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  by  Roy Beck

Many of the news media have rushed headlines and speech summaries that state or suggest that Pope Francis today called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform of some kind.

I heard and read the speech and don't find that.

Yes, the Pope spoke in broad glowing terms about immigrants and migrants and the need to treat them with dignity and as human beings. But he did not specify what U.S. immigration policies should be.

It was probably clear to most listeners that he personally would hope the U.S. would take far higher numbers than we do, but he didn't ask us to do that. In fact, he was even more clear in his opening comments that the job of deciding what is best for the common good of the citizens of our country lies with the Members of Congress he was addressing.

Here is the immediate statement I issued to the media this morning:

The Pope's laudatory comments on economic migrants 'in search of a better life' appear naïve and contradictory to other admonitions he made to Congress.

"He stated that we 'must not be taken aback by their numbers.' But the numbers are the essential factor that determine how nations must respond to migrations. The Pope specifically mentioned economic migrants coming from Central America. If there were only a hundred at our border and no more who might be enticed to make perilous journeys, the U.S. could react differently than if there are tens of thousands at the border and hundreds of thousands of more who can be enticed. Numbers matter.

"Nonetheless, we were pleased that the Pope mainly stuck to broad principles of humane treatment of migrants as persons and avoided proposing any specific immigration policy solutions which he humbly indicated have to be worked out by a nation's elected representatives.

"We firmly agree with his emphasis on citizens in his opening statement that the Members of Congress 'are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good . . . especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. . . . To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.'

"Those principles should guide Congress in creating immigration policies that best serve the vulnerable of our society, while foreign policy and non-governmental institutions focus on the humane treatment of needy people in other countries." -- (Beck media statement)

The Pope's emphasis on a nation's vulnerable citizens is at the heart of the work of NumbersUSA. While the media are playing up the Pope's lengthy comments on migrants deep in the speech, they are ignoring the Pope's overarching call for a nation's leaders to pay attention to how their policies affect the citizens whom they represent. Our constant emphasis on how corporate demand for loose labor markets affects the employment and incomes of America's workers is absolutely in line with the Pope's opening comments.


Let's look at longer excerpts from the Pope's address that relate to how our Congress should deal with immigration:

You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day's work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and --one step at a time -- to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society.

Each Congress and each President for at least 30 years has failed to protect these citizens from the wage depression and joblessness that comes from the government constantly adding to a giant labor surplus through reckless, excessive immigration.

Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Immigration policy certainly epitomizes how difficult it can be to consider all humane principles and come up with something that indeed serves the greatest common good. The Pope's comment suggests he is well aware that crafting immigration policy is not a matter of simply referring to scriptures about loving one's neighbor, the golden rule and not mistreating the sojourner.

As for sacrifice, we call on the nation's corporate leaders to cease forcing mass foreign labor flows on our economy and to sacrifice some of their profits to allow the U.S. labor force to tighten and enable market forces to improve wages, benefits and working conditions for all workers.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

I suspect that that passage is why some in the media have insisted that the Pope called for some kind of amnesty for illegal aliens. But I am defying anybody to find the quote in there that actually makes that point. It sounded to me like the Pope wanted to call for amnesty but he could not figure out a way to say it in a way that he could defend intellectually. Overall, the Pope's comments seem more like admonitions to "be nice to foreigners."

In that, the Pope appears guilty of setting up the straw man that immigration restrictions are based on fear or dislike of foreigners rather than on legitimate issues of economic justice and the self-determination of every national community to forge the quality of life they seek.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

My colleague, Eric Ruark, immediately criticized this section, noting that the Pope pivots from talking about a real refugee crisis in the Mideast to talk of economic migration without any transition. Eric said, "This both minimizes the plight of genuine refugees and mischaracterizes illegal immigration to the U.S." Eric said the statement that most of us were once foreigners "is simply a tautological statement. The Huns were once foreigners in eastern Europe. Now they are Hungarians trying to stop economic migrants trying to use their country as a pit stop on their way to Germany." The Pope presides over a global church. The trap he seems to lay for himself at times is to conflate his view that all humans are of equal value in the sight of God and of the Pope's church with a view that all people of the world have the same value to an individual country as that country's own citizens. To say that most humans have ancestors who were immigrants really says nothing about what a nation's immigration policy should be. And I think the Pope has too much intellectual integrity to disagree if challenged directly on that point.

As for the Golden Rule, anybody who has thought about it much knows that it is a "slide rule." It all starts with how each of us would want to be treated rather than some universal level of treatment. Treat others as you would want to be treated all depends on how "you" want to be treated. I would hope that I would not want another country to treat me in a way that would destabilize that society and harm its most vulnerable members. If I were a refugee fleeing violence, I would hope for a safe refuge that would allow me eventually to return to my own community. If I lived in a country of poverty, I would want powerful nations to first do no harm to my country and then to assist in raising the quality of life not only for myself but for my fellow citizens. I would hope that if I were in Central America that I would not encourage young members of my family to put their lives in the hands of drug cartels and other criminal entities to try to illegally force their way into another country. If young members of my family went to the U.S. border against my will I would want the U.S. government to treat them humanely as they safely moved my family members back to my home country.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment in the Pope's comments about migration today is his total neglect of directly acknowledging that immigration policies legitimately have to take into account their impact on the vulnerable members of the destination community. In that regard, I have to say his statements about love were incomplete and veered toward a utopian idealism that is contradictory to responsible theological praxis.

Of course, many Americans have no interest at all in what the Pope has to say. But for those who do, the following part of his address may be something to take to heart:

But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.

In my blog last night (, I noted that our political opponents who seek virtually limitless immigration are likely to believe they are guided by the same high principles that we believe guide ourselves. Demonizing our opponents is a disservice to them and doesn't really advance our own cause.

Of course, we would appreciate the elites of media, religion and academe according us the same degree of humanity. They are the ones who have had the power in our society to silence the debate for the last couple of decades. To the extent that they appeal to the Pope's address as backing their own desires of expansive flows of foreign labor into the U.S., they should also listen to his suggestion that they stop regarding us as evil sinners as a justification for the near-banishment of our tight-labor-market ideas from the public square of debate.

ROY BECK is Founder & President of NumbersUSA

religious leaders
Pope Francis

Updated: Thu, Oct 8th 2015 @ 1:20pm EDT

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