I participate in a forum where my local newspaper asks a group of people to comment on an issue the newspaper chooses on a rotating basis. My group of correspondents was asked what should be done about non-citizen children being shipped over our border as “refugees.” I elected not to respond because the answer could not be properly addressed in the word limit they proscribed. I will address the issue in this column.
The immigration issue is one not being addressed by most political leaders because it is a white hot political potato. Even the brave tread gingerly on this issue, because they fear being branded as heartless if they don’t provide the “proper” response.
In addition, both fiscal conservatives and liberals see salutary consequences from illegal immigration. For the fiscal conservative, the lure of cheap labor. For the liberal, substantial additions to their voting constituencies if an easy pathway to citizenship becomes a reality.
A story about a statesman and American hero in the past tells us in principle how to deal with an issue like this.
Davy Crockett served for nine years in Congress before he was killed at the Alamo in 1836. During the time of his congressional service, there was a fire in Georgetown, which he and many other Congressmen helped to put out. The next day, Congress voted to appropriate $20,000 for the victims who had their homes destroyed. Crockett voted for it but was soon afterward scolded by one of his constituents (Horatio Bunce) for using other people’s money as charity. He challenged Crockett to find where in the Constitution Congress was allowed to do this. Crockett sheepishly admitted he could not find it. He returned to Congress and was faced with another similar situation of giving a substantial sum of money to a widow of a distinguished naval officer who had just died. Crockett took the floor with these remarks:
“Mr. Speaker, I have as much…sympathy as…any man in the House, but Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money….Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.” Edward S. Ellis, The life of Colonel David Crockett…(Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1884), pp. 138-39.
The bill was defeated, but none of the Congressmen took Crockett up on his offer. The question is not whether we need to be compassionate, but, rather, what is the role of the federal government in the immigration issue? Do they enforce the current law, or expand entitlements to anyone who can get into this country?
Other statesmen have throughout the ages commented on this principle as well.
“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one….” — James Madison
“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.” — President Grover Cleveland vetoing a bill for charity relief (18 Congressional Record 1875 
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, elaborated upon this limitation in a letter to James Robertson:
“With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators…”
“Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817.
We must ask several questions about this issue.
Should we assume the federal government has an identical role in dispensing compassion as the charitable components of society, such as church groups and non-profit organizations?
Why is so little blame being foisted against the countries that refuse to care for their own children? These countries seem more than happy to dump their unwanted upon us, putting further stress on our social safety net without any accountability. All the while, they happily accept foreign aid.
If it is a moral obligation to aid the less fortunate, how should that be facilitated if the federal government heavy-handedly focuses on enforcement of immigration laws?
The answer to the first question is “no“, as argued by the preponderance of discussion in this piece.
The answer to second question is that foreign governments must be held accountable and not given a pass for their dereliction.
The answer to the third question is discussed below.
Some religious groups preaching a gospel of political progressivism support a borderless America, using a truncated polemic based on scriptural passages that encourage being gracious and hospitable toward strangers. These passages, however, hardly have in mind a functional invasion of millions of people capable of threatening the social and economic structures of the United States.
The Church should only consider civil disobedience to remedy their perceptions of social justice as a last resort when no legitimate legal options are available. They need to remember that the state has national obligations, while their own ministries of grace reach beyond borders.
Clearly other options are available than willingly enabling illegal immigration.. Churches can send missionary groups to Mexico and Central America to help the poor. They can take up collections from their congregations for foreign aid. They can also remonstrate for legislation that is more compatible with preserving the legal and constitutional obligations of the state.
The age old rhetorical question is “Does everyone have to be just like us?” That answer is “No,” but it would help the immigration crisis if they were a bit more like us. American must export, and foreign countries ought to embrace, those ideological precepts that have made America great.
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