The Human Tide

Author: None

The story of immigration is a complex collection of statements, studies and personal narratives that pose conflicting truths and vexing questions. Here are some of those thoughts:

Immigration is a phenomenon that has shaped and reshaped the world for thousands of years. Here in the United States immigration is driving an intense and divisive national debate, one that stretches from the halls of Congress to communities across the country where people grapple with its effects in real and emotional ways. No other issue has so divided our country or stirred so much emotion since the Civil Rights Movement of the last century. The outcome of this debate will help us define our national character for years to come.

—Notre Dame President John Jenkins, CSC,
opening the Notre Dame Forum on Immigration, October 8, 2007

Since 2000, legal immigrants have numbered about 1 million per year, of which about 600,000 are Change of Status immigrants already here. Legal immigrants are now at their highest level—about 35 million. About 1.5 million illegal immigrants enter the country annually, with a net gain of about 700,000 joining the 12 million to 20 million already here.

Currently more than 200 million people are migrating around the world—twice the number as 25 years ago—with one out of every 35 people on the planet forcibly displaced because of war, poverty, political upheaval, persecution or natural calamity. With more people uprooted than at any other point in human history, some call our time “The Age of Migration.” Immigration is a global issue that affects every country and every person on Earth.

One of the reasons it is so controversial is because it taps into some of the most central issues of human life, particularly our notions of security, order, stability, identity and peace, all of which are central to human thriving. Immigration confronts us not only with geopolitical borders but also the borders between national security and human insecurity, sovereign rights and human rights, civil law and natural law, and citizenship and discipleship.

As we cut through the polarizing rhetoric in the public forum, there are profound spiritual issues at stake. Christian faith structures its belief around two central premises: that God has migrated to us in the Incarnation and we migrate to God in the journey of Christian discipleship. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica suggests that our life is about one of movement, exitus et reditus, of coming from God and returning to God. In other words, migration defines our understanding of God and human existence.

Incarnation reveals a God who crossed borders to help a lost humanity find the way again to connect with God and one another. In the process of crossing over, Jesus scandalized those people whose notions of law walled off the greater precepts of love and compassion. He revealed in his fellowship with sinners and outcasts that there is nothing more alien to the mind of God than marginalizing people who are made in the image of God.

While borders and boundaries may have some proximate value in our struggle for security, order and identity, in the end the Gospel brings out that when these boundaries become walls, we ultimately imprison ourselves. Because Christ alone reveals that the wall that separates us from God and from one another has already come down because of his death on the cross, we see in this moment of change a new opportunity for what John Paul II referred to as a “globalization of solidarity.”

By implication this means there is no security without helping the insecure, no order without dealing with disorders of the world, no stability without addressing issues which destabilize communities, no peace without dealing with conflict. It also means that the depth of our union with God is measured by the extent to which we are able to migrate out of ourselves and respond to our brothers and sisters in need.

As we face the racism and xenophobia beneath much of the debate about immigration, we also come to see that ultimately there is no ability to cross our political borders unless we do the inner work that helps us cross the borders of our own minds and hearts.

—Daniel G. Groody, CSC, University of Notre Dame

Fifty-seven percent of illegal aliens are of Mexican origin, with 24 percent of non-Mexican Latin American origin. Since the mid-1990s the number of illegal aliens has surpassed the number of legal immigrants.

Overwhelming majorities of Americans across the religious spectrum see Hispanics in a favorable light and view immigrants from Latin America as a hard-working group with strong family values. But when asked about the impact of immigrants on American society and the U.S. economy, many more Americans express negative views. Nearly half of the public, for instance, agrees with the statement that the growing number of newcomers threaten traditional American customs and values, compared with 45 percent who say that newcomers strengthen American society.

White non-Hispanic Catholics and white mainline Protestants closely resemble the public as a whole on this question. White evangelicals seem to be particularly wary of the impact of newcomers, with 63 percent of them seeing immigrants as a threat to U.S. customs and values. On this question, it is only among seculars that a majority are in agreement with the pro-immigrant sentiments expressed by many religious leaders.

—Gregory A. Smith, “Attitudes toward Immigration: In the Pulpit and the Pew,”
Pew Research Center Publications, April 26, 2006

“Our city’s small budget can’t withstand the strain illegal aliens have caused. It’s in the red, and I’m going to have to cut services for law-abiding citizens. The federal government’s inaction has caused cities like us to have to protect ourselves."

—Mayor Louis J. Barletta, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, during the Notre Dame Forum on Immigration.
Barletta had introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which is intended to discourage undocumented immigrants from settling in Hazleton.

