Compromise Needed on Immigration

Readers of my columns and editorials in The Long Island Catholic over the years know I have a very positive view of immigration. I believe immigrants—even those who come here illegally—can make vital contributions to our economy and social fabric.

They contribute economically by becoming consumers as well as producers, thereby increasing demand and creating more jobs; and by filling some jobs, especially in the critical agricultural sector, that Americans are unwilling or unable to do.

And they contribute socially through a strong work ethic, love for their families and for our country, and often a deep religious faith.

Yet certain considerations have caused me to modify—although surely not abandon—my pro-immigrant sentiments. 

The threat of international terrorism is of course magnified by lax border security. And, without embracing former President Trump’s sweeping disparagement of Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers,” there is no denying that significant criminal elements—including brutally violent gangs—continue to come into our country illegally. That they prey primarily on their own immigrant communities—particularly those who, because they are here illegally, will not turn to law enforcement for help—should lead those of us who sympathize with the plight of undocumented immigrants to embrace stricter border security to keep violent criminals out.

It is also arguable that in some fields—manufacturing, retail work, food service, to name a few—immigrants willing to work for lower wages do pose a threat to American workers. And yes, there are some who come not to find work but to avail themselves of public assistance, overburdening our generous, but far from limitless, social services programs.  

Add to that the economic and health devastations wrought by COVID, and this hardly seems the time to open the floodgates to thousands more job seekers and potential pandemic spreaders.    

So we need to balance compassion for the plight of illegal immigrants with respect for laws designed to protect a way of life that is the very reason so many want to emigrate to America.

I still feel strongly that we should strive to regularize undocumented immigrants already here, and already or potentially making positive contributions.

For that reason, while I opposed Congressional funding for Trump’s border wall—I felt he should be held to his promise that Mexico, not American taxpayers, would pay for it—I supported his proposal to regularize DACA recipients, even giving them a path to citizenship, in exchange for funding the wall.

To me, this was normal legislative horse trading. Trump would accede to the priority of Congressional Democrats, just treatment for immigrants brought here as children, and they would accede to his priority, funding the wall he saw as vital to border security. 

Congressional Democrats, however, refused to compromise, accusing Trump of holding DACA recipients “hostage.” So we got neither security for DACA recipients nor enhanced border security.  

Now President Biden is proposing legalization and a path to citizenship not just for DACA recipients, but for virtually all 11 million immigrants here illegally. Republican leaders are already voicing opposition, decrying it as blanket amnesty and noting the lack of provisions for border security.

And of course there is the elephant in the room, no pun intended. Eleven million new citizens means 11 million new voters. That would likely be a major political boost for Democrats—and a major political blow to Republicans—as immigrants, especially low-income immigrants, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

Here again I think compromise is in order. I believe we should strive to regularize law-abiding, hard-working undocumented immigrants and their families, enabling them to move into the mainstream of American society and contribute to our economic, social, and cultural life. But I do not think those who enter our country illegally should be gifted with citizenship. If Democrats’ goal is to ease the plight of these immigrants and bring them out of the shadows, they should offer to drop the “path to citizenship” provision in exchange for Republican support of the bill; and Republicans should embrace that compromise, and drop their opposition to the bill, if the citizenship path is removed and effective border security measures specified.

This issue cries out for compromise and mutual respect—not the mutual demonizing that is far too prevalent.

Yes, there is a criminal element among those who illegally enter our country. But that hardly characterizes the vast majority who come here seeking a better life for themselves and their families, bringing with them the kind of work ethic, religious faith, love for family and love for America that we should welcome.  

Yes, there has always been an element of bigotry among those concerned about immigration, going back to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. But that hardly characterizes the vast majority who have legitimate concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on public safety, national security, our economy, and public health.

We need to listen to and understand each other’s concerns; then work, in a spirit of compromise, to formulate solutions that, while requiring mutual sacrifice, can redound to the benefit of all.  

