The Personalist Project

A few months ago I read that the growing and intractable problem of an ancient culture of thievery among Roma immigrants had induced a French politician to call for their expulsion. The Catholic Church had condemned the call as racist and inhumane.

"Okay," I thought. "But what about the thievery?" It bothered me that the Church would condemn a politician's proposed solution without proposing a practical alternative. Are French citizens supposed to just roll over and let themselves be robbed?

I had a similar response this morning to a post of Cardinal Dolan's condemning the citizens of a California town who turned back busloads of illegal immigrants. He called their actions shameful: "un-American," "un-Biblical," and "inhumane."

This strikes me as shockingly unjust of the Cardinal. Every human person deserves love and respect, this is true. But American citizens are people too, and a nation has both a right and a duty to secure its borders. Just as a home-owner has a right to lock his doors against intruders, the tax-payers of a given town have a right to refuse entry to illegal immigrants.

Furthermore, the Cardinal writes as if these poor immigrants were comparable to the victims of a natural disaster—as if they aren't in fact (we have every reason to believe) tools of cynical politicians whose aim is to force "fundamental transformation" on American life and culture.

Under the circumstances, it seems to me that the Cardinal's remarks make the situation worse not better. "Normal Americans," who are horrified at the federal government's dereliction of its duty to secure the border will be disgusted by the Catholic Church's apparent enabling of lawlessness. Their resentments and their resistance to her moral suasion will increase. And liberals who tend to think that all opposition to illegal immigration boils down to racism will feel confirmed and emboldened in their animus toward conservatives and any policy that aims at restoring order.

A more judicious moral leader, imo, would at the very least have made note of the valid concerns on both sides of the political divide, and helped propose practical solutions that take all of them into due account.

Comments (26)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jul 15, 2014 12:24pm

Here is another instance of the problem:

Catholic leaders call a ban on the burka an infringement of religious freedom, but without taking any account of or proposing a better way of addressing the problem of coercion in islamic cultures and its incompatibility with western-style democracy.


#2, Jul 15, 2014 1:46pm

Mixed feelings...

How are borders defined? What's a nation? On what bottom line ground an immigrant is legal or illegal? Especially in a country where the immense majority are immigrants of only a few generations? Why would a human person not be allowed to move to another country in search for a better life? Especially to America, where so many people have done exactly this since always? Why would a nation have to prevail against a person? Isn't the family the first society according to natural law, with rights and duties that exist prior to any State?

This transcends by far the spectrum of today local politics, it seems to me. It has been part of humanity since our first parents had to move out of Paradise. Our father in faith, Abraham, was fundamentally an immigrant...

According to my personal history, family and land ties, I can claim to be (in alphabetical order) from Antwerp, Austria, Belgium, Brabant, Burgundy, Catalonia, Flanders, France, Frankia, Gallia, Germany, Luxembourg, Nervia, The Netherlands, Rome, Scotland, Spain...


#3, Jul 15, 2014 1:50pm

Door locks are a consequence of sin in our world. No door locks in Paradise. And the story goes that door locks actually exist to protect normal people from being tempted. Real thiefs are not being stopped by a door lock which can often easily been forced or opened by a crook. It's the rest of us who are. It's a measure of prudence, but in a different sense than what we would think!

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jul 15, 2014 1:57pm

Can you bring that down to a practical conclusion with respect to illegal immigration, Sapperdepitjes? I'm not sure I'm following you.

I agree, of course, that locked doors are a consequence of sin in our world. So are laws and armies and the existence of policemen. So are borders between nations.


#5, Jul 15, 2014 2:00pm

I've always been taught that there are cases of extreme poverty (of any kind) which can justify taking what is not legally your own. Private property is not an absolute. What we have, is our own only in administration, and we will have to give account on this administration to our Creator. This counts not only for persons, but also for nations, they will also be judged on the last day.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jul 15, 2014 2:29pm

I've been taught that too. I agree that private property is not absolute. I believe in "the universal destination" of the goods of the earth.

I don't blame immigrants for trying for a better life. That's not the issue.

I recently heard Alice von Hildebrand say (quoting I forget who): "Christianity says, 'what is mine, is yours"; Communism says, 'what's yours is mine.'"

We could maybe add that statist politicians say, "What's yours is for me to take and resdistribute according to my best political interests."

