The migrant caravan is like something out of a future, apocalyptic dystopia—or, to go back in time, perhaps an image from Exodus—where thousands of men, women, and children trudge a thousand miles under the hot tropical sun across hot tarmac and dirt roads, hoping to land on America’s doorstep, in search of opportunities not to be found in the failed, crumpled, venal, socialist states from which they hail.
What is President Trump to do? Welcome them all in, as one interpretation of Pope Francis’s recent exhortations seems to imply? Turn them back? If so, how? Persuasion? Water cannons? Trump has already sent thousands of armed soldiers—the report yesterday said 15,000—so that the would-be immigrants will face a fully-armed human wall. Are any to be let in? Should agents sift through every one of the migrants, to determine the worthy from the not, and the wheat from the chaff? And, if so by what criteria? And where would they house the thousands for the months this would take?
Clearly, at a certain magnitude—one is hesitant to put a number to this—a “migration” becomes an “invasion,” as in Rome, circa 476, when the barbarians (so-called since they could not speak Latin, and their German tongue sounded like “bar-bar” to the city dwellers) streamed across the borders in ever-greater numbers, thus shifting the demography of an already exhausted and demoralized Empire for ever more, leading to its downfall, as some have argued. Americans should take note.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
Yes, Pope Francis keeps reminding us to be generous, to open our “homes,” and to build bridges not walls. All good things to ponder, in the abstract. But we must also keep in mind that a country (or a house, for that matter) without a border to defend and control is no longer a country in any functional sense.
Given that most Americans do believe in clear borders, there must be some rational, pre-determined criteria to decide who may be admitted, for this cannot be left to a gut reaction of blind, emotional passion that has been worked up by a sympathetic media in the mis-educated minds of milllennials.
Sure enough, Christ himself was “moved with pity,” but he always thought before he acted.
Saint Thomas may be of some help here: in his Summa, he discusses the question of “almsgiving” (II-II, q.32, a.9), which we may apply in general to any good deed done to another. As he puts it, given that what we can give is limited, and that not every apparent good is a real good (as in giving cash to someone so they might feed their cocaine addiction), we should ponder at least three things before we give alms (or open our border or house): the degree of necessity in the recipient, his holiness, and his utility to the common good.
This may seem rather harsh and judgmental to our modern ears given our proclivity to give before we think, and to see charity as a function of passion rather than the mind and will. But ponder for a moment this question: Would we not give alms first to a Catholic charity, say Mother Teresa’s Sisters, than a Protestant or even an Islamic one, to say nothing of the agnostic, often morally toxic, do-gooders at the United Nations? And, given similar necessities, would we not sooner welcome migrants of our own culture and religion, even those of our own family? The same goes for utility: migrants who can and will contribute to the common good have always been given higher priority, again, given similar needs.
What is the necessity driving these current migrants? If Central America were crumbling into the sea, the necessity would be obvious, but seeking greater “opportunities” is a bit more nebulous on the scale of necessity.
Some might have in mind the days of yore, with America welcoming emigrants from hither and yon, the principle of hospitality carved into the very stone of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Like those from the Europe of yesteryear, most of these Central American migrants are from Christian cultures, and perhaps many have the capacity or the personal initiative to, as they now say, help “grow” the economy, as those early immigrants did.
But America (and the world) of the twenty-first century is very different from that of the nineteenth when the country was largely rural; when there was no welfare state; when families were still largely intact; and when there was a general moral consensus.
Most of these thousands will quite likely end up on social assistance of some sort or another; others will look for the ever-coveted “government” jobs; or they will enter various educational programs, again often publicly supported. And this situation is even more dire in Canada, whence I write, with our current government now promising to take in 350,000 immigrants. One can only wonder from where.
The question before us is: how many can a nation absorb, and still remain, not just intact and functioning, but at some level of prosperity, which is what attracts migrants in the first place?