In the United States, an obscene alliance of corporate supremacists, desperate labor unions, certain ethnocentric Latino activist organizations and a majority of our elected officials in Washington works diligently to keep our borders open, wages suppressed and the American people all but helpless to resist the crushing financial and economic burden created by the millions of illegal aliens who crash our borders each year.

They work just as hard to deny the truth to the American public. That’s why almost every evening on my CNN broadcast we report on this country’s “Broken Borders.” The truth is that U.S. immigration policy is a tragic joke at the expense of hard-working middle-class Americans.

The American people want our borders secure, want our immigration laws enforced and want those who hire illegal aliens both punished and held liable for the economic and social costs of breaking our laws.

We are a nation of immigrants, and there is no more diverse and welcoming society than ours. But we are first a nation of laws, and upholding those laws and our national values makes this great country of ours possible.

—Lou Dobbs, The Arizona Republic, August 28, 2005

“The really hard part of this debate is what to do with the 12 million people who are already here—who mow our lawns, clean our houses, cook our meals. What we need is a system for them to come out of the shadows—perhaps to pay a fine, to learn English, to wait in line. This, I don’t believe, is amnesty. But to not do this is to effectively have silent amnesty."

—Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona, during the Notre Dame Forum on Immigration

Some people talk about immigration in terms of politics, some in terms of history. But the crux of the matter is numbers. The Labor Department says that immigrants make up about 15 percent of the work force. It’s estimated that a third of those are undocumented workers, or what those who want to send them back to where they came from call “illegals.”

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that one in four farmhands in the United States is an undocumented immigrant, and that they make up a significant portion of the people who build our houses, clean our office buildings and prepare our food.

All the thundering about policing the border and rounding up those who have slipped over it ignores an inconvenient fact: America has become a nation dependent on the presence of newcomers, both those with green cards and those without. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York testified before a Senate committee that they are a linchpin of his city’s economy. The current and former chairmen of the Federal Reserve have favored legal accommodations for undocumented workers because of their salutary effect on economic growth—and the downturn that could follow their departure. Business leaders say agriculture, construction, meatpacking and other industries would collapse without them.

—Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, August 20, 2007

(There’s) one single point about the border and immigration we know to be true: The Fence will not work. No fence will work. The Great darn Wall of China will not work. Do not build a fence. It will not work. They will come anyway. Over, under or through.

Numero Two-o, should you actually want to stop Mexicans and OTMs (other than Mexicans) from coming to the United States, here is how to do it: Find an illegal worker at a large corporation. This is not difficult—brooms and mops are big tip-offs. Then put the CEO of that corporation in prison for two or more years for violating the law against hiring illegal workers.

Got it? You can also imprison the corporate official who actually hired the illegal and, just to make sure, put some Betty Sue Billups in the joint for a two-year stretch for hiring a Mexican gardener. Thus Americans are reminded that the law says it is illegal to hire illegal workers and that anyone who hires one is responsible for verifying whether or not his or her papers are in order. If you get fooled and one slips by you, too bad, you go to jail anyway. When there are no jobs for illegal workers, they do not come. Got it?

—Molly Ivins,, March 30, 2006

“Those who say that we can simply build a wall to handle immigrants have never been to the border. You show me a 15-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 16-foot ladder."

—Governor Janet Napolitano, during the Notre Dame Forum on Immigration

On November 5, 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that 261,000 immigrants had been deported during fiscal 2007—up from 177,000 two years ago. The numbers did not include the 27,900 detainees—up from 19,700 at the same time last year.

Hispanics are transforming the nation’s religious landscape, especially the Catholic Church, not only because of their growing numbers but also because they are practicing a distinctive form of Christianity.

Religious expressions associated with the pentecostal and charismatic movements are a key attribute of worship for Hispanics in all the major religious traditions. . . .

About a third of all Catholics in the U.S. are now Latinos. . . . More than half of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatics. . . .

Two-thirds of Latino worshipers attend churches with Latino clergy, services in Spanish and heavily Latino congregations. . . .

Most Latinos see religion as a moral compass to guide their own political thinking, and they expect the same of their political leaders. In addition, most Latinos view the pulpit as an appropriate place to address social and political issues.

—"Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion,"
Pew Hispanic Research Center, 2007

Then there is genuine cultural discomfort. Census statistics last week showed that, for the first time, almost half of Americans under 5 years of age are now non-white. The reason? Hispanics accounted for half the population growth in America from 2004–05; and 70 percent of the growth in the population under the age of 5. Project that into the future and America becomes a majority coffee-colored country in a generation. When the disproportionately white baby-boomer generation dies off, the ethnic demographic shift could be dramatic. There’s a reason that people are not proposing a wall to cordon off Canada.

