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Immigration Malpractice

Young Latin Americans pay the price for America’s policy blunders.

Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By PETER SKERRY
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What outraged Americans do not want to face up to—and what their champions are not prepared to tell them—is that this crisis has been many years in the making. More to the point, America had a distinct role in creating the current mess. Aside from the long and complicated legacy of our military interventions in the region, one can point to our deportation of thousands of convicted criminals to Central America—more than 129,000 between 2001 and 2010 alone, most of them members of criminal gangs who have subsequently wrought havoc in their home countries. At the same time, the United States has been the source of a lively weapons trade into Mexico and Central America. Last but by no means least is our continuing demand for illegal drugs, which in recent years have been routed by Mexican cartels through the three Central American countries that young people are now fleeing. According to General John F. Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, 80 percent of the violence in those murderously violent countries is attributable to the drug trade for which we are the primary market. 

Immigration and refugee advocates are more than happy to point to such indicators of our complicity in the surge of Central American youth to our border. But these advocates have no credibility with the Americans who most need convincing. Feeding this lack of credibility is the complete silence of such advocates when it comes to acknowledging how our relatively open borders have contributed over time to the break-up of families and the ensuing social disorder in Central America that now spurs the surge of youth across our border.

In fact, it is social dislocation due to migration that has led some Catholic leaders to speak on occasion of “a right not to migrate”—a right to stay at home. Of course, the bishops have spoken out even more loudly and consistently on “the right to migrate.” The result has been a curiously libertarian concoction such that the church tends to advocate whatever “the people” (the poor) want when it comes to migration decisions, while remaining remarkably oblivious to the impact of such decisions on traditional Catholic concerns like communal and political cohesion. 

When it comes to illegal immigrants, the Catholic position is even more perverse. Suddenly, any hint
of populism evanesces. The wishes of “the people” (middle-class Americans) are now suspect and categorically overridden by the claims of the biblical “stranger.” Indeed, just about any opposition or resistance to illegal immigration is viewed as morally suspect or racist. The pronouncements of Thomas Wenski, archbishop of Miami and one of the leading voices on migration for the American hierarchy, on the status of illegal immigrants are admittedly extreme but not atypical of the moral obtuseness of the bishops on these issues: “The last time that we excluded legally a whole class of people from the benefits and the protection of American law was called Jim Crow, and this country has yet to recover from the bad effect.”

Our secular elites have displayed only marginally greater insight into the ethical and moral dilemmas presented by contemporary mass migration. Even Michael Walzer, in his subtle treatise on distributive justice, Spheres of Justice, adopts an ill-considered maximalist position on the rights of guest workers. Arguing that once admitted to a host society guest workers must be afforded the option of becoming full citizens, Walzer ignores abundant evidence that guest workers routinely shun membership in host societies and cling, not always successfully, to a strategy whereby they derive income from their host and maintain ties to the home country, to which they intend eventually to return.

More egregious but also more typical of the thinking of policy elites is “Children on the Run,” the U.N. report. It reflects a clear effort to expand the definition of refugee status to something broader called “international protection.” In general, I have no criticism of such reform efforts. But I do question the prudence of the specific grounds on which the high commissioner for refugees invokes the need to protect young people in Central America. For while his report stipulates that “it is understood that not all children leaving situations of poverty warrant international protection,” it goes on to suggest that “all violence against children, including physical, psychological and sexual violence, while in the care of parents or [other caregivers],” constitutes “a potential basis for providing international protection.” 

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