Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Diocese of Knoxville Peace & Justice Director vs. Mrs. Don-o

[I received this reply from Diocesan Peace & Justice Director Paul Simoneau, slightly edited for length.]

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on my column. I truly appreciate it and certainly respect your comments. I’m not sure that we are really all that far apart on our thinking about immigration.

The documents that have been of help to me in forming my conscience on this subject are Exsul Familia Nazarethana by Pope Pius XII (1 Aug 1952) and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People instruction, Erg migrantes caritas Christi (2004).

First of all, I believe, as Pope Pius XII stated, that a country has the right to control its borders, but it also mustn’t exaggerate its sovereignty. There are the “push factors” which I attempted to highlight, but there is also the mechanism for controlling the flow into the country which long ago failed to keep up with the in-country (US) demands for seasonal workers and laborers and which remains the major attraction for coming into the US. That system desperately needs to be fixed.

It is not the Church’s job to tell politicians how to come about with those fixes, but it is the Church’s responsibility – and that means every Catholic’s responsibility – to remind our legislators that they are dealing with human beings whose dignity must always be at the heart of their deliberations. The call to comprehensive immigration reform is above all a dignity issue. 

But until a legal and efficient process is developed and implemented, illegal entry into the US will remain the easiest path (and far from the safest) for getting into the US. The system has to be fixed so illegal entry is no longer attractive. This will be the way that those who make money guiding people across the border will be put out of business. Given a choice of coming into the country legally or illegally, who wouldn’t chose to do so legally. But there exists only 5000 worker visas each year for a demand that is a hundred times greater than that. People are not going to want to wait years to get a worker visa for jobs that exist now.

Fix the system and make it so that it can efficiently provide visas for the in-country demands and I think you’ll find the vast majority of those seeking entry into the US will want to do so through a mechanism for a proper legal entry. Until then, the illegalities will only continue and worsen.

As I was writing the above, a verse from I Chronicles 22:1-2 came to mind. King David, on in years, began collecting all the materials that would be needed by his son for building the Temple. The verses state: “David then ordered that all the aliens who lived in the land of Israel be brought together, and he appointed them stonecutters to hew out stone blocks for building the house of God.”

I believe a nation can do one of two things with its alien residents – they can either treat them harshly as the Egyptians did the Israelites or do as David did and make them a part of building up the kingdom of God in our country. 

Again, I think we honestly differ very little on this issue. Because it is so difficult of an issue, I have tried to understand it from the perspective of those who doubtless want to make this journey but feel they have little other choice if their families are to survive. I look forward to our continued dialogue.

Paul Simoneau

Director of Peace and Justice
Diocese of Knoxville

Dear Paul,

I would truly like to think we are not “really all that far apart on our thinking about immigration. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take this discussion further.

Let’s examine your assertion that “[the] mechanism for controlling the flow into the country long ago failed to keep up with US demands for seasonal workers and laborers.” You’re saying that we need to take in a lot more legal immigrants, because America does not have enough unemployable people to take seasonal agricultural jobs.

On the contrary, this year Stanislaus County, CA, in the middle of California’s agricultural heartland, saw its unemployment rate hit a record 18.9%


Same thing in Kern Co, over 18%


Tulare, 19.4%


Over 20% in five other California counties


I realize this is just a California snapshot, Spring 2010, not harvest time, but I can easily get you figures from all over the USA, seasonally adjusted. California was one of five, along with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, that recently reached their highest unemployment rates since the government began keeping track in 1976, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In all of these places, the unemployment rate for the young white, black and Latino male subset is MUCH HIGHER. Just take 30 seconds to run your eyes over these figures nationwide: among young males, over 50% unemployment.


Surely you see that the very sector who have the bodily capacity to do physical labor, are the ones who are suffering the most disastrous unemployment--- even as farm employers, landscapers, and construction contractors say they can’t operate without Mexicans?

That 50% figure for youth unemployment represents not just an economic need, but a terrible psychological --- call it a wasting disease. Young Americans, black, white, and Latino (native-born and legitimate legal immigrants) become demoralized, are reduced to a state of degrading dependency, lose a big chunk of their human dignity when they, first, cannot find entry-level jobs; second, cannot get apprenticeships; third, are not even expected to work, i.e. to aspire to the status and dignity of full adults.

At present there are 16 million unemployed --- and that’s understated, since it does NOT include those who are not seeking unemployment benefits: the young who have never had a job, laid-off workers who have given up looking for a job, and those who are employed part-time when they want and need full-time.

Forty percent have been out of work for more than 6 months. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0108/Number-of-long-term-unemployed-hits-highest-rate-since-1948

To paraphrase and rework what you said. “The call to oppose the flood of low-wage immigration is above all a dignity issue.” 

Mexico does not have to be, and in important ways, IS NOT, a poor country. Mexico has the 12th highest GDP in the world, outranking Spain and Canada, and FAR outranking any other country in Central America or the Caribbean coast. Three times higher than Colombia. Five times higher than Venezuela. Almost 15 times higher than Ecuador.


By the way, a lot of Central American people would love to work in rich Mexico. But under Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony. The General Law on Population says,

* “A penalty of up to two years in prison and a fine of three hundred to five thousand pesos will be imposed on the foreigner who enters the country illegally.” (Article 123)

* Foreigners with legal immigration problems may be deported from Mexico instead of being imprisoned. (Article 125)

Mexicans who help illegal aliens enter the country are themselves considered criminals under the law:
* A Mexican who marries a foreigner with the sole objective of helping the foreigner live in the country is subject to up to five years in prison. (Article 127)

* Shipping and airline companies that bring undocumented foreigners into Mexico will be fined. (Article 132)
All that is backed up by Mexican law enforcement officers at every level: every city cop, every policeman in all 31 states, is empowered to enforce this law, and by God they do.

At the same time, Mexico openly colludes in shipping people into the USA illegally, and furiously protests our attempts to enforce our own legitimate laws.


I honestly think we should call Mexico’s bluff on its unwarranted interference in U.S. immigration policy. Let’s propose, just to make a point, that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) member nations standardize their immigration laws by using Mexico’s own law as a model.

Perhaps a case can be made for increasing the number of legal worker visas in certain skilled areas. But I would want to make it subject to some sort of trigger mechanism.

Just off the top of my head, say that when young US male unemployment is at 50%, the number of temporary work visas for the agricultural, landscaping, food processing, meat packing and related sectors will be zero. At 25% young US male unemployment, the corresponding work visas will be 5,000. At 10% young US male unemployment, 10,000 visas. At 5%, 20,000 visas.

You understand these are just top-of-my-head figures. But I’m getting the concept across.

I believe, and would argue strongly, that it is immoral to allow immigration to take entry-level, seasonal, low-wage, unskilled or semi-skilled jobs when white, black, and Latino men already legally in the US are rotting away for lack of employment.

There is not one job in the USA that will lack US workers, if the wages are decent.

Paul, did you know I worked for the United Farm Workers 40 years ago? Worked my tail off for them, for social justice, for the poor, for those looking for a better future.

The Union failed. There were more farmworkers under a Union contract in 1970 than there are today. Do you know why it failed? There are about 3 or 4 reasons I could cite, but the absolute biggie was: wave after wave of foreign laborers who destroyed wages, destroyed working conditions, destroyed any possibility of dignified successful Union farm labor in California or anywhere else in the USA.

Another paraphrase, reworking what you said in a different way: God bless the Mexicans: make them a part of building up the kingdom of God in their country: in Mexico. 

Good to talk with you, Paul. I’m glad we respect each other enough to argue hard.


[Mrs. Don-o]

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