01-28-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Well, lo and behold, you do learn something new under the sun. The President, apparently, now and then talks like a real estate developer on a construction site in Queens or Brooklyn. Who would have ever guessed? According to some, though he denies saying it, the President referred to some countries as feces pits. Unfortunate choice of words. Lots of outrage ensued. But if you flip it around and it is not the case that some countries are in bad shape, then it should be no problem to have people return to those countries who are here on a temporary visa status. Right? After all, we would be sending them back to economically vibrant, flourishing democracies, or would we?

The truth is that some countries are in really bad shape, and we may be partly to blame. Take for instance Haiti. Haiti is a very small country (actually only half an island), and over the years they have received billions upon billions of dollars in financial assistance. For all that money, Haiti should be Hong Kong on the Caribbean or Monte Carlo or even Singapore. But that is not the case, and it’s people continue to live in very difficult circumstances. So maybe throwing money at the problem is not always the best solution.

Using immigration as some sort of safety valve to relieve poverty in third world countries is also an ineffective strategy. To make it effective, we would have to import a huge amount of the population from a poor country to even make a dent. The World Bank estimates that there are over 3 billion people in the world who make less than $2 dollars a day. How many of them do we take in to make a difference? There are also 5.6 billion people who make less than the average income of people living in Mexico. So do we admit them ahead of Mexicans? In fact, by allowing immigration from these poorer and underdeveloped countries, we may actually be doing them more harm than good.

When the topic of immigration comes up, we are quick to ask how immigration will benefit our country.  But maybe we should flip it around and ask how does immigration help the migrant country? Too often, we skim the cream off the top of a society. The people who are most likely to immigrate are usually the people with the most drive, the most snap, the most ingenuity, the most educated. Those who decide to make the long journey through immigration are willing to leave behind their former lives, their families, their culture, and often their language. They come ready to start at the bottom rung and work their way up the ladder of success. They tend to be willing to work long hours at remedial jobs for low pay. They are willing to sacrifice a lot to better their lives, their future, and their family. Think of how many immigrant success stories you know, and these facts prove themselves out.

These are the very people, who if they stayed in their homelands, would be the ones who could make a difference and change their society if given the opportunity. Maybe we should think about how we could help them do that with the goal of turning their countries from third to first world status.

The social teaching of the Church has a lot to say on this matter - particularly the teachings of the various Popes in the 20th century: Paul VI’s Populurom progressio, John Paul II’s Sollicitudo rei socialis, and Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate. What should the integral development of peoples look like? How does an economy serve the needs of its people? What is the proper role of the international community in assisting struggling nations? All these are important questions when discussing issues like immigration.

The immigration needs of the U.S. are vastly different in the 21st century than they were at the beginning of the 20th century. So who should we be admitting? Who should benefit from our charity? Should we be enticing the best and the brightest to abandon their homelands? How do we really help the suffering people of the world to better their lot in life? Would it be better to focus our efforts on where they live than to bring them to the US?

Fr. John B.