No Easy Solutions
EDITORIAL: Since President Biden took office, there has been a flood of unaccompanied minor children to the nation’s southern border, seeking entry to the U.S.
Joe Biden is now in the process of becoming the latest president to experience something that properly informed Catholics have long been aware of: When it comes to immigration, there are no simple and easy policy solutions.
Since President Biden took office, there has been a flood of unaccompanied minor children to the nation’s southern border, seeking entry to the U.S. The number is so overwhelming that the situation is widely described as a border crisis — even though the president and other administration officials are studiously avoiding that characterization.
At his first press conference on March 25, the president attempted to downplay the situation as merely a seasonal and temporary phenomenon, unrelated to the more accommodating immigration policies that he has begun to implement. He also implied the current situation was largely equivalent to a 2019 uptick that occurred during the watch of his predecessor, Donald Trump, despite Trump’s contrasting and much-derided prioritization of border security.
That simply won’t wash. The Washington Post, a media outlet that generally aligns with Democratic Party priorities, noted that unaccompanied minors are arriving at a rate of 550 per day. Over the month of March, that translated into an all-time monthly high of 17,000 arrivals. The situation is so dire, in fact, that the children are being housed in unacceptable conditions not dissimilar from what occurred during the 2019 surge, when Trump was disparaged for allegedly authorizing the holding of children in “cages.”
As the Post’s article reported, “teens [are] packed into a South Texas tent facility operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that was at 1,500% of its pandemic-rated capacity.”
Given what a hot potato the situation on the border has quickly become, it’s understandable that President Biden has offloaded its day-to-day oversight to Vice President Kamala Harris. She, in turn, has so far declined to travel to the border herself to review the problems that have arisen there.
Some prominent Republican critics of the Biden administration, by contrast, have been less reluctant about firsthand fact-finding.
During a visit to an overcrowded holding facility, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted photos and videos, despite the efforts of an administration official to prevent any picture-taking. In a letter he sent afterward to the president demanding greater transparency regarding the situation, Cruz condemned “the heartbreaking tragedy unfolding at the border” as a result of “your administration’s failures.”
Those who favor Biden’s immigration approach might be inclined to dismiss Cruz’s assignment of direct responsibility to the president as being mere partisan gamesmanship. It’s harder to do so in the case of Scalabrini Father Pat Murphy, who operates the Casa del Migrante shelter in the Mexican border city of Tijuana. “The only thing people heard in the south is ‘The border’s open,’” Father Murphy told the Register, referencing the Biden administration’s Feb. 16 announcement that it would expedite existing asylum applications that had been delayed during the Trump administration.
The truth is that, for decades, Democratic and Republican administrations have been almost equally ineffectual in terms of finding any workable solutions to the intractable conundrum of illegal immigration. Partly that’s a reflection of the reality that two colliding political imperatives are in play.
First, there is the fact that the majority of Americans continue to cherish our history of welcoming newcomers who want to join in this nation’s great experiment of ordered liberty. Most people of goodwill also want to maintain the noble U.S. tradition of providing refuge to those fleeing wars, poverty, crime and other civil disorders in their native countries. And since these priorities align closely with the Christian imperatives of welcoming the stranger and helping those in need, they are also strongly supported in the immigration principles articulated by the U.S. bishops.
At the same time, a broad majority of U.S. citizens insist on the need to protect our borders and restrict the influx of newcomers to a number that will contribute to the good of American society, instead of undermining it. And while Catholic advocates of unrestrained immigration downplay or even ignore this side of the immigration policy ledger, the U.S. bishops have advised that control of national borders is another immigration principle policymakers need to take into account.
During his successful presidential campaign, President Biden was able to get away with painting the immigration issue in broad brush strokes that, in many respects, align closely with Catholic priorities, while sidestepping the uncomfortable truth that border security is a central element too — and that the devil often lies in the details when it comes to actually setting immigration policy.
One such detail is that, when prospective immigrants perceive that U.S. authorities are relaxing control of the border, that perception quickly triggers a surge like the one currently being experienced. Another detail at this moment is the COVID-19 pandemic, which adds another layer of complexity and risk to the policies being implemented to deal with the surge.
It also needs to be remembered that the handling of accompanied minors is only one of the numerous complex issues associated with immigration policy. Indeed, as Biden is well aware, when a similar but smaller surge occurred during Barack Obama’s second term, it played a major role in torpedoing Obama’s proposal for comprehensive immigration reform.
Surveying this unpromising political landscape, individual Catholics might almost be pardoned if they simply threw up their hands and declined to become involved. But inaction is not how God calls us to respond in the face of human suffering, and there is actually a path forward for Catholic action that is neither confusing nor controversial. It’s the option of “open hearts” articulated by Father Murphy and Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, at the conclusion of our front-page immigration article. It’s the recognition of the human person in need.
As Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told EWTN News Indepth, “We need to welcome the immigrant in a way that’s good for the immigrant and good for us in this country. That’s why we need immigration reform.”
President Biden and the rest of the nation’s political leaders will no doubt continue to wrestle with finding workable solutions for the immigration crisis, and it’s fitting that we draw upon the entire scope of the teachings of our faith as we add our voices to this ongoing discussion in America’s public square. We must also pray for a good outcome, despite the seemingly long odds of achieving one.
As disciples of Christ, however, charity must come above all. So the leading imperative right now is to join in Catholic efforts to help the immigrants who are trapped in shelters on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Most especially, we must view unaccompanied minors as children in need, not as political playthings — and provide these little ones with the comfort and care they deserve.