s come together to secure the border, and approve some long overdue reforms to our immigration system—including a permanent fix for DACA.
The best reform will be one which appeals to the timeless truths that a majority of Americans hold dear.
A reform that reminds everyone that laws have consequences and often require trade-offs, and that living in solidarity with our fellow Americans sometimes means immigration rules and limits are necessary.
That America is a nation of immigrants but also of laws.
And that every person, in every country, is a child of God.
*Note: A previous edition of this post stated Barack Obama was president and Democrats had supermajorities in the House and Senate in 2006. That date has since been corrected to 2010.