“Right to Immigrate” vs. “Right to protect borders”…. A false dichotomy?

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The recent actions of Donald Trump initiating the building of a border wall and halting immigration from certain countries have, undoubtedly, sparked a hot debate among many. And the way this debate has been framed—even from the best news sources—is at risk of shaping into a wall of its own. On the one side, they say countries ought to respect the human dignity of all people, including their right to immigrate. And on the other side, they say that a country also has a right to protect its borders and enforce its laws.

Whenever a Catholic theologian is asked about this on the air, this is how the question is typically posed. And in all cases, theologians unanimously agree that the Catholic position is neither one side or the other, but rather, falls somewhere in between the two poles, of finding a balance between the two.

And yet, it is necessary to point out a certain deficiency in the very words that are used to couch the debate. At the risk of being too simplistic, allow me to simplify it in this way: “respecting human dignity” (by welcoming the immigrant) vs. “a country’s right to have borders.” This, ultimately, is the framework in which our news sources have been presenting the debate. And this, I would argue, is also a false dichotomy—one that inherently favors immigration.


From  a Catholic perspective, human dignity is paramount above all else (because there is nothing in creation that has more value and worth than human lives). Laws are therefore just only if they reflect and respect this inherent dignity. And so, if you frame a debate as noted above, between human dignity vs. country’s right to have borders, then there is no question. Human dignity wins. Always. In a landslide. In other words, the debate is over before it even begins, because the very manner in which this debate is being framed, if taken to its natural end, will inevitably favor unbridled immigration 100% of the time.

An honest summary of the debate, rather, ought to weigh and analyze the respect of human dignity on both sides. In other words, how does supporting immigration respect human dignity? And how does protecting borders respect human dignity? The former is obvious. Being welcoming to immigrants obviously respects human dignity. But the latter is no so obvious. How does securing borders respect human dignity? This is what needs elaboration.

For example, so much focus is given to the immigrant. But what about the safety of American lives? Little–if anything—is mentioned about the recent drug epidemic in our country, most of which is due to our open Mexico borders (over 80% of the heavy drugs in America come through the Mexico border). Little has been mentioned about the skyrocketing deaths due to drug overdoses each year, or the path of carnage that drugs cause to American families. This is one example in which having “secure borders” is necessary to respect and uphold the dignity of the human person. And this is how the debate should unfold.

In other words, if news sources wanted to frame this debate in an honest manner, they would not reduce one side of the argument to merely the catch phrase “a right of a nation to secure its borders and enforce its laws,” but elaborate further on how it also upholds and respects human dignity, namely, of the safety of American lives. In other words, it is not just about “a country’s right to have borders and enforce its laws.” Rather, it is more importantly about a county’s duty to protect its citizens from harm (in this case, the harm caused by our current drug epidemic, the threat of radical Islam, violent criminals, etc.). This, also, respects the dignity of the human person, just as welcoming immigrants respects the dignity of the human person. And that is what makes this debate so compelling.

At the risk of being too simplistic, again, the debate should not be framed as “human dignity” vs. “enforcing laws.” Rather, it is more accurate to couch it as “human dignity” vs. “human dignity.” In other words, the opposing sides of the debate are merely two ways in which human dignity ought to be respected. On the one side, that of immigrants. And on the other, that of American lives. And THAT is why we need to find a balance between the opposing views of the debate. For no other reason.

Please Catholic leaders, be clear about this.


One Response

  1. Allyson
    Allyson at |

    Hi, I was just wondering if you had a name or source where you got the image used. I am doin a project and would like to cite them.



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