People say we have a right to protect our borders.
They say that we have worked hard for what we have, and that we cannot risk losing that. They helpfully point out that there are some very difficult, concrete questions—economic, cultural, etc.—to be faced. There is a way in which an influx of newcomers can change the life we know. And once they arrive, after all, people do need health care, education, and lots of other things that require significant investment of money and other resources. Somebody has to provide those. The extreme version of this, of course, is the claim that we simply should provide no help, no accommodation at all, to those who have crossed our borders without permission. In this debate, it’s important to begin by saying that it’s not only “understandable,” but, in a basic sense, right and good. Borders do matter, and stability does matter.
I worry, though, about the way “protecting borders” seems to become a bone-deep need to control, to keep out the “other,” whatever the expense. I worry that a focus only on this question of control can eclipse some profoundly important questions of larger, human good. And, even if we are completely pragmatic about our own good, it’s worth it to note that most people, if they have access to simple things like health care and education, become productive themselves—and enrich us all with their hard work and contribution to the common good. I believe that if we we step back and consider a larger horizon, that—even with those, difficult, concrete questions—we will actually find that welcoming in the stranger leaves us richer in countless ways.
Now, it’s important not to be utopian or naive about this. As I often point out in these conversations, some people experience the complications of border-crossings much more immediately than others. I worry when I see those whose lives are little touched by these realities criticizing those who are patrolling their borders. It is too easy to look, at a distance, and ask why these silly people can’t just be a little more generous. Pontificating doesn’t help. What will help is something more complex: all of us, together, educating ourselves on the demands involved in this issue. There are, of course, some stereotypes to overcome about “dangerous” strangers, but let’s be practical. A big part of what would really make a difference to those patrolling their borders vigilantly is knowing that they will be supported in bearing the costs involved.
Finally, though, I think we have to move beyond a simple comparison of “costs” and “benefits,” to address a more basic claim: these people are people. In fact, there is an important sense in which these folks are the people that we ourselves were. Virtually all of us were “strangers” at some point, but we were given the opportunity to have a place, to find a voice, and to belong. How can we deny that possibility to those who come after us?
We do have a right to protect our borders. That right, however, has to be weighed against other rights and other goods, against obligations to other human beings as human beings. If we talk about control in isolation, we go very wrong.
All of this is why I consider myself to be fundamentally “pro-immigrant,” and why I hope for substantive reform of immigration law in the U.S.
All of this is also why I consider myself to be fundamentally “pro-life,” and why I hope for substantive reform of abortion law in the U.S.