There is nothing immoral or invalid in defending ourselves and our property (whether personal or national) from those who try to seize it for themselves.


#7, Jul 15, 2014 2:30pm

What I mean is that the very concept of immigration being legal or illegal has always seemed something blurred and arbitririal to me, with an easy corruption into interested power play over the heads of the poor.

When you look at the map with the ever changing borders (and they will of course continue to do so), up to what point is your nationality something you freely choose? What right do strong and rich nations have to barr the entry to poorer people?

I will never forget the Pope's visit to Lampedusa last October.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Jul 15, 2014 2:40pm

So, would you say you think there's no such thing as private property? If you wouldn't say that, how would you qualify it? Do you think that nations don't have a right or a duty to secure their borders? Do you think that the tax-payers of the US have a moral obligation to provide housing, education, and health care to anyone and everyone who comes here?


#9, Jul 15, 2014 3:05pm

Nations should defend their borders against ill-inteded other nations, armies, totalitarians systems, dictators, warriors... but not against poor immigrants willing to work and contribute.

In an ever more globalizing world, the nation concept is fading away. I've got countless cousins who married a foreigner, just like you and me did.

When my parents were kids, they needed a permit to travel from Belgium to Holland. Now we can travel freely accross Europe. And I ask myself, why not accross the whole planet?

When the iron curtain fell, people were afraid that they would receive a flood of poor Easterners coming to Western Europe. Politicians decided to open up the borders and hasten the entry of these countries into the EU. This actually kept people basically were they were: without moving, they had become part of the club anyway.

I've always thought there would be less people travelling from Mexico to the US if that border would be unconditionally open for all...

In Spain, illegal immigrants are entitled to free health care because this is considered a basic human right. It doesn't have much influence on the immigration flow. At the end of the day, everybody needs to earn a living.

Devra Torres

#10, Jul 15, 2014 4:13pm

"Furthermore, the Cardinal writes as if these poor immigrants were comparable to the victims of a natural disaster—as if they aren't in fact (we have every reason to believe) tools of cynical politicians whose aim is to force "fundamental transformation" on American life and culture."

It seems to me they (or at least many of them) are both--victims, by being born into a situation of poverty, disease, and violence, and certainly also tools of cynical politicians.  And the politicians on both sides seem bent on manipulating all of us, by working on our compassion and generosity or on our fears and antipathies.


#11, Jul 15, 2014 4:15pm

Couldn't agree more ;-)

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Jul 15, 2014 4:18pm

I agree mostly, Devra. 

That's why I so wish the Church leadership would offer moral commentary in a way that takes due account of the valid concerns on both sides, and offer guidelines for a good alternative.

Natalia Juzyn

#13, Jul 15, 2014 8:15pm

Katie, I'm not sure if you or others here have read the USCCB's Strangers No Longer, or Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Sould of Our Nation by Archbihop Gomez. Both discuss the rights of immigrants (as flowing from the right to life) and the rights of sovereign nations. If you have, I'd be interested in your commets.

It's been a while since I've read these two resources, but I recall being especially impressed with the book by Arch. Gomez. He covers a lot of ground in a short work. His main thesis is that immigration is about more than immigration; it transcends politics. It is about faith and the soul of America, which has lost its sense of having a Spanish and Catholic heritage.

Having said that, his practical commentary (and that of Strangers No Longer) is focused on the needs of immigrants. Both of course suggest solidarity with immigrants and offer pathways to legalization. But as for addressing the needs of a nation, Perhaps it is assumed that the nation will take of looking out for itself. I wonder if there is a source someone out there could suggest.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Jul 16, 2014 8:57am

S, I grant the distinction between hostile armies and "poor immigrants who want to work and contribute," but:

1) Especially if you have a welfare state, open borders is impossible. The tax-payers would quickly be overwhelmed, as we already are now, with more trillions in debt and unfunded mandates than exist in the entire global ecomony.

2) Our language and culture, too, would soon be lost.

3) There is no way to distinguish between the poor who want to work and those who want to take advantage or do harm (such as jihadists) without establishing "high walls," viz. immigration regulations.

4) Regardless of what we think the laws should be, the fact is they they are what they are, and what we are now seeing amounts to an unprecedent degree of lawlessness being tolerated and even perpetrated by a federal government staffed with leftist ideologues. Conservative Americans are deeply worried about this. Not because we hate or fear immigrants, but because we see that unless order is restored, the American experiment is about to fail, which would be a disaster not only for us, but for the world.

