One of the hardest things to do in this country is have a consistent pro-life ethic. It is one thing to be anti-abortion or anti-death penalty or anti-war, but it is something else to have what the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin deemed a “seamless-garment” approach to pro-life issues. To him, claiming the pro-life mantle meant not simply being against the destruction of innocent didn’t-ask-to-be-conceived life. It also included fighting the destruction of any life because the Church teaches that nothing is beyond the reach of a loving God, and no one beyond redemption or rehabilitation.
In Bernardin’s time, abortion, the death penalty and nuclear war were front and center for many Catholics struggling with a pro-life ethic. In the past week, the hot pro-life discussion has been immigration and the policy of separating children from their parents who have crossed our border illegally. There’s been a ton of misinformation out there (here’s a good explainer from the Times), but we do know that approximately 700 children have been involved since October. We also know that illegal – and legal – immigration is a really complicated issue.
People come to the U.S. because, Lord almighty, don’t we advertise it as the place where dreams come true? We market ourselves to the rest of the world as the land of freedom, initiative and grit. If you’re in Central America and gangs are threatening your children with “join or die”, making the dangerous trek north through Mexico seems like a grand idea. This is because most parents will do anything to save their children, and those sitting in armchair judgment of mothers and father dragging their children northward are being dishonest if they think they wouldn’t do the same if the shoe was on the other foot.
Of course, when someone crosses our country’s border illegally they have broken the law. That much is black and white. We are a country of laws because long ago the Founding Fathers thought law was better than anarchy. But what also should be clear is that the bare minimum requirement for those calling themselves pro-life is to treat all people humanely. Many of the strangers knocking at borders right now are less immigrants looking for work than they are asylum-seekers looking for safety, running from countries overrun by vicious gangs seeking to harvest young children.
President Trump is absolutely correct (even if people think it is crass) in calling the MS-13 gang “animals.” I would go further: This gang is the very face of evil. The FBI has been trying to get rid of it for decades. They are deadly, vicious and completely immoral, which seems natural since their unofficial motto is “kill, steal, rape, control.”
Here in the States, we have good guys tracking down these bad guys. But in Central America, the bad guys are in charge and the families running north know that. They are trying to save their children and them appearing at our gate is the ultimate test of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Still, knowing that MS-13 originally got their start in LA from immigrants from El Salvador makes it easier to understand why some Americans, including President Trump, are gun-shy about letting in caravans of immigrants from Central America. It really is true some of them are very bad people.
So, what is a pro-life person to do?
We can start with refraining from conclusion-jumping on either side and seeking out all the facts, not just instant posts on social media. Immigration takes deep thought and critical thinking, not a knee-jerk reaction. For instance, it seems a no-brainer that it is pro-life to welcome immigrants who are in danger in their home countries. But it is also pro-life to consider those living in communities that will be absorbing those immigrants. If you are placing immigrants into communities with already high unemployment and a social services safety net at capacity, that will only cause more people to fall into poverty and distress – not fewer.
We must do better as a country – especially if we want to claim the pro-life banner – with the immigration issue. There has to be a better idea than pulling children from their mothers at the border in an effort to deter crossers. I’m not exactly sure what that better way is, but I am absolutely certain that if we apply the shoe-on-the-other-foot test, the big brains in Washington can come up with a better idea than putting the mothers in jail and the children in social services custody.
But we also need to do better as individuals when we talk about these difficult pro-life issues. We must listen to all sides, instead of demonizing each other. And, in the interim, we should realize that children don’t have a choice – be it in the womb or on the road from Guatemala – and try to do best by them.