Sunday, July 01, 2007

I got to thinking how best to explain the concept of America's problems with immigration, the Catholic concept of charity, and how such things can be resolved. So I'll use a bit of storytelling here to explain the problem of illegal immigration as I see it.

In the middle of the night, you're woken out of a deep slumber by a frantic ringing of your doorbell, pounding on your door and all kinds of shouting. You grab a shotgun, crank up the lights as you go and investigate. You open the door to find a stranger at your door, rather fearful of the gun in your hands. "Please," he says, "I've been thrown out of my home and I fear for my life because my father says I should give him all of my paychecks without regard for my welfare. If I don't he'll kill me. I've been on the road for a few weeks now and I'm starving. Will you please give me something to eat?"

Well, if he's asking for food and not cash, that's a good sign he's not trying to find the alcohol section of the local convenience store. So, you warm up some leftovers or grab a frozen dinner out of the fridge and give the stranger something to eat. You're probably wired from all the commotion, so you know it's going to be a long night. Eventually, though, you're able to find shelter for him even if it's only getting some sleep on the couch before getting him to a social services group for their assistance. The stranger thanks you, and gives you his name so you can find him again, because he wants you to see how he's doing, and so you know he can repay you. You've done what is right.

A week later, another stranger knocks on your door shortly after dinner. "Hello," he says, "Sorry to bother you, but I'm Mr. So-and-So from another neighborhood and I was hoping to move in next door very soon. I need to make some extra money, so do you know of a business that could use an extra licensed plumber on its staff?" You say you're not sure, but you take his business card and give him some leads, saying to use you as a reference if those businesses ask how he heard about them. You send him off armed with leads to a new job.

The next night, you're walking down to the basement when you hear a creaking noise that sounds like one of your basement windows opening and shutting. Again, you go for the shotgun and the lights. There's another hungry-looking stranger in your basement who you've caught as he's setting foot on your basement floor. "Oh, hi," he says, "Yeah, about this. I was, uh, looking for a job at two in the morning when I thought it would be nice to find a place to sleep. Your basement window had a dodgy spring on it so I just sort of slipped in." You ask him why he didn't knock on the door and you get the first answer "Well, I didn't want to bother you."

It's funny how this stranger says that sneaking into your house, making you grab a gun and investigate a place that should be safe for you isn't a bother. So, you point the gun at the stranger, tell him to leave and not come back and follow him out of your house and watch him walk out of your neighborhood. You secure the window and go back to bed.

The next night, it's the second stranger again. Same window, same deer-in-the-headlights look at your shotgun. This time he says "You really need to get that window looked at. I know I was told not to come back, but hey, that's not very nice. So, I'm going to go upstairs, order a pizza and hang out until it gets here. Then I'll, uh, clean your carpets or something as payment. How does that sound?"

It sounds like he's broken into your basement again. Even though this is your property this stranger isn't too keen on respecting your rights as a property owner. So, you march him out again.

Yep. Third night in a row, this stranger comes in through the basement window. However he's got his girlfriend with him this time. How she got through the window in the 9th month of pregnancy, you're not sure, but they found a way. "Hey, I know what it looks like, but you're wrong. I just want my girlfriend to have a comfortable place to give birth, all right?" You call an ambulance and the stranger yells out "I'll have them bill you! It's cool, right?" as he rides away in the ambulance. So you secure the window again and put up some boards and a sign that says "No Trespassing."

Why is it that four nights in a row this guy has decided to break into your house? "Oh, well, I've always lived here," he says, "even before you did. Really. So, uh, get off my grandpa's property!" Shotgun, march out, you know the drill. This time though, he called a press conference to show you, the quite torqued-off homeowner as you throw him out. "Why aren't you being nice to this guy? He's got a girlfriend and a new baby registered at this address!" the news reporter shouts at you. "Are you trying to evict him through violence? How cruel! What a horrible person you are! He came to your house looking for help and this is how you repay him?"

So you show the reporter your busted-out window and the No Trespassing sign. "Well, you should have fixed that. And that sign doesn't mean anything. It's a free country, he can go where he wants. Why do you hate this guy who has to squeeze through that tiny window just to live here?" You explain that he never announced himself, that you found him there uninvited. "Oh," says the reporter. So, he calls the police and you wound up with the pastor doing his ride-along tour tonight. "So, this guy keeps breaking into your house? Well, you never called us, so it's obviously okay for him to stay. And we won't ask if he belongs here or not." The pastor looks at you and says "Where's your sense of mercy for this poor unfortunate?"

