The following are some core points about immigration that I hope can cut through the rhetoric that both sides of the issue tend to elide. The solutions I have on offer are not easy, nor do I expect they can be implemented perfectly; they represent directions and compromises more than anything else. However, all four more or less rely on one another to work. As always, comments and pushback welcome!
1. People should not have to migrate in order to have a decent life. This is the most important point, and the one that gets talked about the least. If a person must leave their homeland, their family, and their culture and undertake an expensive and dangerous journey in order to work in a humiliating and often abusive environment, that is an injustice. It is no less an injustice than a child dying of a completely preventable or treatable disease like malaria. If conservatism, as we have been hearing, is an international movement against the globalist juggernaut, then conservatives have to be interested in helping people want to stay in the places they were born. This means that many, many places around the world need to be places where a person can be born safely, grow up without fear of violence, go to school, get a decent job, get married, and feed their families. There are no easy ways to make this happen, which is why this very important point doesn’t get much airtime. What a person in a wealthy country owes to a child dying of malaria in a poor country is a difficult moral question — not in the sense that what is owed to that child is unclear, but the most just way to get it to them. For Christians, it suffices to say that God does not listen to people who hoard the blessings He gave them, so the ones who think there’s too much illegal immigration better start thinking and talking about how to not forsake the judgments of God that Isaiah warns us about.
2. Migration is inevitable. We live and work in a globalized economy. People and products are going to flow from one place to another; the question is how those flows can and should be just. The toothpaste can’t go back in the tube. There is no country in the world that has managed to tightly restrict immigration and produce everything it needs domestically. The countries with the strictest immigration policies are facing the most precipitous demographic decline and no one has found a magical reverse-the-birthrate-drop formula. Wealthier nations are going to need workers from other places to avoid total economic collapse, and workers from other places like to go work in wealthier nations. Considering point #1, in an ideal world no one would ever because they’re desperate and hungry, but this is obviously not something that will happen tomorrow. Thus, people who don’t like illegal immigration need to strictly define what they consider to be acceptable levels of migration and run with those numbers. (See point #4 below) It’s unjust for wealthier countries to take the best people and products from other nations while dumping our old clothes and plastic waste on them in return. (The sugar industry is a good example.) Conservatives, as Matthew Petersen says in the very best essay on this subject that I have ever read, “cannot pick and choose aspects of our form of life to defend, as from a salad bar, or meaningfully abstract from the material conditions on which our form of life depends.” Thus, wealthier countries must find a point at which their own national interests are balanced fairly with the interests of the nations that they are importing from or exporting to.
3. Illegal immigration is bad and should be minimized as strictly as possible. It is all well and good to quote some Bible verses about welcoming in the stranger, but right now “liberal” immigration policy prefers to not think about what happens before an immigrant arrives at the border. Illegal border crossings are life-threatening for migrants, overwhelm host communities at the border, and promote other illegal activities. The harder it is to cross a border illegally, the fewer people undertake dangerous journeys. If we truly want to love the immigrant and the stranger, we should not incentivize border crossings that put them at risk. If that requires harsh measures, then these measures should be implemented as long as they don’t deny migrants other basic human rights or separate parents from their children.
4. Opportunities for legal migration must be expanded. The United States has absurdly long wait times for visas and practically no way for workers who aren’t highly skilled to come work there. The number of people we’re talking about, whether its refugees or other legal immigrants, is a fraction of a percentage point of the overall US population. I can’t speak to whether or not European countries have reached a threshold of “too many immigrants”, but it is simply false to claim that there is no more room in America. Even the best of the best, highly skilled workers from other countries who work hard and serve Americans most in need in America suffer through years of understaffed bureaucracy in order to stay. Legal immigration has to be expanded alongside restricting illegal immigration. The people who claim that America ought to “do more to help their own citizens” before admitting more refugees are for the most part quite silent about what sort of help they intend to offer. The amounts of money that programs like refugee resettlement cost are also fractions of a percentage point of the outlays in Medicare and Social Security that are spent on American citizens. The people who are most concerned about national cohesion also tend to be extraordinarily unconcerned about things that current limit our national cohesion like racial disparities in life expectancy.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org