The situation on the Texas border has set new fire to the immigration debate. It’s been called an immigration crisis, but in truth it’s more of a refugee crisis, with the decayed infrastructure of a nearby country being the cause.
Specifically in this case there are gangs in El Salvador that are threatening children, and their families, with death if they do not join the gangs. And the girls are being raped, killed, and worse.
So they are fleeing.
And they heard we don’t turn them back, so they’re coming here. What’s little known is the fact that the reason we don’t turn them back is a piece of legislation signed by George Bush.
Anyway, doesn’t matter. They’re coming, and it’s true that they’re not being turned away. What’s been happening is that they’ve been getting placed into a queue for review by an immigration court. But the process takes months, so in the meantime they’re sent to live with family inside the United States.
The percentage of them who go through the entire legal process, i.e. show up for all the hearings, is low. Probably less than 50%. 30% don’t even show up for the first hearing.
Again, doesn’t matter. Let’s look at the moral forces at play.
What is the correct action?
We seem faced with a fairly obvious and difficult moral dilemma:
- Accept the kids into the country and further strain American resources, or
- Turn them away to certain suffering and hardship
It seems clear that neither of these is right, so the question becomes,
Which is less wrong?
It seems to me that turning them away is the lesser of the two crimes, but that will require explanation.
At the highest of levels the justification for this comes in the form of fight safety advice:
In the even of a loss of cabin pressure, put your mask on before assisting others.
If you don’t have a deep and aching desire to help the scarred and mistreated children coming into our southern border, then you should be ashamed of yourself. And you damn well be an atheist, because if you’re a Christian and you hold this position then you’re a hypocrite on top of a monster.
But let’s say you do care about them, and you do want to help them. If you’re purely emotional the answer is to open the gates and let them in. Do your best to find them homes and schools and food and shelter and education and jobs.
This seems obvious, until you consider the unfortunate fact that our resources are both finite and already strained.
Our schools can barely handle the immigrants that are already here. We lack qualified teachers. We lack school supplies. We lack solid families and education and healthcare.
And we don’t have any jobs.
That’s just with what’s here today, which includes the millions of people here illegally.
The problem with bringing in the children from El Salvador. The problem is what message that sends to the rest of Central America, and Mexico, and South America. And the world.
It will be a statement to the global population of the poor and suffering that if you can make it to the United States, you’ll be given a home and healthcare and education.
Let’s be clear about one thing here. That is absolutely what we should do from a moral standpoint. It is right. It is decent. It is American.
There is only one thing that trumps this fact. Only one thing that should prevent us from taking that action. And that is the fact that doing so would cause manyfold more harm than good.
Think about what’s being said through this action.
What’s being said is that America has more than most other countries, and that those countries should, morally, be given our assistance.
I’m fine with that. I agree with it. It’s morally correct. Conceptually.
Practical vs. Moral
The problem is the size of the world, and how much suffering exists in it.
I agree that people who have things good should help those who don’t. That resonates with me, and seems obviously true.
But why are we metering this out to just the few people who walked to Texas?
That seems a rather arbitrary way to decide who gets our help.
If you can make it to our border we’ll help you.
That’s the message we’re sending, and it’s not a logical one. If we were serious about the underlying concept here, i.e., evening out the happiness throughout the world, we’d need to do the following:
- Find where the most poverty is (India, Asia, Africa)
- Organize a massive transport program
- Bring millions upon millions of them here to the U.S. and give them housing, healthcare, education, and jobs
Some may think I’m being absurd on purpose. I am not. This is the fastest way to reduce suffering on this planet, and I think the moral value inherent within should be obvious.
My problem is that this seems tactical.
We need countries to thrive and grow and advance if we ever hope to end poverty on a global scale. And America is one of those countries that has the opportunity to do that.
But it can’t if it’s suddenly infused with the suffering of the entire planet.
And that’s what we’re facing today.
Our schools are severely taxed by our morality-driven policies on immigration. People come here. They need school. We let them in.
Well, our schools are failing. We don’t know history. We can’t do math. Our science knowledge is reprehensible. We’ve turned from the arts.
We don’t have any teachers.
Not all of these problems are because of immigration, but immigration exacerbates the problem immeasurably. We’re talking about millions of children who are years behind their peers, and it leaves only two options: reduce the common denominator of the class overall, or leave them behind.
Both are happening, and both are horrific for our country.
The morally repulsive answer, but the best answer, is that we should do what the flight attendant told us to do.
Put your mask on first.
Not because you matter more. Not because your prosperity belongs to you. Those are selfish answers, and immoral ones. Our superior position is a matter of fortuitous circumstance.
We should focus inward not because those outside do not deserve our spoils , but because it represents the best way to help more people. It represents the best way to help everyone.
America cannot shoulder world’s suffering if the world’s suffering resides in America. She will break under the weight. It will crush her. And it is.
We must look inward so that we can continue being what the world needs us to be. We must help ourselves so that we may help others.