There’s Nothing ‘Compassionate’ About Open Borders

My late father-in-law, Neil McCaffrey (founder of Arlington House publishers, The Conservative Book Club, etc.), remarked back in the 1960s that bishops would do well to learn something about economics, given their predilection for instructing the faithful and indeed the world in that discipline in its moral dimension. It has seemed to me for the past 30 years that churchmen would do equally well to read up on matters in all sorts of fields relating to immigration and migration—from South to North and from the Third World to the First especially. It seems the prudent thing for them to do, and Christ and the Church have always counseled prudence.

I was reminded of this apparent gap in their education while reading a recent account in The Daily Mail of a riot on New Year’s Eve at the Cieneguillas penitentiary for men in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. According to the Mail, the ructions erupted from what was planned as a “friendly” soccer match between incarcerated members of the Gulf and Zetas drug cartels. Following an argument over an asserted dirty tackle in the penalties box, players drew guns and fired them. Three hours later, the federales, the National Guard, and prison officials managed to subdue the mayhem in which 16 inmates were killed and five wounded. In the aftermath, the prison conducted a search that yielded—in addition to more guns—“knives, 77 bags of marijuana, a saw, three pairs of scissors, nine phones, phone chargers, two hammers and a bottle of liquor.” The suspicion is that all this contraband had been smuggled into Cieneguillas by relatives of the inmates during visiting hours on New Year’s.

It goes without saying that Mexico has no monopoly on crime, including prison crime. Americans of a certain age will remember the 1971 “rebellion” at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. It was the worst prison outbreak in American history: 1,281 of the prison’s approximately 2,200 inmates rioted, gained control of the prison, and took 42 of the prison staff hostage. Subsequently, other prison riots have occurred in the nearly five decades since Attica, but none of them was near as deadly as the one in Zacatecas.

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The United States has relatively higher rates of physical assault and homicide than a number of other Western countries, but nothing that faintly approaches those in the Latin American nations. In Mexico, Central America, and many South American nations, violence—both the personal and organized sort—is endemic, and in Mexico it is still rising. Figures released at the beginning of August 2019 reported more than 17,000 people killed in the first six months of the year, or 94 every day. Last November, six women and three children, members of a Mormon community of American heritage, were murdered by cartelistas for trying to keep the thugs out of their town.

All of these facts have been widely reported in the United States; the killing of the Le Baron family in particular shocked the American public. Nevertheless, no commentator that I know of, whether secular or clerical, has thought so far to place them in the context of Donald Trump’s remark while a candidate for the presidency, infamous from the moment of its utterance, warning of the danger to Americans posed by “rapists and murderers” arriving illegally across the Southwestern border from Mexico. No one expects they will do it any time soon.

Mr. Trump never claimed that “all” illegal immigrants from Mexico are criminal; he implied that “some” are, though the implication seemed to be that “many” was what he had in mind. Had he chosen to be so candid, he would only have been speaking the truth based on the empirical evidence available from media, police, and federal reports, given that accurate and comprehensive statistics are plainly impossible to gather. Throughout Latin America—but in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador especially—violence is not merely endemic. It is a way of life, of policing, and of government.

As is humanly natural, many residents of those countries would like to escape it by coming to the United States, where the immigration lobby is eager to welcome them in the name of human rights, diversity, and “compassion.” These aspiring immigrants, putative refugees, and asylum seekers are victims of their own societies, the lobby claims, and deserve to be granted—nearly as a matter of course—protection and eventual citizenship in the United States. In the estimation of anti-restrictionists (among whom can be found those leftish Catholics pleading the migrants’ Catholic faith in their favor), the fact that they wish to come here and live among us is proof that they are moral, peaceable, and law-abiding people who, far from harming America, will improve and strengthen her if given the chance. There is, alas, no evidence that this is so. Rather, there is good reason to assume that the opposite is the case.

Criminals may have as much cause to flee their violent and corrupt homelands as honest citizens do. They may, for instance, have made sufficient enemies among their rivals in the criminal classes that their own countries have become too hot for them to remain there safely. They may be too well-known to the police to feel safe from arrest. Having exhausted the possible emoluments to be extorted from their old criminal turf, they may have decided to abandon it and go in search of greener pastures and wider criminal opportunities elsewhere. (A nearby foreign country often makes a good “elsewhere.”) Or they may, in flight from the decrepit shells of the failed nations where they were born and raised, carry the germs, in their habits and outlook, of violence and corruption within them like the plague bacillus.

In his first book, The Liberal Mind, published in 1960, Kenneth Minogue, the recently deceased political philosopher, wrote that once a society has been infected by liberalism its eventual doom is sealed. The same goes for a country poisoned by a culture of rampant, habitual, and accepted criminality. An obvious example is Italy, where the Mafia and other criminal organizations are significantly to blame for her endless—and seemingly incurable—political, economic, and cultural woes.

The Vatican is safely embedded in Italy behind thick medieval walls. The time is well past for it to take a long, hard look beyond those walls—to Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and a good many other places—and see this new world of mass “migration” and the “migrants” themselves for what they really are.

Image: Mexican President Lopez Obrador meets with the families of Mormons slain by narcoterrorists (Getty Images)


  • Chilton Williamson, Jr.

    Chilton Williamson, Jr. is a senior contributor at Crisis. He is the former editor of Chronicles magazine, and his column “Prejudices” appears in The Spectator USA. He is the author of After Tocqueville (ISI, 2012) and the novel Jerusalem, Jerusalem! (Chronicles Press, 2017). For over a decade he served as literary editor, then senior editor, at National Review. He blogs at

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