Most people never migrate from their native land. It takes more courage, and more resourcefulness, than most people have. It involves risks. Most people avoid risks.
Some rationale moves every migrant. A rationale found on a wide spectrum, stretching from “I must leave this country, or I will perish in the war going on around me,” to “Let me get out of this lawless, desperate land, and seek a home where the streets are safe,” to “I’m bored here. I heard they have nicer weather there.”
Granted, there can be an evil rationale for migrating: “I’m on the run from the righteous law in my own land, so let me get out of here!” Such an evil rationale deserves an evil welcome, so to speak. Extradition. But that rationale accounts for very little of the migration in the world.
So some reason moves every migrant. Many of us can say that our forebears migrated here to the US because their native lands had stultified social structures, poorly organized economies, a hopelessly meager way of life.
They sought the means to travel to the US. They likely did not pause to consider “illegal” vs. “legal” immigration. They simply came here, however they could.
What greeted them? A relatively well-organized and expeditious means of entry, with few technicalities and fewer expenses. Also: a fair promise. Live an honest, hard-working life, and you will be an American.
The USA offered such a welcome to our forebears because she could, and because it served her interests to do so.
We still could; we have plenty of room left. And it still would serve our interests to do so.
In Franklin and Henry counties, Virginia, employers desperately seek able-bodied workers. To the point of calling the priest to help them find people. Many employers in the USA desperately seek workers.
But we do not offer the same welcome that we did in the old days.
The migrants of the past forty years have come for the same general set of reasons as the migrants of the preceding three centuries. They have come with the same hopes, and willing to live the same hard-working, honest lives.
But the USA has not greeted most of the recent migrants with the same well-organized and expeditious means of entry. And instead of making good on the basic American-immigrant compact (work hard, obey the law, and become a citizen) the America of our generation has welcomed a chosen few, while leaving millions to languish in a second-class, non-citizen status.
Not an alien mass, estranged from our social life. To the contrary: the parents and grandparents of many of the friends and spouses of our children and grandchildren.
Migrants migrate, for the reasons that move them to do so. If they migrate imprudently, incorrectly measuring the prospects in the land to which they choose to travel, then they have to live with the consequences of such a mistake.
But if someone migrates for a good reason–somewhere on the wide spectrum mentioned above–to a place where there are good prospects (like the USA, right now), then… Well, only a foolish, self-destructive people would try to shut the door.
As wise teachers like our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul, Socrates, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have taken pains to point out: A higher law determines whether human laws are just or unjust.
The tens of millions of undocumented, law-abiding immigrants, dedicated to honest work, currently living in the US–we cannot in any just sense call them “illegal.”
They took the risk of migrating here for solid reasons, just like the American immigrants of old. And they have blessed and enriched our land, just like the immigrants of old.
They did not receive the welcome that our forebears received, which is our fault, not theirs.
They deserve exactly what we deserve. Equality under law. Basic human rights. The benefit of the doubt. Respect and courtesy.
[I offer this, dear reader, by way of an answer to some questions and comments that I got about my homily at Mass today.]