Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What, if anything, is our humanitarian obligation to those who desperately need to enter our country?

I just head Jeff Sessions say that the family separation policy will deter people from going over the border illegally, and will instead require them to enter our country through our designated ports of entry. 

So if they didn't try to come here illegally, could they just hop on over to the ports of entry and get in? Country quotas make that impossible. Some people's circumstances are so desperate that the only solution to their impossible lives is to violate our laws and enter our country. It is similar to stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families, and those who defend a "zero tolerance" policy remind me of Javert in Les Miserables. 

The question I have is not whether they have a right to enter our country, but is rather, whether we have a humanitarian obligation to such people. We do not merit having been born in a wealthy country like America, any more than they deserve to have been born in a third world country like Mexico. I mean who would want to make the harsh trip across the Sonoran desert to emigrate here if they could just walk up to the office at the port of entry, stand in maybe a six hour line, and get in legally? They want to come here not because we are so great, but because life there is so bad. If you don't want to let them into America in order to lead a decent life, what are we willing to do to make their lives better where they are? Does anyone seriously think they are just coming here because they are evil and criminals?

This isn't, so far as I can tell, about liberalism or conservativsm. There are billions of people who want to come here. Well, probably not. Jonah Goldberg, who inspired these thoughts of mine, is a writer for the National Review. There are people who are in such bad shape in their current country that they are prepared to put up with a lot of misery to enter the country illegally. There may be some doing it for morally bad reasons, but it is easy to see morally acceptable reasons for at least wanting to come here illegally. Do we have any moral obligations to these people over and and above building a wall and making sure they don't come here? If we are conservatives, do we need to take a lifeboat ethics position and say that these people were just born in the wrong part of the world, and so it's just tough toenails if they can't take care of their families? America , I think, started restricting entry into our country with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Before that, there was no illegal immigration, because we didn't restrict it.


bbigej said...

Hi Dr. Reppert,

I know this isn’t the right place for this but I couldn’t find your email. I was wondering what you think are the most effective responses to the Argument from Reason or where they can be found? In the interest of me having a balanced view of things. :)

Kevin said...

A few things.

One, if they enter the country illegally, we do not know their at-home situation unless we happen to catch them and they give an explanation. Otherwise, from a legal standpoint there is no difference between someone waltzing across the border for criminal purposes and someone seeking refuge from life-threatening circumstances. So we have to continue policing the border and trying to keep track of who is in the country. That's just common sense. Border security is a moral good in of itself.

Two, if we catch someone who is fleeing a horrible place or situation and we can verify it, then I think we should grant asylum. In my opinion, so long as someone can pass a background check, we should generally allow immigration.

Three, and perhaps someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that mass migration of low-skilled, low-income people would put an unsustainable strain on social safety nets like Medicaid - programs that did not exist during the period of uncontrolled immigration prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act. It seems to me that it would be particularly irresponsible to have uncontrolled immigration during a period of high unemployment. Europe's social safety nets took some strains due to the refugees from Syria and other countries (along with other notable problems), and that's likely nothing compared to the numbers we'd see with unfettered access.

Four, if we're bringing Christian values into the mix, at my job I overheard a woman who was upset because she and her husband (who had recently found a new job but was on standard 90-day probation) only had one vehicle, yet somehow they had to get their kids to school, her to college, and him to work on time every morning, not to mention leaving those places, and she didn't see how it would be possible. I gave her my car on the spot, for free, since I had another. (Mine promptly broke and left me with no vehicle...there's a saying about good deeds and punishment, I believe).

Point being, I was able to help someone who was in far worse shape than I, and I helped to the extent I could. Starhopper referenced his work through his church in another thread, and that's great. However, I'd be furious if the government mandated that anyone with more than one vehicle had to give one of them to someone else for free. Starhopper ought to be irritated if Baltimore decided his church was required to house immigrants. It's not charity to be forced to do it by the guys with guns. Thus when we talk about humanitarian obligation, and try to leverage it to a societal level where not everyone has the same opinions on the best policy...well, I'm a bit leery of claiming that voting for a particular party in order for other people to hopefully do something you support is somehow a Christian virtue. It's not.

Protecting and enabling the free lives of its people ought to be the primary duty of a government. Granting asylum to people in need certainly falls within the scope of that sentiment, but I'm not so sure that mass unfettered immigration does. It's not so cut and dried, since there are actual drawbacks to be considered. I'm not saying the cons outweigh the pros, but those cons can't just be ignored.

SteveK said...

We definitely should help people that desperately need help. There are multiple ways this can be done. Some don't require taking up residence in our country. Except for asylum cases. the default status for those that do come into the country should be 'temporary resident' without citizenship rights, voting rights, etc.

Just like Starhopper who helps the homeless people in need, the homeless don't take up permanent residence in Starhopper's home. They are temporary residents getting the help they need and at some point Starhopper asks them to leave.

bmiller said...


Great questions. Also a great framework for Americans to discuss what is moral and prudent.

They want to come here not because we are so great, but because life there is so bad. If you don't want to let them into America in order to lead a decent life, what are we willing to do to make their lives better where they are? Does anyone seriously think they are just coming here because they are evil and criminals?

Here's an article on how historical foreign born vs native born percentages line up against immigration laws in US history.

There are lot of distinctions to make regarding the status of people who are allowed to enter the US that I think partisans like to conflate in order to promote their particular agenda, but this site allows you to click on the date of the Act, the status, and the percentage of foreign born population to perhaps give people an idea of why laws changed.

From this site we can see that laws were passed to either encourage immigration or restrict it according to the needs or concerns of the host country (the US) and not necessarily according to what some would consider the will of God (Allow all the poor and oppressed in. Or keep all but us in and the "other" out).

What is the right thing to do?

Starhopper said...

"at some point Starhopper asks them to leave"

Heck, there comes a point when we ask (tell) our own children to leave!