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The EditorsSeptember 14, 2023
A group of Honduran migrants walk across a railroad trestle on their way to seek asylum in the United States. (OSV News photo/Carlos Jasso, Reuters)

Former President Donald Trump was noticeably absent from the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 cycle, yet his influence could not have been more apparent—particularly on the topic of immigration. Among Republicans, the “invasion” on the U.S.-Mexico border has now led to calls for the United States to invade our southern neighbor. 

During the debate in August, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida vowed to send troops into Mexico to fight the drug cartel. What else would newly excite voters who cheered for Mr. Trump’s “great border wall”? After boasting of the Trump administration’s efforts to curb illegal immigration and “asylum abuse,” former Vice President Mike Pence accused President Joe Biden of throwing “open the southern border.” He promised to partner with the Mexican military to “hunt down and destroy the cartels that are claiming lives in the United States of America.”

Support for aggressive anti-immigration measures transcends Republican presidential candidates. Last year, a poll suggested half of the country believes the country is being “invaded” at the southern border and that immigrants are bringing in drugs. Mr. DeSantis, Greg Abbott of Texas and other Republican governors have bused or flown asylum seekers from their southern border states to Democratic strongholds like California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. Asylum seekers have been used as pawns to score political points with the Republican base. Mr. Abbott’s border enforcement, including razor-wire barriers, demonstrates an utter disregard for the humanity of those who arrive seeking refuge. Most recently, the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, in its continuing attempt to push the Republican Party ever farther to the extremes on the issue of immigration, threatened to withhold support for any spending bills necessary to avoid a shutdown of the federal government unless they include additional border enforcement measures. 

Asylum seekers have been used as pawns to score political points with the Republican base.

While the Biden administration should be praised for more welcoming policies, it has fallen far short of Mr. Biden’s promises from the 2020 campaign. Often the positive developments are no more than the incremental weakening of Mr. Trump’s harshest border policies. In some cases, Mr. Biden has reinforced the Trump administration’s restrictive approach to asylum seekers. As Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Tex., wrote in America, the Biden administration policies have been “tepid and fear-driven and, in the case of the asylum transit ban, harmful.” 

It is a frustrating stalemate, with one party doing too little to benefit immigrants and the other seemingly intent on persecuting them. Neither party has done anything in the last three years to move the conversation forward. The continued failure to pass the Dream Act, which was first introduced in 2001, exemplifies the quagmire. And government leaders have not enacted broad immigration-positive legislation since 1986, during the Reagan administration. Today the nation is no closer to reforming its deadly and broken immigration system than it was nearly 40 years ago. Our political parties appeal only to their most loyal voters, with a disappointingly inconsistent regard for humanitarian concerns. 

It is a frustrating stalemate, with one party doing too little to benefit immigrants and the other seemingly intent on persecuting them. Neither party has done anything in the last three years to move the conversation forward.

Immigrants and asylum seekers come out of necessity. Life in their home countries has become unlivable for them. Some are farmers who, because of drought or climate change, can no longer provide for their families. In some places, industrial toxins have poisoned rivers and water reserves. Some migrants flee merciless gangs and drug cartels, killers whose vile influence corrupts all levels of government. 

Some refugees, like those who fled Afghanistan, left their home countries because helping the U.S. government there made them the targets of tyrannical rulers. Today, even Afghans who risked their lives serving alongside the U.S. military face an uncertain future. Regrettably, their stories do not even register as talking points. 

Neither a secure border nor a welcoming immigration strategy alone will solve our immigration crisis. If our migrant brothers and sisters are to live a truly dignified life, they must also have the choice not to migrate. They will only have that choice when the factors pushing them north are eradicated. An intentional U.S. foreign policy that addresses global trade, natural resources and agricultural business would be a step forward.     

For a good Catholic, it is impossible to say “America First” as a rejection of the rights and needs of our brothers and sisters across the border.

It is tempting to say that the United States has enough problems without concerning itself with those of other nations. But such an argument is not an option for a person of faith. For a good Catholic, it is impossible to say “America First” as a rejection of the rights and needs of our brothers and sisters across the border. Our leaders today fall far short of, for example, the welcome President Reagan gave to immigrants. He was proud they chose the United States. Today, our leaders fear the sensationalistic news coverage and attack ads and abdicate their responsibility to educate voters about immigration. 

The United States needs to experience a metanoia—to repent and believe. Until then, there will be no justice for immigrants, neither here nor in their home countries. Our government leaders and the voters who supported them have perpetuated the cruel immigration apparatus of this country and must ask for forgiveness. Politicians and media personalities who have tapped into the irrational fears of the citizenry must also repent. Such rhetoric has further dehumanized immigrants and asylum seekers—who already live their lives on the margins. It exploits their lives as nothing more than fodder to ignite xenophobic audiences and entrenched voting blocs. After all, migrants allow certain American markets—agriculture, home construction, domestic labor—to operate at artificially low cost. Many Americans benefit from the migrants we demonize. 

Americans must come to believe that they cannot prioritize the human dignity of any race, class or nationality above another. Everyone embodies that dignity equally and it is our duty to ensure all people can lead a dignified life. We must come to recognize that before we could comprehend our individuality, we were born into a family, which was part of a larger community. 

Americans must come to believe that they cannot prioritize the human dignity of any race, class or nationality above another. Everyone embodies that dignity equally and it is our duty to ensure all people can lead a dignified life.

“That is precisely why our society continues to alienate, abandon, and exclude the poor—because, face-to-face with the poor, one is forced to confront…the painful consequences of our failure to recognize [our] relatedness,” wrote the theologian Roberto Goizueta. 

Indeed, we were related to immigrants before they arrived. Some have been here for decades and others came recently, but most appreciate the many blessings this country has offered them. Their gratitude can remind the rest of us of the benefits we enjoy. Their stories echo those of our ancestors, those immigrants who arrived in these lands in centuries and decades past. The recently arrived are not different. They are not “other.” We are all immigrants. Their story is ours.

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