May 21, 2024

LeadershipLimited Government

The Nation and Immigration

By: Rodney Rios

All nations should be able to control their borders and decide their immigration policy. As President Ronald Reagan said, “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.” This is a fact and a right of sovereign nations, which is unfashionable in leftist circles, so it requires constant restatement by conservatives. As always, the first point to remember regarding economics, politics, and great debates is that all these things are meant to serve people. They are not ends in themselves; their purpose must be the common good. Therefore, when studying policies and political debates, one must ask what the natural moral law says regarding a specific issue.

As always, Catholic Social Teaching has the answer; by following its principles, we can avoid the extremes of ideology. The Church explains that there are three principles regarding immigration. First principle: People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and their families; second principle: a country has the right to regulate its borders and control immigration; and third principle:  countries must regulate their borders with justice and mercy. Of course, how to make policy work within these principles is a topic of much debate, and it is the role of Catholics (and Christians in general) statesmen to find those answers. To restate, immigration is necessary, but a nation has a right to regulate its borders and set its immigration policy. Additionally, it should be kept in mind when discussing this topic that there are two broad immigration categories. The first is legal, which deals with which people a country would like to concede admission to and how many. The second type is illegal, which no society or nation-state should tolerate since it undermines the rule of law. If it becomes mass illegal, immigration puts a nation’s very survival as a distinct political and social entity at risk.

In other words, one could argue that immigration is a good thing. It is mass migration, especially mass illegal immigration, that becomes a problem. Since governments must work for the common good, the first task of any government is to work for the common good of, primarily, its citizens since they form the state together and are under the nation-state’s jurisdiction. Unfortunately, many issues about immigration focus excessively on economics and the alleged benefit of mass migration to a country’s economy. Yet, as Steven A. Camarota has explained, “America is a country, not a labor market.”

Here, we must consider the question of what a nation is. What are citizens? How does mass migration affect these things? Nationhood requires shared experience. The conservative political philosopher Sir Roger Scruton explained that a nation is formed by an immemorial formation of a pre-political plural, a “we” which recognizes the nation as “ours.” The nation is, as such, a defined territory within a common law and culture that operates under the control of its indigenous people and citizens, who are joined in a social network that begins with the family and extends into communities all the way to the state. That defined jurisdiction common to citizens requires sovereignty and, as such, borders. As Scruton said, “In short, democracy needs boundaries, and boundaries need the nation state. […] The essential thing about nations is that they grow from below, through habits of free association among neighbors, and result in loyalties that are attached to a place and its history[.].”

Now, citizenship is an essential element of the nation-state. Citizenship evolved throughout the ages and is very different from subjects or slaves. A citizen, in republican understanding, means a “free, legally equal, and politically independent citizenry.” As Victor Davis Hanson has noted, “Citizens differ from visitors, aliens, and residents passing through who are not rooted inside borders where a constitution and its laws reign supreme. For citizenship to work, the vast majority of residents must be citizens. But to become citizens, residents must be invited in on the condition of giving up their own past loyalties for those of their new hosts.” Independent citizenry means citizens earn a living wage, and property ownership is widespread, allowing them to be as free as possible. As Senator Josh Hawley wrote: “Only if a man could stand on his own feet, win his own living, make his own way, could he participate as an equal in his government. And only if he had a share in self-government was he truly free.” Of course, citizenship implies rights and duties, and being part of a political community means that a legitimate political order is due obedience. Nonetheless, it must be remembered that citizenship is fragile. Throughout history, coups and civil wars were the norm, not laws, constitutions, or a peaceful transition of power.

Now, as seen above, people have a right to emigrate to other nations. Still, as we saw, nations also have a right to regulate their borders and immigration policies. Ideally, this means that, while tempered with justice and mercy, the needs of the host countries’ indigenous population must be the starting point of any immigration policy. Therefore, we must ask, what are the consequences of mass migration? The sociologist and economist Thomas Sowell wrote in his book on the different ethnic groups that make up America that ethnic groups often bring with them forms of behavior and patterns that go back centuries. For that reason, a nation has a right to scrutinize migrants to ensure that these can be assimilated into the host society and, if yes, determine how many it would like to let inside without overrunning resources or social order. Of course, due consideration must be given to refugees and people desperately in need of asylum. However, mass, especially illegal, immigration has the adverse effect that it spends political capital and resources, which are then not available for legal immigrants or people in need.

In other words, when you have massive waves of immigration into a nation, it puts pressure on the host nation’s resources, as well as creating tensions among the indigenous peoples of the host nations. The higher and more uncontrolled the waves of immigration, the more they destabilize society. Another potential consequence is that at sufficiently high levels, mass migration can permanently alter a nation into something else. Imagine for a moment a town of, say, three hundred people. These people have customs: they believe in private ownership, in secular courts, that women have a right to work, etc. One day, thousands upon thousands of migrants from a culture that detests secular courts that do not allow women to participate in the workforce and do not believe in private property move into that town. What happens to the customs of those original three hundred people? It is an important question and a not-so-hypothetical scenario. It has been happening in Europe for a while, as Douglas Murray recounts in detail in The Strange Death of Europe . And as Murray notes, one aspect of the tragedy of these policies of mass migration is that these are policies that no democracy voted for.

Currently, the United States is undergoing a similar dynamic. No one has voted for an open border and an end to immigration enforcement on the southern border, yet that is what the Biden administration has created. Historically, America had immigration policies that allowed for control of who entered the country, as well as a robust framework to ensure the assimilation of immigrants. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, and the tensions of mass immigration have been seen constantly throughout the nation’s history. Yet it is the task of statesmen to find a balance between the desire to allow newcomers in, especially high skilled immigrants, and the needs of the American people. Nowadays, there is a segment of American politics that does not believe in immigration law or the assimilation of newcomers. The consequences of illegal mass migration are varied. They put pressure on our social safety net, depress wages for American workers, adversely affect the labor market, and, worse, create a parallel society of people who are not participating in American society but are inside the country. People who have no protection of law, no rights, no duties of citizenship. Ghosts. This is an unjust situation for the American people and, one could argue, for illegal aliens as well. Additionally, granting benefits of citizenship to non-citizens is a way to destroy the Republic by making citizenship meaningless. That is why policies purposely allowing non-citizens access to Affordable Care Act programs, creating sanctuary cities, or allowing non-citizens to vote in elections are policies corrosive to the nation’s social order. Only citizens should have the right to vote and run for office in American institutions, private or public.

In conclusion, the nation needs an accommodating legal immigration policy that allows space for high skill workers and genuine refugees and asylum seekers. Of course, this is not to say that the nation’s immigration policy should be geared to mass legal immigration either, it should be centered on the needs, resources, and desires of the United States, tempered with justice and mercy. Under no circumstances should illegal immigration be tolerated, normalized, or allowed. With citizenship, all doors of the Republic should be open, regardless of when someone becomes an American. But policies should not be accommodating, beyond basic human rights, to illegal migrants since it only incentivizes more illegal migration. To create a cohesive immigration policy, it is thus necessary to establish border security and control and solve the problem of illegal mass migration. Sadly, it doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.