—Andrew Sullivan, The Sunday Times, May 21, 2006

Let us understand the forces at work here. “The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world,” writes Stanford historian David Kennedy. That huge disparity is producing massive demand in the United States and massive supply from Mexico and Central America. Whenever governments try to come between these two forces—think of drugs—simply increasing enforcement does not work. Tighter border control is an excellent idea, but to work, it will have to be coupled with some recognition of the laws of supply and demand—that is, it will have to include expansion of the legal immigrant pool.

Beyond the purely economic issue, however, there is the much deeper one that defines America—to itself, to its immigrants and to the world. How do we want to treat those who are already in this country, working and living with us? How do we want to treat those who come in on visas or guest permits? These people must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.

—Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post, April 4, 2006

When I returned to South Bend in 2004 for a Notre Dame lacrosse reunion, I encountered a pattern I have often observed in my travels around the country. The maid who tended my room was an illegal immigrant from Mexico. She was a single mother, struggling to support her children with one of the lowest-paying jobs in the American economy. Her name was Guadalupe Maria.

These solo parents, many of them illegal immigrants with little education, have traded a threadbare Mexican existence for U.S-style poverty. They are usually grateful for the upgrade. But their children, many of whom have little or no memory of Mexico, are a different story. They tend to get overlooked in the increasingly strident debate about illegal immigration.

“So much of the debate focuses on the labor force,‘’ says Michael Fix of the Migration Policy Institute. "It kind of ignores the fact that workers often come with children.’’

The big risk is with the second or third generation. The first generation is thrilled to be earning $7 or $10 an hour. I’m worried about their kids, who grow up with an American set of eyes. Too many of these kids are getting lost—because their parents are often working two or three jobs and because too many of them are being raised by single mothers. Some of these kids will persevere and thrive, like some of the Notre Dame students speaking at the forum. Their stories are wonderful. But too many are caught in what some sociologists call “downward assimilation.” The rates of gang formation, dropouts and out-of-wedlock births among the children of immigrants are frightening. These kids are part of a new, expanding underclass.

Consider Alex, a 14 year-old I met a trailer court on the edge of Columbus, Indiana, an hour south of Indianapolis. Alex’s father had abandoned his family and returned to Mexico with another woman. Depressed and confused, Alex had tumbled into a series of problems at school.

His situation worried Columbus police officer Rudy Olivo, who knows too well the troubles of immigrant kids squeezed by family troubles, economic struggles and the nagging shadow of an illegal border crossing.

“If these kids don’t get an education and they’re not made to feel valuable to themselves and the community, they’re going to drop out and become something we’ll have to deal with later,’’ says Olivo.

Professor Jorge Chapa of Indiana University sharpened the focus. "If they get marginalized from their families and schools, you’ve got a recipe for gangs,’’ he says.

There are tens of thousands of youngsters like Alex. Growing up in a country that doesn’t accept them, haunted by the country that pushed them northward, they struggle to find a place. Many are floundering, as illustrated by their alarming rates of dropouts, teen pregnancy and gang membership.

Even the most promising of them, those who excel in school and hunger to develop their talents, are often stunted by state laws that deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. The Dream Act, federal legislation that would have offered them a chance at citizenship, was recently defeated in the Senate. It fell victim to the increasingly polarized national debate.

At one extreme are those who denounce any proposed legalization as capitulation to an invasion. At the other are those, Catholic bishops among them, who insist that we follow the biblical injunction to welcome the stranger. National political leaders have found neither the will nor the way to negotiate a compromise.

Meanwhile, the stakes of the problem grow larger, for the undocumented immigrant children and even for younger siblings who may be citizens because they were born here. They are all growing up in a churning confusion of legal, economic and cultural uncertainty. Michael Fix calls their presence “a new and troubling national experiment.”

—Jerry Kammer ’71

El Rodeo, Mexico —For years, millions of Mexican migrants working in the United States have sent money back home to villages like this one, money that allows families to pay medical bills and school fees, build houses and buy clothes or, if they save enough, maybe start a tiny business.

But after years of strong increases, the amount of migrant money flowing to Mexico has stagnated. From 2000 to 2006, remittances grew to nearly $24 billion a year from $6.6 billion, rising more than 20 percent some years. In 2007, the increase so far has been less than 2 percent.

Migrants and migration experts say a flagging American economy and an enforcement campaign against illegal workers in the United States have persuaded some migrants not to try to cross the border illegally to look for work. Others have decided to return to Mexico. And many of those who are staying in the United States are sending less money home.

In the rest of the world, remittances are rising, up as much as 10 percent a year, according to Donald F. Terry of the Inter-American Development Bank. Last year, migrant workers worldwide sent more than $300 billion to developing countries—almost twice the amount of foreign direct investment.

But in Mexico, families are feeling squeezed.

—Elisabeth Malkin, The New York Times, October 26, 2007