Thursday, May 25, 2006

Don't Want Babies? Better Welcome Immigrants- Some Reflections on Mary Ann Glendon's "Principled Immigration"

Mary Ann Glendon makes some plausible points in her article "Principled Immigration" in the current issue of First Things (June/July 2006).

She tries to even-handedly deal with the issue of immigration in its current state in the United States and, it seems to me, she does this very successfully. A key point in the essay is her call for more dialogue and clarification on the issue. She writes:
If the United States is to develop realistic, wise, and humane immigration policies, it will need a much fuller and better-informed public discussion. At present, the public debate is too often dominated by immigration alarmists who tend to ignore both our need for replacement migration and the human situations of the men and women who seek opportunities in the United States. Meanwhile, pro-immigration advocates show insufficient attentiveness to the legitimate concerns of citizens, while some others seem to want the economic benefits of migrant labor while turning a blind eye to the toll that the present situation takes on migrants and their families.

In the current atmosphere, it is extremely difficult to sort out the legitimate concerns from the sinister ones. There is thus an urgent need to increase public awareness both of the case for migration and of the likely social costs (both to migrants and the host country) when large-scale migration is not accompanied by well-thought-out strategies for integrating migrant families into the life of the communities where they settle.

I am pleased by her compassionate take on the strangers in a strange land, many of them not here legally. She makes interesting points about America's legal tradition and how the issue of legality must be addressed, citing Tocqueville and others in arguing that the US lays greater stress on this than perhaps any other nation on earth. But there is a point of legalism, and a legalism that dismisses the compassion of God for a sinful hardness of heart, sinful at least in part because it involves the disingenuity of pretending to be worthy to sit in condemnatory judgment on others, a hypocritical position... But that is not the entire case. Of course there is a place for legal consideration and it would be wrong to go carte blanche and yield up all our money. I have heard there is great scorn in some places in Latin America for the man who tends to give away his money indiscriminately to others. There is a term of derision, if I recall right, but I can't remember what it is. So why give money indiscriminately- like a prostitute who's "services" earn nothing but the scorn of the ones receiving it? But such objections can also be touted as a justification for lies we tell ourselves to avoid hearing the cry of the poor. "He who closes his ears to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be answered" as it says in Proverbs.

Glendon also points out that structures that have traditionally integrated immigrants into the existing communities in the United States have been weakened so that we cannot count on what has happened in the past occurring again. Indeed there may be terrible unmet needs, a wilderness in our neighborhoods. We must be deliberate- we the living- in forming strategies to integrate the immigrants at our doorsteps, these strangers in a strange land. Who knows but God has placed us here for such a time as this?

Glendon also makes an ironic point that I find very interesting:

Opinion leaders in the aging societies of Europe and the United States have generally avoided mentioning the relation between the birth dearth and the need for immigration. Consequently, there has been little discussion of what should be obvious: An affluent society that, for whatever reason, does not welcome babies is going to have to learn to welcome immigrants if it hopes to maintain its economic vigor and its commitments to the health and welfare of its population. The issue is not who will do jobs that Americans donĂ‚’t want. The issue is who will fill the ranks of a labor force that the retiring generation failed to replenish.

She acknowledges however that the concern that immigration will drive down the wages of lower income workers even more is not unfounded. It would be wrong to fail to take this into consideration and many of the other points which she made. This is an issue that demands our vigorous and conscientious thought to avoid the injustices of neglect and prejudice.

No comments: