Thomas J. MassaroFebruary 01, 2010
Book cover
And You Welcomed Meby Edited by Donald Kerwin and Jill Marie GerschutzLexington Books. 192p $26.95

Migration is a phenomenon with many faces. Some are visible to U.S. observers: day-labor pick-up points that dot our rural and urban landscapes, news stories about human trafficking and various exploitative practices, and angry rhetoric from anti-immigrant voices. Other aspects of migration remain invisible or at least in the shadows: the 33,000 hopefuls languishing in U.S. detention centers, the growing value of remittances sent by guest workers to their homelands, the thousands of aspiring immigrants who die each year on the high seas or while attempting dangerous border crossings through sweltering deserts.

This collaborative volume of six essays skillfully brings into the light all these faces of migration, and many others beyond the U.S. arena as well. Each essay provides a wealth of relevant information and rich analysis crucial to understanding this topic of growing importance in our interdependent world. Especially valuable are the sections that supply historical context for contemporary U.S. immigration policy debates, documenting how Americans have been arguing (rarely dispassionately) about migration for centuries. Two scholars of immigration law collaborate on a particularly insightful essay that situates U.S. immigration policy within the context of the larger legal establishment, along the way providing an eminently clear explanation of the often baffling array of visa categories in U.S. law. Other essays focus on the economics, sociology and theology of migration, but each finds a judicious way of situating its analysis solidly in the inescapable context of globalization.

The unity this volume achieves is rightly attributed above all to the deftness of each author in following the common thread of Catholic social thought. No single discipline is capable of providing as wide a perspective as Catholic social teaching in the evaluation of global migration patterns. The distinctive Catholic theological themes of the common good, human dignity and authentic human development cannot, of course, in themselves determine national policies or direct international relations to specific conclusions or reforms. But the values and ethical principles proposed by the social teachings of the Catholic Church (and reflected by many other religious traditions) do rule out certain practices. Contributors to this volume do not shy away from pointing out morally objectionable policies and institutions. Examples include the exploitation of undocumented workers, human trafficking, denial of basic services to vulnerable immigrants and policies that leave families separated by political borders.

Further, this volume exposes a fundamental pattern that lies behind these abuses and rights violations. When governments, market actors or international agencies focus only on a narrow slice of the overall human context, they invariably neglect vital values and overlook pressing human concerns. An exclusive and all-consuming focus on trade liberalization or labor market flexibility or national security, to cite three prime examples, in isolation from the wider social ecology that promotes the well-being of actual people, yields irrational and inhumane policies. The harvest reaped by adopting such narrow approaches includes arbitrary immigration raids, the heartless breakup of families and the criminalizing of people in desperate straits.

Without a doubt, each of these essays contains an advocacy angle, one that tends to favor a broad conception of migratory rights and fewer immigration restrictions. Yet nowhere does the volume oversimplify the picture or deny the reasonable principle, recognized in international law as well as Catholic teaching, that nations have a right and duty to control their borders and regulate the flow of immigrants. As Daniel Groody explains in the lead essay: “My primary purpose is not to make a case for or against open borders, but to give a new way of conceptualizing a difficult and contentious global issue.” Each of the contributors displays a refreshing tendency to pose insightful questions and a studied deliberateness about leaving somewhat open-ended these queries regarding appropriate approaches to migration.

By bringing together such excellent analysis from several disciplines, this volume fills a large gap in scholarship surrounding migration. In a package that could be used to good effect in many college courses on social ethics, it provides a satisfying theological perspective on the global forces that push and pull migrants across borders. The authors draw on the latest statistics and trends. They also display commendable rigor in defining the slippery and often contested terms applied to various categories of migrants (asylum seekers, refugees, forced migrants, undocumented and internally displaced persons, among other terms).

While And You Welcomed Me deserves praise for its attention to detail, its relentless focus on the “big picture” is its greatest contribution. These essays make a persuasive case for framing issues concerning global migration in the broadest of terms, that is, in light of the global common good, of universal solidarity and of human aspirations for favorable work opportunities upon which hopes for a good life depend. Without the type of scholarship found here, the world may never grow beyond the mistrust and hostility that all too often characterize discussions of migration.

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