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Morning Glory: the border and 'Catholic social teaching'

OpinionMorning Glory: the border and 'Catholic social teaching'

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This column is addressed specifically to Roman Catholics and their families and friends who may often hear “Catholic social teaching requires ‘sanctuary cities'” or even an “open border.”

I have had it with these left-wing activists spouting this argument. They are dressed up as pseudo-theologians and don’t deserve any deference on this issue as they are simply and completely wrong.

I am no theologian, and despite having spent a good part of my writing and broadcast career on matters of faith —my books “In, But Not Of,” “The Embarrassed Believer,” “The Happiest Life,” and “Searching for God in America” (which was also an eight-part PBS series) are all about faith generally and Christian faith specifically—I know what I do not know. What I did not know until last week were the particulars of “Catholic Social Teaching” on immigration in the modern era.

So I went looking and found a summary of just this subject, one authored by Father Thomas Belz: “Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples.” Father Belz when he wrote this was the Director of Immigration and Refugee Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishop uses his summary, an excellent indication of its reliability and thoroughness.

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Father Belz takes the space he needs to explicate fully the Catholic Church’s core teachings on migrants and how nations ought to receive them, a set of teachings that rest on three “core principles,” which Belz reproduces with the necessary specificity:

First Principle: People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.

Second Principle: A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.

Third Principle: A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.

The key here to all three principles is that they take the world as it is —people are often forced to leave their home country because they cannot sustain their lives there. Think of the savage butchery and civil war in Syria over the past decade and the millions of refugees created by that conflict. Turkey and Europe were overwhelmed by people fleeing the regime, and unprepared for the mass migration out of Syria, and often handled it badly with haphazard and rushed decisions. But the fact that those migrants fled barrel bombs and chemical weapons was the reality of that time and place. They had a right to do so —a right to seek a safe place to live and protect their families.

BIDEN TORCHED FOR CLAIMING ‘UNDOCUMENTED’ IMMIGRANTS ‘BUILT THIS COUNTRY’

The other key is that “Catholic social teaching” is built on the assumption that borders between nation-states exist and that they must be regulated. Re-read that please. The first thing to understand is that countries need borders. Catholic social teaching urges governments to regulate their borders with “justice and mercy,” but borders must exist and must be regulated according to the theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

Since the inauguration of President Biden, the United States has largely and often completely abandoned the regulation of its southern border. The results have been horrific for many migrants and for many Americans. High profile acts like the murder of Laken Riley on the campus of the University of Georgia is only one tragedy among many horrific crimes committed by migrants who entered the country illegally. Riley’s murderer had also been arrested and released by American authorities before he killed her. Her murder did not have to happen. To prevent such tragedies and indeed to care for migrants we wish to invite into the country via the legal asylum process, we need first to know who they are, from where they came and why, and whether we wish to admit them.

There is no immediate need for comprehensive immigration reform via legislation, though I’ve long argued for a very big wall or two very big fences separated by a few hundred yards along the 900 or so miles of the 2,000-mile southern border which are passable on foot. That wall’s or fences’ completion would send a message to the world that the border was closed. It would help slow the tide, but the Wall is very much a “necessary but not sufficient” solution to our border crisis.

That solution would require changes in law, and the recent failed attempt—the third in two decades—to pass a comprehensive immigration bill collapsed because it did not persuade a critical majority of Republican legislators to support it because Democrats won’t build “The Wall” and excluded it from the so-called “compromise.”

It is that simple: A legislative package that doesn’t include The Wall isn’t going to pass because a majority of Americans—across the entire political spectrum—want The Wall. Republicans in the House and most in the Senate understand that. They insist on The Wall. It was not in the package so the package did not advance.

Migrant-Caravan

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico are lined up for processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. A federal judge in Texas on Friday, March 8, 2024, upheld a key piece of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy that allows a limited number of migrants from four countries to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds, dismissing a challenge from Republican-led states that said the program created an economic burden on them. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Nor will any package without the Wall advance. When a very fine Republican and conservative senator, James Lankford of Oklahoma, brought back to his Republican Conference in the Senate the very best deal he could get from Senate Democrats, it was dead on arrival. That “compromise” had many good features. But it did not have The Wall. Would that both parties grasped this essential fact: Before anything else gets done on immigration reform, The Wall must be built and completely finished. It is that simple.

The Wall is part of regulating our border “with justice and mercy.” American authorities cannot regulate the inflow of migrants unless they can be sure of who they are and why they are coming. A “just and merciful” admissions policy would account for the first principle outlined by Father Belz, but it would also account for the need to end human trafficking, to account for where the migrants go upon entry and assuring their return for hearings on their requests for work permits, and would turn away known criminals and the operators for the cartels who are flooding the United States with the deadly drug fentanyl as well as other prohibited drugs and materials. Among the other needs: We must prevent terrorists or would-be terrorists from entering our country.

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And not just terrorists bent on killing, but spies and “deep cover” agents of enemy nations whose duties are the collection of information. The People’s Republic of China is such an enemy. For decades the number of “encounters” of Chinese migrants at the border was minuscule.  In the past 18 months alone the number of known “encounters” has sped past 40,000 Chinese migrants.

China is not an easy place to escape from. A genuine escapee should be welcome in the U.S. because the Chinese Communist Party is an evil regime and people do flee it as they used to flee the old Soviet Union. But for the number of Chinese migrants crossing the southern border to go from dozens to tens of thousands in the space of a few months is a huge signal of indifference and of danger. “Catholic social teaching” does not oblige any nation to welcome into its bosom those who want to destroy the nation they are entering.

So that’s the primer for Catholics or anyone encountering the argument that “Christian teaching generally and Catholic social teaching specifically require an open border” or anything like it. What is required is a border “regulated with justice and mercy.” President Joe Biden is wholly uninterested in this balancing. But voters are, and unless the president gets the border back to where it was when former President Donald Trump was in office, Biden will be ejected in the fall election because Americans know that a country without real borders isn’t a country at all —it is a target of opportunity for malign actors. 

Hugh Hewitt is one of the country’s leading journalists of the center-right. A son of Ohio and a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School, Hewitt has been a Professor of Law at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law since 1996 where he teaches Constitutional Law. Hewitt launched his eponymous radio show from Los Angeles in 1990, and it is today syndicated to hundreds of stations and outlets across the country every Monday through Friday morning. Hewitt has frequently appeared on every major national news television network, hosted television shows for PBS and MSNBC, written for every major American paper, has authored a dozen books and moderated a score of Republican candidate debates, most recently the November 2023 Republican presidential debate in Miami and four Republican presidential debates in the 2015-16 cycle. Hewitt focuses his radio show and this column on the Constitution, national security, American politics and the Cleveland Browns and Guardians. Hewitt has interviewed tens of thousands of guests from Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump over his forty years in broadcast, and this column previews the lead story that will drive his radio show today.

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