Seeing Immigration in Terms of the Common Good
Students need to think of immigration in terms of the the common good and not politics according to Fr. Mark Cregan, C.S.C, former president of Stone Hill College and member of the Board for King’s College. Cregan gave a presentation on the subject of immigration as part of a Common Good Discussion Forum.
Cregan has an unusual job; in particular he serves as both a priest and a lawyer for his local immigrant community.
He is himself a product of an immigrant community. Being surrounded by minority children growing up, enabled him to have a unique understanding of the issues facing immigrants in America.
King’s Common Good Discussions serve as a means of educating students in Catholic social teachings.
It is important that students not only understand and learn what the Common Good is but, according to Fr. Cregan, to “recognize all of us are individuals,” who have a unique relationship with God and are members of a community. The purpose of this Common Good Discussion was to talk and debate upon immigration.
Cregan began his presentation by declaring all of humanity selfish, meaning that they tend to value the good of themselves over the good of others. Throughout his talk, Cregan advocated for more selfless thinking.
Cregan explained the history of America’s views on immigration.
In 1790, he said, the country conducted its very first census showing all citizens to be immigrants, excluding the Native American and slave populations.
That same year, the first immigration act was made official. Prospective citizens they were required to have at least two years residency in the U.S. and renounce ties to foreign nations.
In the 1880s, he said, the first group of immigrants to experience alienation and deportation were the Chinese. In the following years, the race of immigrants was increasingly seen as being a problem.
In the early 1950s. numerical limitations were placed on immigrants from specific countries. Cregan explained that the immigrant groups that were most often approved originated from Western Europe.
Immigration quotes are still in place today. That said, international immigration policy, supported by the U.N., has increased an individual’s personal liberty to emigrate in the last 13 years.
In 2004, U.S. and Mexican Bishops met, and together compiled their reccomendations on immigrants and immigration laws, entitled “The Right to Migrate.”
It recognizes the right of the state to protect its own borders. The bishops stressed, however, that immigration policy cannot become so exaggerated that it harms others.
Cregan explained that a common misconception in the immigration debate is the idea that immigrants steal jobs from Americans. This is has been proven false, according to Cregan. For jobs such as work in the agricultural field, there is little to no American interest.
Immigrants, particular ly those in the STEM fields, are highly, specially trained. They would most likely be looking for a job that enables then to put their talents to use, in which case, the jobs they take are not common jobs any American can do.
Cregan also touched on the rights of the refugees, who are forced to flee their homeland to escape political, social and religious persecution.
The immigration laws connected to refugees state that within a year of their arrival they must apply for asylum and demonstrate that they would face persecution if they were to return home.
According to Cregan, refugees have four basic rights:
1) Freedom of movement: people ought to have the right and ability to leave any country and return.
2) Freedom to seek and enjoy asylumn for political persecution.
3) Right to nationality: immigrants who are stateless cannot be deported for the simple fact that there is nowhere to send them to.
4) Freedom to marry: men and women who are of age have equal rights to marry and form a family with their free and full consent. It is acknowledged that the family is a natural, fundamental group.
Cregan proposed adding five additional rights to the above-mentioned:
1) Right for an immigrant to find opportunity in his or her homeland, prior to migration.
2) Right to support for migration.
3) Right of the sovereign nation, particularly in regards to the control of their own borders
4) Right of protection for refugees.
5) Right for all people to have dignity and respect, including undocumented immigrants.
Cregan stressed that to exhibit a lack of respect for immigrants goes against Catholic social teachings, because everyone should care and support others.
After Cregan concluded his presentation, he and Fr. Looney invited the audience, consisting of students, faculty and locals, to ask questions and to participate in this debate.
Cregan began the discussion by asking the room, “How many here think we should help immigrants?”
A vast majority, if not all, of the audience members raised their hands. Cregan followed this up by asking why the audience felt that way.
There was a general consensus that immigrants are people, who should be treated as such, not just for their sake but for our sake as well.
One audience member pointed out that untreated diseases spread by immigrants that have no access healthcare directly affects all Americans. The audience member stated that “What hurts them hurts us as well.”
Cregan lauded that response because, he said, it demonstrated an honest motive, “self-interest.” Cregan explained that self-interest is connected to self-awareness, which is not far off from being enlightened, which is a goal all should strive for.
A student then asked a series of questions about “anchor babies,” such as “What are they?” and what moral rights and implications are associated with this situation?”
Cregan said that, according to our country’s current immigration laws, an immigrant must be sponsored, usually by a relation. In the “anchor baby” scenario, the sponsor is the immigrant’s child, who is a natural born American citizen.
According to American immigration law, the child must be at least 21 years of age to sponsor their parent. Thus, Cregan argued, parents rarely set out with the intention of having and using their children as their ticket to stay in the country. It would require knowledge of our immigration laws.
Another student asked “What is the church’s comment on over population due to immigration?”
Cregan said it is the sovereign nation’s right to control its own borders, and control population.
One faculty member asked Cregan what specific changes to immigration law that he would reccomend.
Cregan made five suggestions:
1) Fix employment.
2) Fix the fact that 14 million children are without rights, despite the Dream Act, (the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors). The Act exists as a way of providing immigrants of good moral character, who have matriculated from an American high school, permanent residency. However, Cregan stated, this is not the optimum pathway toward eventual documentation. Cregan argued that documenting workers is a better alternative to having a countless number of people in this country working and existing under the radar.
3) Re-think priorities. Cregan reminded the audience that immigrants have historically played an important role helping our economy and shaping our government. Immigrants literally built this country.
4) Exclusion and removal of those with criminal records.
5) The documention process should be neither too complicated or too costly.
Cregan explained that all of his suggestions can only be addressed on the federal level.
In Cregan’s own words, the country’s current immigration system is broken. Unfortunately, he said, current immigration laws and policy reflect current political stalemates and bitter bickering from opposing sides, and the future outlook appears to be the same.