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BY the Editors
Our high levels of immigration may seem unfair, undesirable
or unfortunate — but they are also inevitable. Wherever a wealthy country
filled with opportunity shares a border with a Third World country filled with
desperation, immigration will be an issue.
If we want to know what a Christian response to the
immigration problem should be, we can just imagine what it would be like if we
couldn’t get adequate health care, education or nutrition for our children in
America. Suddenly, Canada would have the border problem, we would be the
illegal aliens — and we would have no doubt of what Canada’s response should
This is a problem, in fact, that has been faced by America
before. When the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” were
coming to America in droves last century, we didn’t find ways to turn as many
of them back as possible — we found ways to let as many of them in as possible.
Plenty of people worried, though. An 1889 New York Times
editorial worried that immigrants would work for lower wages have higher
fertility rates, and practice a “backward” religion: Catholicism. But the
French-Canadians that they were writing about didn’t hold on to their French
for very long — and now we are a nation desperately in need of more faith, and
As the boats came in from Europe, there was a fear then that
so many immigrants would come, they would eventually outnumber the natives. We
wouldn’t have American towns with immigrants in them so much as we would have
immigrant towns that happen to be in America.
In the neighborhood where the Register’s editorial offices
are located, those fears have been realized.
Our offices are in a neighborhood that is quiet, respectable
— and mostly Italian. The phone book has some Ericksons and some Watkinses in
it, but from Albertini to Zywocinski, it’s mostly made up of European names
that first turned up here at the turn of the 20th century. But you won’t hear
Italian spoken here at all anymore — not even a few doors down at Antonio’s,
where many of us often end up getting lunch.
Americans once feared that the undesirable elements of the
old world would become dominant here, but the Sopranos are the only organized
crime on the news lately.
It’s impossible to know, but it is a fascinating thought
experiment to imagine how the 20th century would have been different if we had
figured out some way to keep the massive influx of immigrants out last turn of
It would have required a Herculean effort — because it’s
almost impossible to keep fathers away from work when their children are in
need. If we had spent our energy keeping immigrants out instead of employing
them to do great things, what would have been left undone? The Brooklyn Bridge?
The Hoover Dam? The interstate highways?
In the 1940s, our armed forces brought many European
immigrants back to their homelands in American uniforms, where they defeated
the Nazis. If we had kept them out of America to start with, how many of them
would have been coming at us in Nazi uniforms instead?
But of course, we didn’t keep them out. We initiated a
program at Ellis Island to catalogue immigrants — and quarantine them when
necessary — so that they could enter into the United States legally and safely.
The various political machinations in Washington, D.C., are ugly to watch, but
insofar as our lawmakers are trying to find an equivalent process for our time,
we welcome the efforts at immigration reform.
We would suggest a few important ancillary reforms, though —
one for lawmakers, and one for the Church.
1. Teach Americans about America.
What we celebrate on the Fourth of July is truly
exceptional. We celebrate a document — the Declaration of Independence — which
founded our nation not on military power, but on moral principles about the
human person. What makes America unique
isn’t hot dogs, Star Wars or Barry Bonds, but that it recognizes that people
“are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these
are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
If we rediscover the power of these principles, it won’t
matter how many immigrants we let in — America will grow stronger. If we forget
these principles, it won’t matter how well we keep immigrants out — America
will cease to be.
2. Teach immigrants to be Catholic.
We can’t afford to take the faith of Latino immigrants for
granted. Our churches have a duty to serve them, and must embrace the forms of
popular piety that will attract immigrants to parish activities, and keep them
in the faith. If we fail, we’ll be lucky if they become Protestant. They’re
more likely to become secular hedonists.
This Fourth of July, take a moment to thank God you are
Catholic and American — and pray to him to send more Catholic Americans that
are truly both.