Immigration Policy and the Moral Law

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” Leviticus 19:15

This month over at (the extremely right-leaning) Chronicles magazine, Karina Rollins is reporting on the epidemic of sexual assaults committed by migrants in Germany.  To recap the situation, a few links from across the spectrum:

These news reports, some reactions on the right, and some responses on the left, each in their way reveal a dramatic failure to abide the moral law.  I’m hopeful none of my readers need any explanation of the grave evil carried out by the perpetrators of these crimes.  So let’s look at the other two big lapses.

On the rightif you scratch the surface of the internet, you’ll encounter staunch xenophobia.  Foreign Criminals = All Foreigners Must Go.  I’m seeing a resurgence of nativist arguments among Americans like something out of 1850.

On the left, there’s worried hand-wringing and fretful apologies for those poor foreign people who just haven’t been taught their manners yet, and terrible fear that if we acknowledge any cultural aspects of this particular set of crimes then we are bad, bad people.

To make an analogy, it would be like addressing the US illegal drug trade by either banning tacos or else pretending there are no cartels south of the border.

This is not the way.

Christianity: Always Simple, Never Easy

What is the moral response to the dueling problems of strangers in need of refuge and rank wickedness? It isn’t complicated.  But it does require a willingness to accept the entirety of the Gospel.

Here are the principles:

  • We are obliged, as much as we are we able, to welcome the foreigner.  That’s what the Bible says.
  • We have a right to legitimate self-defense.  (It’s in the Catechism.)
  • Government authorities have a responsibility to uphold the law.
  • Crime is crime.  It doesn’t matter who is doing the raping, serious crimes have be dealt with frankly and unequivocally.

This creates some tension for public policy.  If a nation is in fact unable to receive immigrants due to an inability to maintain civil order, that is a legitimate reason to set limits on the borders.  Doing so, however, doesn’t allow us to wash our hands of our obligation to welcome the stranger.  Rather, public policy should be oriented towards strengthening the institutions and general tenor of the nation so that in the future it is possible to provide more assistance to our neighbors in need.

It is likewise reasonable for a nation to observe that there are serious problems among a group of migrants (hint: they aren’t leaving home because everything was so wonderful there), and take measures, within the limits of respect for human dignity, to welcome those in need without rolling out the carpet for thugs.

What we can’t do, if only because it’s bad for our own sanity, is pretend that our fellow humans are all either devils or angels.  Foreign people, even desperate, germy, illiterate foreign people who follow the wrong religion, are fellow humans.  They possess an inherent dignity as persons made in the image of God, and thus they also possess free will.

The biblical command to welcome the foreigner doesn’t allow us to ignore the needs of our neighbors, nor to ignore the real crimes of evildoers among those neighbors.  Peace requires both mercy and justice.  Mercy and justice are in turn the fruits of devoted slavery to the entirety of the truth.

File:20151030 Syrians and Iraq refugees arrive at Skala Sykamias Lesvos Greece 2.jpg

Photo by Ggia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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