How The Church Discusses Migration
This morning at the Faith Angle Forum, we’re talking about faith and immigration. The speakers are Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Dr. Mark Amstutz, a Wheaton College political scientist.
Sister Norma began by telling heart-rending stories about caring for migrants coming across the US-Mexico border. Their human plight, in her telling, was quite moving.
Dr. Amstutz, by contrast, gave an argument. His basic point was that the all states have to have defensible borders. Protecting human rights and achieving justice depends on a strong, benevolent state. In the immigration debate, he said, these things have to be taken into consideration. Whatever the state decides what to do on immigration has to be done in an orderly, legal way — because this order serves the common good.
In listening to this exchange, I’m struck by the role of emotivism in this discussion. Sister Norma is clearly a compassionate woman, and has a very big heart for these desperate people. On the other hand, to me it seems that she is trying to help migrants violate the law. That’s an uncharitable way to put it, and I keep trying to find a more charitable way to look at it, but the more she explains her position, the harder it is for me to see it in any other way. Her view seems to be that her role as a Christian is to get as many of these migrants into the US as possible — this, as a matter of compassion.
Again, by contrast, Prof. Amstutz is trying to take a more comprehensive view. He described his own view as a “communitarian” perspective — one that tries to balance the wishes of the migrants with the wishes of US citizens. Amstutz said “communitarian” perspective has been discarded by “religious elites”.
One of the journalists present said that after hearing Sister Norma’s account of life at the border, he wondered why he wasn’t there at the border helping her, and why all “decent” — his word — people aren’t doing the same. That struck me as a telling moment, one that showed what a disadvantage people like Prof. Amstutz are when talking about these kinds of issues. As a political scientist, he is trying to bring a philosophical framework to discussing and analyzing immigration. He’s well-spoken, don’t get me wrong, but it’s discouraging to observe how hard it is to have a clear, rational discussion about this issue (and not just immigration).
A journalist asked the two presenters how we determine how many migrants we are to allow into the country. Sister Norma responded by saying that she was speaking to a group of kindergarten students at a Catholic school, and asked them what they thought we should do about all the migrants at the border who are fleeing terrible conditions at home.
The children said, “Let them in,” the nun said. She added, “I don’t know that Jesus would leave anybody out.”
And that was it. This is not thinking. This is emoting — and it is emoting just as much as the kind of rhetoric that Trump uses when he discusses immigration. Sister Norma is a vastly more genial person than many of the anti-immigrant hotheads are. But it’s still substituting emotion and sloganeering for hard thought about difficult questions.