Many persons rightfully argue that we should welcome immigrants because it is the Christian, human or charitable thing to do. In fact, Christians call it a corporal work of mercy. But this position misses an essential point: It is our responsibility in justice to support and accept them. Please let me explain.
Many immigrants come to the U.S. from Mexico or Central America. They give up their whole way of life and leave their families, homes and neighbors because conditions there are impossible due to policies beyond their control. For example, for years poor Mexican families eked out a living on small family farms. They lived off of the nourishment they enjoyed from the corn they grew while selling their surplus on the open Mexican market so they could have some money to buy other essentials.
In 1994, the U.S., Mexican and Canadian government signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which, basically, created open borders between these three countries. As a result, the huge, corporate corn-producers in the U.S. exported their grain to Mexico tariff free. This drove down the price of corn in Mexico. Furthermore, these U.S. producers benefit from U.S. government farm-subsidies which allow U.S. producers to sell their corn in Mexico at an even lower price and still reap profit. Thus, Mexican subsistence farmers were unable to compete in their local markets and lost their ability to sell their surplus corn at a fair price. Many fled to their cities to seek work to little or no avail. Finally, in desperation, they made the long, arduous and very dangerous journey to the U.S. seeking a better way of life.
Another example may be found in the migration from Central America to the U.S. of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors. The U.S. response, under Obama it might be noted, was to put them in prisons and deport them. But why did they come here? Many are fleeing the highly armed gangs which formed following the end of the U.S. backed “dirty wars” of the 1970-90s. During that period, the U.S. supported ruthless dictators in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, flooded those countries with U.S. weapons, and destroyed society in general. The resulting chaos created a vacuum which is now filled by large, violent gangs who are well-armed with those very same U.S. weapons. In fact, these countries are three of the ten most violent countries in the world. Many young persons in those countries now flee these conditions and come to the U.S.
Escaping these unsafe and unlivable conditions as well as seeking a better way of life are often referred to as the “push–pull” causes of immigration. Rather than disparage these refugees, our sisters and brothers, it’s time we acknowledge the responsibility of the U.S. and other western powers for their plight, welcome them to our country and work to change the policies that drive them here in the first place.
Welcoming the immigrant is both an act of charity and justice.
Or so it seems to me.