Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Cardinal, immigration, and Jews

Cardinal Roger Mahony spoke out rather loudly on this day, Rosh Chodesh Adar, which is also Ash Wednesday for Christians. He expressed strong opposition to a bill which passed the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit churches from helping immigrants unless they prove they are in the U.S. legally:

"The whole concept of punishing people who serve immigrants is un-American….If you take this to its logical, ludicrous extreme, every single person who comes up to receive Holy Communion, you have to ask them to show papers. It becomes absurd and the church is not about to get into that. The church is here to serve people…. We're not about to become immigration agents. It just throws more gasoline on the discussion and inflames people."

The Cardinal basically announced that the Church will ignore the law if it is enacted. I don’t recall any Catholic official ever taking such a strong stand on a U.S. political issue.

What is a bit surprising to me is that I have heard almost nothing from the Jewish community on this issue. We, the people who have had to find refuge over and over again throughout our history, we, who have been denied refuge too many times. No people in America who should be more in favor of easy immigration. Had the 1840 immigration laws been effect in 1940, we would not have lost six million Jews – but in 1924 the nativists convinced the Congress to reduce immigration from Eastern Europe, where most Jews lived, to miniscule levels.

Now, sentiment isn’t quite back to 1924. Most Americans know that this is a country that was built entirely by immigrants (even American Indians immigrated here 10,000 years ago), and appreciate the contribution that immigrants make. But there is a lot of nonsense being spouted by the anti-immigration side. Contrary to the anti-immigration proponents’ propaganda, there just isn’t much evidence that even illegal immigrants are taking jobs from Americans by bidding down the price of labor. And there is no evidence that any Mexican terrorists have entered the United States since Pancho Villa, 90 years ago.

What I think this is really about is the fear among too many that the United States might stop being a white, English-speaking country. If you walk through the parts of the Bronx where my wife practices medicine, you might think that that is a realistic possibility. But it isn’t. The 2000 Census reported that 82% of Americans aged five years and over spoke English only (itself a national problem, but that is another post) and another 14% spoke English “very well” or “well”. And 69% of the population is still non-Hispanic white. Visit rural Pennsylvania or Vermont some time and you would think that the fraction is more like 99%.

But why should we care? We of all people are proud to keep our own culture and language wherever we reside while in galut! There are still a few frum communities in which Yiddish is the first language. It is only fair that we support others who wish to keep their own ways – including immigrants from wherever. And some day we may need another place to go if Mashiach doesn’t get here soon.

This is not an endorsement of large scale illegal immigration. The U.S. can and should keep out people who are going to be a problem – both criminals and terrorists. But we should remember that much immigration to Palestine from 1939 to 1948 was illegal! The only real beneficiaries of the current system are the smugglers who take advantage of people who want to enter the United States, and the few crooked businesses who hire illegal immigrants in order to avoid paying a fair market wage and benefits. A real solution to the problem would include increased legal immigration, more lenient political asylum rules, better controls at the border with Mexico – and possibly a bit more compassion.


Anonymous charedilite said...

Just a tangential comment on the statement "We're not about to become immigration agents."

As an employer, I have been required for years to check the status of new hires. I, like the Cardinal, do not work for the department of immigration, and don't like being made to do the government's work for it. Of course, I am also responsible for collecting income tax from my employees and forwarding money (and paperwork) to Uncle Sam and the Governor. And I'm punished if I don't send everything in by the deadline.

If one thinks about it, it seems that our government is shifting a lot of government duties to the private sector. In the past, I had simply viewed it as an unfair burden placed on individuals forced to do the goverment's work for it. This blog has made me realize another, more problematic consequence alluded to by Cardinal Mahony- being required to participate in something that one feels is wrong or immoral. While this has always been an issue (think military draft and consciencious objector), the greater the number of laws that require individuals to carry out government policy, the more likely it is that one will be forced to deal with it.

2:47 PM  
Blogger judah h said...

"there is no evidence that any Mexican terrorists have entered the United States since Pancho Villa, 90 years ago."

But there is ample evidence of criminal element coming in from Mexico. On a recent report on the National Geographic Channel, a gang that originally developed in the USA, whose members were deported to their country, i.e. Mexico, have now trained an even more vicious version of themselves and they have been crossing the border enmass to the US.
Independent of this, harsh immigration laws are suited somewhat to keep out terrorists.
Would you rather at this point of time have mass immigration and allow even one terrorist in?
Besides, the analogy to the Jews is inaccurate. They were being murdered and had poor civil rights prior to that. In addition, they were a small group, which would have absolutely no effect on the population percentages. That is not the case with the Hispanic population.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'ample evidence of criminal element....the analogy to the Jews is inaccurate'

With more *legal* immigration we would stand a better chance of keeping out the real criminals.

Remember also that in 1921 it would have been possible to say that there was a significant Jewish immigrant criminal element, and it would have been true. That kind of attitude resulted in the law being changed in 1924, and it became impossible for most Jews to come to the US fifteen years later even though we were about to become the victims of genocide. So I vehemently disagree about the inappropriateness of the analogy.

7:58 PM  
Blogger judah h said...

In 1921 or 1924 there was no clue to any possibility of the genocide of the Jewish people.
The laws could have been easily changed but due to bigotry,
were not.
I don't remember any Italian Holocaust where Italians where prevented from immigrating because of the Mafia.
Further, other than dropping atomic bombs to end a war, I don't remember any Japanese Holocaust where they were prevented from immigrating.
I think the Jews would have preferred internments camps if they could have received permission to immigrate.
BTW, easier immigration laws would allow Arab immigration as well. The more democratic principles are espoused in Iraq and Afghanistan, the more tyranny in the Arab world, so the more likelihood for mass immigration to the US with loads of terrorists along the way.
In 1924 we were not a war or at the brink of one. We are today.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'easier immigration laws would allow Arab immigration as well....the more likelihood for mass immigration to the US with loads of terrorists along the way.'

Replace 'Arab' with 'Jewish', and 'terrorists' with 'communists' and you have just made the argument that was made in 1924.

5:05 PM  
Blogger judah h said...

True -- but the danger is far more real with the Arabs and terrorists today than with the communists and Jews in 1924

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