After a bit of a hiatus from blogging, I decided to give it another go. I came across an article today that gave me some things to think about. The article was titled, “What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration.” Now, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about immigration, but to think that St. Thomas Aquinas himself might weigh on the question was intriguing. Unfortunately, while the author raises a few points worth mentioning, it is, overall, an attempt to take the great theologian’s words, and fit them into the box of conservative politics. I offer my response.
I think what makes things particularly challenging in the US, is that we are a nation of immigrants. We don’t have the same national identity that countries had over the rest of history. The people who lived within the Roman Empire retained their communities, even once they became Roman citizens. Samaritans, Babylonians, Jews stayed within their districts, Christian communities sprang up as the Apostles spread the Word around the Mediterranean and beyond. In Europe, people tended to be nationalistic and their identities were strongly tied to their country of origin – Poles, French, Spanish, etc.
In the US though, we have always been a mixture and, historically, welcomed immigrants openly – even encouraged them to come. We can say we have a common American identity, but it’s pretty subjective. There’s the obvious stereotype of, “Hot dogs, apple pie, and baseball,” but is that really what we are as Americans? And how many of us would agree with that? We have the Constitution and it’s guarantees of freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and religious liberty, but honestly, I see those things being threatened by the laws and social pressures of our own government more than anything else. Those ideas only worked when the country was pretty homogeneous at it’s founding, and even then they didn’t really mean it – they only meant the people who were like them. It didn’t include the blacks slaves, the Catholics, and anyone else who didn’t meet their criteria.
The two main points of this article, in regards to immigration, are the importance of the nation’s unity, and the nation’s common good. If we look at the US as it has been and as it is now, are we united? Have we ever been? In my experience, we seem to be a whole bunch of different groups of people, with very different beliefs, cultures, and traditions, co-existing with each other. While there are small degrees of integration, at the risk of sounding cynical, but we are still pretty divided. It’s not the same as it once was; we don’t identify as Poles, German, Irish, etc., but even though we have different labels, the labels remain. I question how we, being the country which has always, from the beginning, welcomed everyone to her borders, can now decide that adding more immigrants will somehow affect our unity.
To consider our common good, I have something anecdotal to share. The other day, I drove past one of our local Taco Bell restaurants at about 3 in the afternoon. Their sign up front read, “Now Hiring,” but I couldn’t help but notice more signs hanging all over their drive through menu and speakers. I strained to read the signs: “No Staff. Closed for the day. Sorry.” This is not the first time I’ve heard of this; businesses without enough employees to stay open. So even here, where we have masses of immigrants, we still don’t have people to work? Obviously there are always people out there who are capable but aren’t willing to work, but if there are people who want to come to our country to work, don’t we want them? With the lowest birth rate in recorded history this past year
, we better at least consider it.
I think what it really is, is that people don’t like the idea of our country changing. We don’t like the idea of the US no longer being what we think it should be, or what we remember seeing in our little 1950s picture books (that’s when America was great, right?). We don’t like the idea of America becoming primarily Mexican, or Muslim, or any other group. We want it to stay with what we are comfortable with, what we know, what we remember from our youth and look back on fondly, with fuzzy, idealistic reminiscence.
This gentlemen does have some semi-good things to offer, but I’m not sure how helpful it actually is. When you consider that we’re only discussing this because our government invaded and took the land from people who were already living here – each with their own national identities, cultures, and traditions – we’re in a funny position to be saying much at all. The make up of the people living on this piece of land we currently call the United States, has changed dramatically over the years. To sit here and demand that it stop changing and stay just the way we want it, seems a little unrealistic. Yes, we have a valid interest in protecting ourselves, maintaining order, and having safe communities, but I think that is a different question. Much to ponder and much to pray over.