The Immigration Blame Game

EDITORIAL: The human cost from the broken system in the United States takes a backseat to securing votes by the two major political parties.

A mother rests holding her children in La Parada, Colombia after walking for 15 days to get to the border between Colombia and Venezuela, as tjey journey on foot trying to reach the United States.
A mother rests holding her children in La Parada, Colombia after walking for 15 days to get to the border between Colombia and Venezuela, as tjey journey on foot trying to reach the United States. (photo: bgrocker / Shutterstock)

It’s midterm season again, and as in previous election cycles, immigration remains a leading concern for U.S. voters. Unfortunately, finding a bipartisan solution to this intractable national problem is once again taking a back seat to political posturing.

So, while Catholic Americans obviously lack the power to break this political impasse on our own, as faithful followers of Christ, we do have an obligation to offer a superior example of how to address this fraught issue.

Both of the major U.S. political parties are to blame for their disregard of the human cost of the deadlocked political game they have engaged in since before the Clinton administration.

The Democratic Party has ignored the fact that the broken system, while allowing genuine seekers of personal freedom and a better standard of life to come in, has nevertheless contributed to the steady increase of human trafficking, illegal narcotics trafficking and a disruptive culture of lawlessness alongside the border and elsewhere. It has also made gaining U.S. residency moot for many law-abiding immigrants who want to legally enter the country.

The Republican Party, while wanting to protect the borders from criminal elements and further abuses of the broken immigration system, has contributed to overzealous border enforcement, including the painful detention and separation of immigrant families, and to actions like this year’s transportation of immigrants from red states to blue states as a political statement.

The unwillingness of the political parties to come together to solve the issue has resulted in long-term policy stagnation and, depending on the party in charge of the executive branch, cherry-picking which people to detain, deport or allow in. Meanwhile, the vast human toll of this partisanship is continually overlooked.

During this election cycle, the political divisions have been most starkly evident in the heated debate triggered after Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis sponsored the transportation of 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to the wealthy resort community of Martha’s Vineyard. Echoing the much larger initiative undertaken by Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to ship immigrants to blue-state “sanctuary cities” like New York, Washington and Chicago, DeSantis’ intention was to focus national attention on the Biden administration’s failure to control the border and on the unequal burdens this failure imposes on border states like his.

These are legitimate and consequential concerns, which affect the common good of U.S. society. At the same time, DeSantis — who currently is engaged in a reelection battle himself — was obviously hoping to score political points against the Democrats in this midterm cycle. So it’s justified to point out that the Florida governor manipulated the plight of the Venezuelans for partisan political advantage, with at most a secondary concern for the actual welfare of these persons who, through no fault of their own, were forced to seek asylum outside of their native country because of the disastrous policies of its far-left government.

The reaction from many leading Democratic politicians was equally scripted. As with Abbott earlier, DeSantis was predictably demonized as a heartless Republican anti-immigrant ideologue. These partisans offered little or no acknowledgment of the problems imposed on beleaguered border states as a consequence of the record influx of more than 2 million illegal immigrants over the last 12 months. They remained equally mute about the obvious role that the Biden administration’s lax enforcement policies have played in exacerbating the border crisis.

As for the electorate overall, polls indicate immigration remains a leading concern for voters, ranking not far behind the abortion issue that the Democratic Party is seeking to make a central narrative of the midterms in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 overturning of Roe v. Wade. But the partisan divide over DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard gambit couldn’t be starker: A poll found 89% of Republicans in support and 80% of Democrats opposed.

Tellingly, the same poll reported Independents were almost equally divided on the matter. This suggests that partisan intransigence is not a clear liability for either party, thereby disincentivizing both from striving for a more bipartisan middle ground.

Authentic dialogue is a fundamental instrument for addressing deeply held differences. But when it comes to U.S. immigration policy, a dialogue of the deaf continues to prevail at the political level, for the most part. This means that one key service Christians should provide in the public square is the willingness to acknowledge truths are contained in both parties’ arguments.

Rev. Chip Seadale, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard, provided an exemplary model when the Venezuelan migrants unexpectedly arrived on his doorstep. He directed his church community to shelter the unanticipated guests in his rectory hall for two nights, providing the immediate help they required without unnecessarily taking a political side.

“I can’t fix the immigrant legislation in the United States of America,” he told Fox News. “I can’t help Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis with their issues in their respective states — knowing that they have issues that they’ve been dealing with for years now, on the borders. But I can do what God is calling me to do as a rector of a church and reach out and say, ‘You know what? I know you’re stuck in something that’s bigger than you.’”

Catholic individuals and organizations are similarly extending welcoming hands across the nation to the immigrant stranger, as they have done throughout the decades-long political impasse. Some of the faithful can have an understandable concern that, in so doing, Church authorities are in effect siding with Democratic immigration priorities.

But we must remember that helping a person in need is a Christian imperative, not a political statement. However we decide to cast our ballots, in light of our properly formed judgments about the positions of the candidates on immigration, as well as other major issues like abortion and the economy, it’s never justifiable to withhold assistance from immigrants when they desperately need it.

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man — the timely Gospel reading for the Sept. 25 Sunday Mass — couldn’t be any clearer about this point. The rich man condemned himself to eternal separation from God, courtesy of his refusal to offer any aid to the impoverished Lazarus, who was visibly suffering on the rich man’s doorstep. Our Christian love of our neighbor demands we avoid the same mistake when it comes to the immigrants who continue to arrive on our nation’s doorstep.