Most of all, we need politicians and public officials, on both sides of the aisle, to support policies that advance the common good, not their partisan political interests. 

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

7 thoughts on “Compromise Needed on Immigration

  1. I’m not sure what you mean by “regularize”. I acknowledge the impracticality of deporting eleven million, or however many “undocumenteds” there are in our country. And having them here in the shadows without some resolution is also impractical. If regularize means that we create some legal status which would preclude any chance of ever becoming voting citizens, I’d support it. I think it’s eminently fair. It allows these millions to exhale, as it were, making them openly employable, free to engage in commerce, home ownership, etc., but without further rewarding them for what was, for whatever reason, a criminal act.

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  2. All the preceding text seems to totally ignore the equal if not greater number of individuals who probably have the only right to the ire of the vocal opposition. These people followed all the regulations and maybe even fell victims to the abuses those getting consideration are running from. Since they are not here, must we make them and their lot invisible? DACA is a consequence of years of turning a blind eye to laws that are being violated. Sanctuary venues in the numbers that they have grown to and the burdens on all kinds of resources relate directly to the tacit acceptance of abuse of laws and law abiding citizens and immigrants. I feel for the undocumented, particularly those that you highlight as desirable. However, genuine Christ like compassion will probably exacerbate the situation. It will most likely encourage and precipitate more illegal immigration and compound the problems. It will be a greater slap in the face to those who don’t openly violate our laws, the same people we are ignoring in our zeal to compromise.

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    1. Thanks John, yes, you’ve identified the other justice issue here, which often gets lost in this discussion: those who apply for admittance legally, “following the rules,” and end up waiting in line while others bypass them by entering illegally. What is the answer? Rounding up all those who are undocumented, and deporting them? Even those who have put down roots here, and whose children have known no other culture but ours? Obviously, going forward, more effective border security is needed, something that is always supposed to be a part of immigration reform, going back to the Reagan years, but never seems to happen. Maybe it also needs to be accompanied by less stringent restrictions on who can enter legally. As you’ve indicated, it’s a more complex issue than activists on both sides seem willing to acknowledge. Thanks for your input, John.

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  3. I agree with what has been said. I would just add that in my opinion, by and large, Democrats do not care at all about the humanity of the illegals beyond their future votes.
    One other note: Pres. Biden has a bust of Cesar Chavez in the Oval Office. That famous labor leader was firmly opposed to illegal immigration.

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    1. Thanks, Walter. Yes, I think the last thing poverty-stricken immigrants are thinking about when they cross the border is securing citizenship and the right to vote. They just want to arrive safely, then find work to support their families. And once they do, they just want to be able to stop looking over their shoulder, fearful of being found out and deported. It is, as you say, Democratic political operatives in this country who are salivating at the possibility of making them voting citizens. Adding that provision only heightens opposition to immigration reform bills, doing the immigrants themselves no favors. Of course, the other side of the coin is Republican political operatives who don’t want illegal immigrants voting, but do want them here as a source of cheap labor. That, too, builds hostility toward the immigrants themselves, doing them no favors.

      Thanks also for your insight on Cesar Chavez. I did not know that, but it makes perfect sense. Union leaders have historically opposed illegal immigration for its potential to depress wages and compete with union members for jobs. It is only in recent years, with union membership in decline (except for public sector unions), that big labor, seeing illegal immigrant workers as potential union recruits (and Democratic voters), has softened its opposition.

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  4. Well stated Rick.

    On a political level both parties differ widely. I believe the Democrats refused to try to find a compromise as they preferred to use it as a political issue.

    I don’t know what Pres. Trump’s record was concerning legal immigration. I also don’t know the legitimacy of asylum seekers and it’s difficult to get an unbiased report concerning these.

    Did he allow a reasonable number of legal immigrants?

    It’s such an emotional and divisive issue which makes it difficult to know the facts.

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