Yeah. You've had it. So, you ask everyone to leave because you're tired, you want this stranger gone, and you just want one night of peace. The cop tells you not to tell him how to enforce the law and starts looking around your house for stuff, the reporter screams that your shotgun can jump out of your hands and cause others to go on killing sprees, and the pastor names you at Mass on Sunday as a horrible monster who would rather shoot at strangers than help them out of their awful situations.

And all through this the stranger is flipping you off from behind their backs, but plays innocent whenever they turn around.

THAT is the problem right there. No one sees a repeated break-in, they just see a a guy in a bathrobe holding a shotgun and telling some other guy to stay out of his house. America is a wonderful place if you can present yourself as the noble underdog. We love our underdogs here, as they struggle to gain something that they can call their own.

However, we've gotten so blinkered by the concept of the noble underdog that people we put in leadership and informational roles have decided that anyone who is struggling for success should be rewarded at the expense of people who haven't had so difficult of a time. This is stupid, flat out stupid.

The first stranger understood that his need was desperate and was willing to brave your anger to get some food and directions on where to stay to turn his life around. These are our political refugees, ones who truly realize they're desperate and are willing to beg you for help regardless of how much it hurts them. All you can do is hope that he'll get back on his feet.

The second stranger didn't want to stay a stranger for long; he announced his intention to become your neighbor and asked for help in finding more work so he could pay his own way. These are our economic immigrants. They understand what makes this country the way it is and they want to be part of it from the beginning.

The third stranger? He breaks into your house, uses your services to make his life easier, brings his girlfriend, bills you for her medical problems, then goes and cries to the authorities hat you're hurting him when you try kicking him out of your house one final time. This ingrate is an illegal immigrant. He breaks into your house, inconveniences you, tries to kick you off of your property and make you pay for the privilege.

This is where the Catholic concept of charity comes in. "Charity" comes from the Latin "caritas," or love that is directed outward. The food, the shelter and the opportunities you provided to the first two strangers are acts of Charity. You were helping them because of their situations because it was the right thing to do.

The third stranger? When someone breaks into your house, the nicest thing you can do is tell them to leave and not come back. When they come back again despite your attempts to patch the things they've broken. You hoped he'd learn it was bad to break in the first time and not do it again. Instead he broke in again and you acted in a manner you thought was charitable by not calling the cops. No, you lulled him into thinking that he'd just get off with another warning whenever he did that. Charity would be bringing in the police to cart him off and let him realize the error of his ways. It didn't happen that way, though.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops refuses to see this for what it is: breaking into someone else's house. Instead they blur the line between the desperate immigrant and the illegal immigrant. One is here because it's his last hope, the other is here because he has no respect for us. We ask him to identify himself and what happens? He sneaks in through the basement window instead of knocking on the door, then gets angry once he's caught. We're told that every human being is equal in the eyes of God. This is true. But why is the guy who is coming into my country illegally being treated better than me, the guy who is already here and asking people to make their presence known beforehand so I can get the place ready?

While a human being might not be illegal, his actions can certainly be illegal. We should be able to punish people for their actions against established laws. These laws aren't just fun little guidelines, they're designed to keep some amount of public order and safety. Why do we reward those who openly act illegally? That's what has disappointed me with the USCCB position. The Conference has refused to accept that we are punishing people for their illegal actions, and instead say that we are punishing them for being poor and hungry.

That President Bush refuses to see this as well is saddening. In our current war, I have supported him as Commander-in Chief. As Head of State and Chief Executive, I have supported him against detractors. When he put forth policies that would benefit my retirement savings, worked on cutting taxes further, allowed me to defend my home with more ease and agreed that the lives of the innocent are inviolate, I supported him. I cannot support President Bush on the issue of immigration. This has been as much a failure as letting No Child Left Behind, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Safety Authority become bloated mockeries of what were presented as lean frameworks to assist communication, provide oversight, and enforce what was already stated law. I will still support my President, but I will do so conditionally.

We are mistaking Charity for handouts. There are grave differences between the two. Why do our legal and spiritual authorities insist on blinding themselves to those differences?

1 comment:

Weetabix said...

I've tried to explain this to people in my parish. They look at me as if I were the devil incarnate.

I also ask, "If we encourage illegals to come here and break the law,don't we commit the sin of scandal?"

See the Catechism definition here:
Read the whole thing. The Church is big on social justice, but freqently their ideas of social justice seem (to me) to encourage "social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible."

(Sorry I don't know how to do the HTML tag for it. Edit the link if you like.)