‘We’ve Got a Big Mess Here’

EDITORIAL: While U.S. politicians of all stripes maneuver to score points for their side on the humanitarian disaster that is immigration, the Catholic Church’s perspective stands out and is more sensible than many people realize.

Migrants wait in the cold as they look for a shelter outside a Migrant Assistance Center at St. Brigid Elementary School on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in New York.
Migrants wait in the cold as they look for a shelter outside a Migrant Assistance Center at St. Brigid Elementary School on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in New York. (photo: Andres Kudacki / AP )

Evidently, Joe Biden is not taking Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s phone calls about the nation’s worsening migrant crisis, but perhaps he should.

If nothing else, the Catholic president who vowed to make enforcement of U.S. immigration laws more humane should enlist the New York cardinal’s prayer support to help him find a way out of the humanitarian disaster his administration has negligently allowed to unfold at our southern border.

There were more than 2.3 million border patrol “encounters” at the southern border in fiscal year 2023, and 3.2 million nationwide, a staggering tally that approaches the number of annual U.S. births. This past December alone saw more than 300,000 migrant encounters at the southern border. That’s an average of 10,000 per day and the highest monthly total ever recorded.

The impact of this surge is being felt in communities large and small across the U.S. New York City, where Cardinal Dolan lives, has spent billions of dollars to provide basic services to the more than 130,000 migrants who wound up there last year, some 60,000 of whom are still under the city’s care.

The New York Archdiocese’s Catholic Charities is doing heroic work to feed, house and clothe these new arrivals.

“Every day hundreds come in,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We look them in the eyes, get their names, and we love them and we say, ‘You’re part of us now. You’re not a number.’” 

But there’s only so much that Catholic Charities and other groups can do in the face of an unrelenting wave of desperate men, women and children.

“Like everybody else, we’re squashed,” Cardinal Dolan said. “But we can’t give up.”

The cardinal said he’d like to share his insights with Biden, but the president apparently isn’t interested.

“He doesn’t take my calls or answer my letters,” the cardinal told the New York Post in September.

As Catholics, it’s difficult to know what to think and how to respond to this national crisis.

On the one hand, we feel compassion for the most desperate migrants, many of whom are fellow Catholics trying to escape crushing poverty, crime and hopelessness in their home countries. On the other hand, it’s painfully obvious that, as Cardinal Dolan recently expressed it, “We’ve got a big mess here.”

The Catholic Church’s perspective on immigration is more sensible than many people realize.

In recent years, Pope Francis has generated enormous international media coverage for his passionate defense of the human rights of migrants now on the move in historic numbers all over the world. But Francis and his recent predecessors all recognize that nations have the right and duty to regulate their borders.

As Pope John Paul II acknowledged in 2001, “highly developed countries are not always able to assimilate all those who emigrate,” adding that allowing immigration to take place indiscriminately “may do harm and be detrimental to the common good of the community that receives the migrant.” As U.S. citizens, it’s not too much to expect that every single person who comes to live in our country has done so by lawful means, has undergone a thorough background check, and is prepared to contribute to society in a positive way. Yet in the current chaos, authorities have lost control over the drug traffickers, human traffickers, potential terrorists and other bad actors who are seizing the opportunity to slip into the country.

Our Church has important insights to share about something else it considers a fundamental right: the right to remain in one’s country. The fact that so many people “are forced to migrate demands a careful consideration of the causes of contemporary migration,” the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said in a communique last year.

“The right to remain is older, more deeply rooted and broader than the right to migrate. It includes the possibility of sharing in the common good, the right to live in dignity and to have access to sustainable development,” the dicastery said. “All of these rights should be effectively guaranteed in the nations of origin through a real exercise of shared responsibility on the part of the international community.”

The Biden administration ought to prioritize this pro-active approach in its foreign policies, rather than spending so much money and effort exporting a radical pro-abortion, pro-LGBTQ agenda abroad.

Cardinal Dolan, among other Catholic leaders, has been an effective communicator of the Church’s balanced perspective.

“Sometimes the Catholic Church gets caricatured saying, ‘Oh, bring ’em all in,’” he said in a recent TV interview. “No. The Church believes in safe, secure borders. The Church believes we need a sane, prudent, workable approach to immigration.”

The “tragic, broken” system we have in the U.S., as Cardinal Dolan describes, isn’t any of those things.

Cardinal Dolan said that many of the migrants he’s spoken to “didn’t quite know what they were getting into,” having heard “whispers” in their home countries that the United States would welcome them.

“Now these people are victims, as well, of a broken, sloppy, unfair system,” he said, “but we do need to reach out to them, to love them.”

Like it or not, that’s our duty as disciples of Jesus. But our political leaders have a duty, too: to secure our borders. We should hold them accountable for the poor job they’re doing.