And, if these Central American nations are so bad that these thousands cannot live there, what of the millions left behind? How are they getting along? Are we then obliged to let in everyone, and leave all of Central America to the birds and bees—a quasi-pristine, ante- (and anti-) human state of affairs that the World Wildlife Fund seems to desire for most of the planet?
Given that we want people to live in Central America, and take up their primary obligation to develop the land of their birth—as Pope John Paul II called us all to do—would it not ultimately be better to export what values, principles, policies, and culture that made America a prosperous nation in the first place?
Migration Challenges Facing Europe
The case is different, and ever more critical, in Europe, where they are facing mass immigration primarily from Islamic nations that have a very different milieu than the one that fostered Europe or America—in fact, one with a decided animus against Christianity. Poland and Hungary have limited Islamic immigration to near-zero, and are accused of being nationalistic and xenophobic. Rather, their policy may be described as culturalist, and they have good reasons for making it so.
Take but two examples: The current case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who has endured eight years of solitary confinement on death row for allegedly “insulting” the “prophet” Muhammad. Thousands of Pakistanis protested the overturning of her death sentence, demanding she be killed by hook or by crook for such “blasphemy.”
And thousands more Muslims have called for a jihad to protest a contest inspired by Geert Wilders to draw the “prophet” Muhammad. Imram Khan—the former cricketer and now leader of Pakistan—has publicly defended his nation’s blasphemy laws, for which the penalty is death.
Who would want to import such an irrational pathology—and by this I include anyone espousing such—into one’s country? And who would not screen potential migrants for holding such beliefs?
Islam and Christianity, as reason and history both attest, do not mix well, with incompatible beliefs, practices, and customs: the banning of men and women swimming together; enforced female “modesty” with full-body burkhas; the proscription of Christmas displays; advocacy for polygamy; coercion to remain Muslim or face a fatwa; the banning of gifts of wine and other alcoholic beverages; and the repeated calls for jihad. And the list could go on.
Muslims, of course, fall across a wide spectrum of how firmly they hold such beliefs and practices, and many resisted putting Ms. Bibi to death. However, these principles are in the main firmly embedded within Islam itself.
The point, I suppose, is that we must reflect upon what it means to be a nation with a shared culture (i.e., all that binds us together as a people), and how and in what way—if at all—other cultures can be absorbed. Multiculturalism, beyond different kinds of food and music, is not a recipe for social cohesion.
Then again, as our own Christian culture recedes, and we descend into a state of hopeless agnosticism and paganism, especially in Europe with its demography now in near-irreversible and suicidal decline, the vacuum will be filled by those who do believe in something and who are still having children.
Preparing for a Dystopian Future
Whatever policies and safeguards we put in place concerning immigration will only make sense if said migrants are willing to wait their turn, or can be made to, as Trump plans to do with his “wall of soldiers.” For there may come a day when the migrants keep walking in their unstoppable thousands or even millions.
Such a scenario was envisaged in Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel Camp of the Saints, wherein such hordes from the disadvantaged Third World nations of the south simply decided to march north towards Europe. Raspail had the inspiration for his dystopian tale—in the end “Western civilization” is destroyed—while looking across the French Riviera, and wondering:
What if they were to come? I did not know who “they” were, but it seemed inevitable to me that the numberless disinherited people of the South would, like a tidal wave, set sail one day for this opulent shore, our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.
There are many reasons why most southern nations are in disarray—the abandonment of Christian principles and the loss of notions such as rational law, order, customs, and all those other things which constitute a functioning and prosperous society—which the various forms of socialism and radical Islam, in their stark, irrational beliefs, do not in the main supply.
What can be said of the Riviera can also be said of the southern U.S. border. There are not nearly enough soldiers to stop the numbers who might one day arrive at the Rio Grande, and at that point, whatever reason and order we might have previously applied will be too little and too late. We should think of this and prepare while we still can.
(Photo credit: GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)