Damian P. Fedoryka

#15, Jul 16, 2014 11:21am

Thank you Katie, for triggering a memory of events experienced but not named, either in my native tongue or the German sounds hovering at the fringes of consciousness. I was four. The war was ending. In the flashes of images, I was at a tall fence. The hands of my Mother, whose powerful presence but not her face is part of the memory, pushing me under the lower strands held apart by helpful hands of strangers. All I remember was the sense of safety, shelter and food that followed. And  an overwhelming sense of my Mother's absence for a number of days. And then the joy of reunion.

Damian P. Fedoryka

#16, Jul 16, 2014 11:25am

Later I learned that the fence was a barrier between a hostile zone and a safety zone. I learned other things as well that could be part of an unfolding story. Your post provided a partial identity for a child that doesn't remember ever being addressed by the name I now known as mine. Now, for the fist time in my life I add to the title I first learned, "refugee" reserved for others like me in camps reserved for us. Today, for the first time I have identified myself as both "innocent victim" and "tool" of cynical - politicians, one called Hitler. The other was Stalin, also know as an "agrarian reformer," the earlier nomenclature of "community organizers."

I am glad that at the time, my courageous Mother - who had ventured West even before the end of the war, in search of her husband, my Father, a number in some Kazet, did not pause at the fence dividing both sides of the story, the "yours" from "mine", the “illegal immigrant” from the “innocent victim and tool.”

Cardinal Dolan could have been defending me, a person in crisis, rather than a proposition in a discussion.

God Bless,


Katie van Schaijik

#17, Jul 16, 2014 11:42am

I see and grant your point, Damian. (I mean, I think I do.) What bothers me isn't that Cardinal Dolan defends  refugees. It's that he attacks those who are justly alarmed by the lawlesesness they're being victimized by. 

When I was thirteen or fourteen, my parents took a family of Laotian refugees from Communism. They had lived for two years in a refugee camp in Thailand. For nearly a year, I think, my parents slept on a pull-out couch in the study. They gave my sister and me their bedroom, so that pour family wtih two small children could have ours. I loved and admired them for it.

I'm all in favor of caring for refugees. That's not the point.

Katie van Schaijik

#18, Jul 16, 2014 11:49am

There's a great scene in the movie The Train. The French Resistance fighter is fleeing the Nazis and taking refuge in a hotel. The proprietess of the hotel helps him, but then asks to be paid for the room. The resistance fighter (played brilliantly by Burt Lancaster) looks at her incredulously, "But, we're at war!" She responds in a way that shows that she has already had as many losses as she can bear. His attitude toward her shifts on the spot, and he says, "You should be paid."

The justice of her complaint having been duly acknowledged, she is ready to be generous, even heroic in her courage and generosity toward him. 

We don't help a crisis by berating those who have just complaints for their lack of generosity and charity.

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Jul 16, 2014 11:58am

In the facebook discussion surrounding this post, in response to a friend who was skeptical of my suggestion that leftist ideologues are, if not deliberately causing this crisis, using it opportunistically for their own political ends, I brought up Stalin's "agrarian reforms" in Ukraine.

History shows us that there is no limit to humanity's inhumanity, or, alas, the left's willingness to exploit persons and crises to advance their cause.

Devra Torres

#20, Jul 16, 2014 12:47pm

This is another frustrating thing: if you acknowledge that there are politicians trying to make hay out of this crisis, and this suffering, and that they're pushing for one kind of outcome or another, you're a dupe of some giant, carefully coordinated conspiracy, every event being manipulated by some omnipotent backstage figure.

If you acknowledge that some of them are innocent and exploited children and toddlers in need of some kind of immediate assistance, you're too naive to know a plot when one's staring you in the face.

Maybe one disagreement the whole crisis turns on is whether you think of these people as refugees or invaders.  (I know that's too simplistic, but it could bring some clarity to the discussion.) If they're refugees, then it will seem heartless, and "un-American" to turn them back--though that doesn't mean we throw all caution to the winds and indiscriminately assume all of them are primarily innocent victims and eliminate all law and order indefinitely).  If they're invaders--simply people with contempt for law and order--then it will seem to make sense to at least send them to the back of the line, if not prohibit them from entering, now or ever.

