Aiding Illegal Immigrants Is Not Charity

March 3, 2006: Aiding Illegal Immigrants Is Not Charity


Free Borders or Immigration Controls?
Aiding illegal immigrants is not charity

Ira Mehlman

Friday, March 3, 2006

With a debate about immigration policy coming to head in Congress as early as this month, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony is spearheading the Roman Catholic Church's effort to derail legislation that would improve the nation's immigration enforcement capability, and to promote bills that would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants and open our doors to millions of new guest workers. Blurring the important distinction between immigrants and immigration, Cardinal Mahony used his Ash Wednesday sermon to address what he calls “anti-immigrant hysteria” in the United States, and to engage in some hysteria of his own, falsely asserting that a House-passed bill would criminalize routine church activities.

Americans, to their great credit, have not translated their legitimate frustration over the massive disregard of our immigration laws into animosity toward immigrants, nor should they. However, Americans have a right to demand that their government protect their security and interests by enforcing our immigration laws, and to hold all institutions, including churches, accountable if they knowingly aid and abet people who are violating the law.

The House legislation that Cardinal Mahony finds so odious, HR4437, will not prevent clergy from administering Communion or feeding people who show up at a soup kitchen. Rather, when religious workers cross the line and actively assist people in violating the law, they will be held accountable — just as any other American would.

The objections of Cardinal Mahoney and other clergy to the House legislation are not limited to this single provision, but rather to immigration enforcement generally. Fundamentally, these religious leaders believe that the right of individuals in other countries to pursue economic opportunities in this country morally outweighs the right of this nation to restrict immigration. Viewed in this light, immigration becomes a form of charity that we, as individuals and as a society, are ethically bound to extend.

The problem is that what Cardinal Mahony and others are promoting is not charity. Charity can only be given of one's own resources. In advocating amnesty for an estimated 10 million to 12 million immigration-law violators, as well as for a massive expansion of legal immigration to the United States, Cardinal Mahony is being charitable with other people's jobs, educational opportunities, health care and other resources.

The reason why nations limit immigration is because immigration has an impact not only on immigrants, but on the lives of people in the receiving society. In the geographic region of Cardinal Mahony's archdiocese, blue-collar workers have seen a steady decline in real income since 1989, which coincides with the onset of mass illegal immigration into the Los Angeles area. The majority of kids now entering the Los Angeles public-school system are classified as non-English proficient and, not coincidentally, the high school dropout rate is more than 50 percent. Millions of medically uninsured illegal immigrants have contributed in a very significant way to a public health-care system that is overwhelmed that the county has closed more than half of its emergency rooms in the past few years, creating the certainty that people have paid for mass illegal immigration with their lives.

Congress can, if it chooses, repeal our nation's immigration laws and create virtual open borders. What it cannot do is repeal the law of supply and demand. The policies being advocated by Cardinal Mahony in the name of compassion for the poor in other countries will inevitably lead to the impoverishment of millions in this country, and decimation of an increasingly fragile American middle class.

The American public is justifiably concerned about the economic and national security costs of mass immigration. After decades of broken promises about controlling our borders, Congress and the White House have a moral obligation to protect the interests of millions of working Americans and legal immigrants, whose livelihoods and security have been harmed by the failure to enforce our immigration laws.

Justice and compassion dictate that the Senate follow the lead of the House and adopt legislation that will allow us, once and for all, to enforce our immigration laws. The future of millions of Americans, who want nothing more than to earn a decent living and provide for their families, hangs in the balance.

Ira Mehlman is a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington nonprofit organization that favors reform of U.S. immigration laws to reduce immigration flows (