The President is building a border wall. How should Catholics respond?

(CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

We released this question to America readers following President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order, which committed to building a border wall, and which preceded his latest executive order: a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations. The staff at America had their own responses to the president’s announcement: the editorial board wrote that building a border wall was contrary to pro life goals; and Sam Sawyer, S.J., echoed this point when he wrote that the border wall “flatly contradict[s] the inherent dignity of human life.” James Martin, S.J., quoted St. John Paul II: “the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized.”

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In some ways, the poll responses reflect the divisions in the country that led to President Trump’s election; they also disclose the range of views that different Catholics hold. About 30 percent of poll respondents wrote that Catholics should support the new president’s decision. “A country has a right to protect its borders,” wrote a reader from Nevada. “We cannot take in every poor person in the world in our country.” Thomas Ouimette from Chicago wrote, ”We need a fair immigration policy in place. No enforcement is not fair or safe.” Concern for the safety of U.S. citizens was a recurrent theme. An anonymous reader from Virginia wrote, “the border wall is to protect us from those who seek us harm—be it physical, psychological, or economic harm.”

Approximately 70 percent of readers voted that Catholics should respond to President Trump’s border wall with some form of dissent: by welcoming immigrants or refugees into their homes, with protest, prayer and by joining charity efforts. Ann Farrell Hoenigman of Cleveland, Ohio wrote: “My father was a 16-year-old Irish orphan immigrant and America welcomed him. How wrong it would be for me to turn my back on immigrants today.” Ellen Joyce, from Beloit, Wis., echoed this sentiment. “We are a country of immigrants,” Ms. Joyce wrote. “Our faith instructs us repeatedly to welcome the stranger…. (By the way, I think we should do several of the above choices: protest, volunteer, and pray.)” Maggie McConnaha, also from Wisconsin, spoke for many of her peers when she called for Catholics to protest the president’s decision: “[As Catholics] we forget our history of activism. This is not the time to be passive, we have to take an active stance on the front lines like the saints who have gone before us.”

Josh Daly, from Rhode Island, was one of the 8.2 percent of poll respondents who pledged to welcome immigrants and refugees into his own home in response to President Trump’s actions. “As a Catholic who has long dismayed the vilification of refugees and immigrants, I'm feeling called to a deeper solidarity,” he wrote. “I'm hopeful that more in our church will listen deeply to the Gospel and the words and witness of Pope Francis and put ourselves on the line.”

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