Political Pawns

03-19-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

The President of the United States announced a change in U.S. Policy towards Refugees, specifically those fleeing a totalitarian regime. If such people arrive on our shores, they will be deported, sent back to their homeland, no matter that they risked their lives to get here and would face severe punishment upon return to their country of origin. That policy change took effect on January 12, to be specific, and was directed at Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the US illegally. It was issued by then President Obama. There was so little freak-out, no ACLU rushing to Federal Court to halt the order. Fast-forward a few weeks to a new president and a new refugee policy, and all hell breaks loose.

The duplicity is not just with refugees but also with immigrants who are in the country illegally or without proper documentation. The Trump Administration said it would continue with the Obama policy of strictly enforcing employment law viz-a-viz immigrants. Employers who knowingly hire people who are not eligible to work in the U.S. face severe fines from the government. All employers must utilize the E-Verify System and provide an I-9 Form for each employee. Frequent audits take place to ensure employers are in compliance, and if not, fines are levied.

Here is what perplexed me about that: it seemed the previous administration was not too concerned about enforcing immigration law. In fact, when our state tried to do it, the Feds sued us in court and won. So if you are fine with people entering the country undocumented, why set them up to not be able to find employment? By doing so, it forces undocumented immigrants to do one of three things. Force them towards public assistance: welfare, food stamps, subsidized housing etc. But why purposely set up a way to drain the welfare safety net? Another option would be to make it more likely that undocumented people would commit identity theft in order to secure documents to gain employment. Again, not something you would want to encourage. Then, of course, employers could hire people under the table, not pay them fair wages, and not pay payroll taxes. Again, what's the benefit in making this more likely? Or maybe it was that the former administration was very serious about stopping the flow of immigrants entering illegally but just did it stealthily? Could be.

So we have two Administrations following similar policies towards refugees and immigrants but two vastly different reactions. For the one, it's all good, humanitarian, and just; for the other, it's the end of a virtuous America. The Obama-utopia vs. the Trump-ocalypse. It should be obvious that the issue is being used for political purposes. That is no big surprise - except that we are dealing with human beings. The immigrant and the refugee have become pawns in a political chess game.

As Christians we are often caught in the cross fire between the pro and anti sides. Yes, Mary and Joseph and Jesus were political refugees. Yes, Jesus said, "when I was a stranger, you cared for me," and at the same time the Biblical view of the nation includes clearly defined borders, common language, religion and culture. In light of that, we should have a clear moral and balanced perspective on the issue. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it succinctly in his 2001 World Day of Peace Message:

At the same time, States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host Country, respecting its laws and its national identity. " The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life."

That's a pretty balanced approach that we would do well to digest.

Love, Fr. John B.

P.S. I now qualify for the Senior Special at Waffle House! All you seniors never told me there was so much to look forward to; I thought it was just arthritis and forgetfulness. Anyway, now that I forget why I brought that up… Yes, I remember, thank you for all the Birthday wishes and treats!

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