Rhett Segall

#21, Jul 16, 2014 3:20pm

This ongoing analysis for the sake of insight is important. The sharing of anecdotes is, literally, moving.

From a perspective of Christian humanism the televised reaction of some of the protestors was deplorable. Here is what I think Cardinal Dolan was referring to. I think faces of hate are never welcome

Prudence has to govern what kind of help and how we can best help the desperate ones.

Is permanent sanctuary a misplaced kindness? Prudence calls for a statemanship that deals not only with the symptoms but also with the causes of this influx.

Once Jim Forrest was bemoaning the fact that the soup lines never seemed to stop.  Dorothy Day said to him

 "Jim, pass out the soup."

Immediately there are hungry hearts and  bodies that need to be fed., There are terrified youngsters that need a smile.

Damian P. Fedoryka

#22, Jul 16, 2014 4:29pm

Thank you, Devra. You accurately note the point of the dispute and provide clarity. It is a matter of seeing the difference between refugee and invader. The refugee is innocent and the invader may not be. The latter's behavior may both illegal and immoral, that is, unjust.

The unborn’s "entry" into the world, under today's rule of U.S. law, against  it’s mother’s will to abort it, is illegal.

The illegal immigrant may also behave unjustly. "May," because as an "unaccompanied minor," he is certainly innocent; and in critical need, even if he is a tool of cynical community organizers. He has a claim in justice even if the law invokes against him his illegal status.

I agree that conflicts can arise from the understandings of words. But the conflict cannot and should not be resolved by shifting from the reality of "unaccompanied innocent persons" to "illegal immigrants" and "invaders" and owners forced to assist the needy innocents, such as Lazarus at their doorsteps, out of their own surplus. Perhaps the terms "innocent victims" and "surplus" can sharpen the focus on the real persons involved at the moment of crisis in contrast to persons involved in a policy dispute.


#23, Jul 16, 2014 4:48pm

I can't help finding it weird hearing or reading just-a-few-generations-immigrants-from-Europe-or-Africa talking about defending their borders against perhaps-only-a-few-more-generations-immigrants-also-from-Europe-or-Africa or against native Americans from more to the South. A border by the way established by immigrants-from-Europe. What would native Americans from the North have to say about this?...

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Jul 17, 2014 7:41am

I have no doubt that most of these people are refugees. As I have said and repeated, my problem is not with Cardinal Dolan's calling for humane treatment of refugees. My problem is with his attacking those who are defending themselves against injustice.

The injustice, imo, is being perpetrated by a lawless federal government and by international power-brokers who have vested interests in weakening and/or abolishing borders between nations.

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Jul 17, 2014 8:34am

It's normal for people who are defending themselves against unjust incursions to have ugly faces. It's not exemplary Christian virtue, but it's normal and humanly understandable. It's normal for people who have already experienced their town and their state being drastically devalued and bankrupted by illegal immigration and corrupt politicians to oppose having responsibility for busloads of new immigrants, who (they have been told) have not been properly screened for diseases or for terrorist and gang associations, foisted on their community without consultation or consent. The same federal government that brought them there, will also, of course, mandate by law that those immigrants be educated and cared for in hospitals and schools that are already bankrupt.

Their plight, too, calls for some consideration.

That they acted non-violently and within the law is to their credit.

I fear things will get a lot worse and a lot uglier unless their legitimate concerns are duly addressed. Once they're addressed, we can appeal to their generosity and charity.

Katie van Schaijik

#26, Jul 17, 2014 8:43am

If the Cardinal had added to his call for humanity to refugees a call on the Obama administration to fulfill its obligation to protect American citizens from lawlessness, disease, undue financial burdens, etc. through both policy and rehtoric, I would have no issue with him.

If, instead of attacking citizens who organized in a lawful way to protect their community from an unjust burden, he simply appealed to Americans' goodness and generosity, I would have no issue with him.

If he had in any way acknoweledged that Americans are right to oppose the unsustainable combination of welfare state and open borders, I would have no issue with him.

Instead, he, in practically effect, allied himself with Obama, the radical left, and the crony capitalist libertarians.

Obama seems to have an uncanny (not to say diabolical) knack for the "divide and conquer" strategy. Focus on contraception and you divide Catholics and evangelicals. Focus on healthcare and immigration and you divide Catholics and conservatives.

It really frosts me and depresses me that Catholic Cardinals seem to be playing into his hands.

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