Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 22, 2010

Immigration: a religious dimension

Filed under: Immigration,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 22, 2010

This is the first of a two-part post.  Tomorrow please return to read, Terrorism: a religious dimension, which will demonstrate how the self-revelations offered below expose me as a proto-terrorist. 


There is some portion of basic bigotry in how the immigration issue can be engaged.  The us vs them, insider vs outsider sensibility that well-served our species for millenia persists.  This perspective can be inflamed by a variety of factors.

But it is another kind of us-vs-them — or I/IT — dismissal to only see bigots where there are, instead, self-critical moral agents seeking to find and abide by a set of principles, even a shared vision of justice, goodness, and truth.

James Carafano and Edwin Meese have written, “The key to an intelligent immigration policy is to remember one central truth: Immigrants who unlawfully enter and remain in the country are violating the law. An amnesty program that ignores this criminal behavior will only contribute to a general disrespect for the law. This is the wrong message to send. We want immigrants to follow the laws of the United States and take them seriously. The United States must continue to be a beacon to the world. The challenge is to create practical policies that can be fairly implemented and that make our national security a priority.” ( Please see: Rule of Law at Stake in Immigration Debate)

I am a self-defined conservative.  I am sympathetic to the logic of the argument set out by Meese and Carafano.  In this I almost certainly demonstrate an embrace of the “Strict Father” prototype proposed by George Lakoff.   There is a Moral Order. There is right and wrong.  It is crucial to clarify, as best we can, the difference between right and wrong, rewarding right and punishing wrong.  The rule of law must be preserved.  All of this describes my fundamental political predisposition.

Yet I have rejected the logic of my predisposition.

Over the last five years or so my lifelong and continuing identity with the Republican Party has been shaken as more and more of my party’s candidates take what I perceive to be an us-vs-them, I/IT, position relative to illegal immigrants.  In over thirty years of voting I had only cast two non-Republican ballots.  But in recent years I have several times voted for the Democrat mostly because I was repulsed by an otherwise qualified Republican candidate seeming to demagogue the immigration issue.

I am increasingly self-aware that this has become a classic single-issue test for me.  I will listen carefully for nuanced positions on most other political issues and will accept all sorts of policy compromises, except when I perceive (rightly or wrongly) that a candidate is going after illegal immigrants.  (I am, by the way, entirely in favor of strong employer sanctions, but this wrinkle doesn’t have much to do with being a proto-terrorist, so I will not explain further.)

How did this happen?

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow and who loves strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

The gospel of Luke tells us of Jesus and a lawyer discussing another verse from Deuteronomy. They agree that the essential religious rule is, “To love the Lord your God with all your soul, and all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then the lawyer, being a lawyer, asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answers the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  You can access the whole response in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, verses 25-37

As I read it, whoever is in need is our neighbor. The scripture concludes with Jesus asking, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?  The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

As a matter of general principle, I do not perceive that religious arguments are sufficient for reaching political judgments in a secular pluralistic democratic republic.  But on this particular issue, my personal experience of faith compels me to an  attitude of love for strangers and mercy towards neighbor that — with surprising passion — trumps every other argument. On this topic, for me, the non-religious argument is hypocritical and entirely misses the point.  Immigration  is fundamentally an issue of love and mercy.

I am a white, male, privileged, graduate-educated, third generation proud American of English-Scot-French Protestant extraction.  Yet  in regard to our relationship with immigrants — especially the poorest, strangest, non-English speaking — I have become a religiously inspired zealot.

For further consideration:

Evangelicals join Obama on Immigration (New York Times)

Churches eye immigration’s upside (Politico)

Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Letter on Immigration (Most Reverend David Zubick, Bishop of Pittsburgh)

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 22, 2010 @ 2:04 am

Well Phil I might argue you seem to be in someways a qualified “Insurgent” not a proto-terrorist.
The undocumented worker issues around illegal immigration are complex. Sever all issues relating to Mexico (up to 2/3rd of undocumented workers in US) from the other immigration issues and a better perspective can be achieved. We are by blood and geography and history really one country. In 1940 there were 40 million Mexicans. Now there are 140 million. Could this be part of the issue?

Comment by Dan O'Connor

July 22, 2010 @ 9:03 am

I think on our most instinctive yet banal level, we all struggle with the tribalism to the need to belong and the refuting of those who don’t. Whether its ethnicity, religion, regionalism, nationalism, etc there will always be a tribe, either forming or disbanding. Urban population centers; NYC, Chicago, and Philadelphia, all east coast post industrial cities continue to have strong cultural diasporas that are more than a century old.

Diasporas aside, our social comfort and trust in what we know is much stronger than what we don’t know. And time does melt those lines.

Theologically, some will say that Judaism’s failings brought us Christianity and its failings, Islam. That’s a debate for another time. But I agree with Phil wholeheartedly that there is a “moral conflict” in the argument. I do wonder though if this is a similar argument that faced Eastern European Jews and Irish Catholics in the late 19th and early 20th century. I also wonder is this the extended manifestation of true assimilation.

In the early 20th century, the schmatta (Yiddish for cheap, raggedy piece of clothing) was a term used by the predominately Jewish immigrants who operated the garment industry in NY. Generationally, there were families of garment workers and they clothed America. But also, the consequence of the industry was to propel future generations from the factories in Manhattan to assimilate and grasp all America had to offer. Education and opportunity propelled many of the first generation Americans into Universities and thereby become lawyers, doctors etc. Perhaps a bit overstated, but there is data to support that supposition. The immigration story has its roots in this. Come to America and make your future. The original factory workers children moved on to become future leaders and other industry giants.

Irish Catholics were often rebuked and challenged for their “allegiance to Rome” and as idol worshipers.

So, over a period of 3 or 4 generations, that group of immigrants dissolved, created, and/or assimilated into a shifting target; the new America.-

But I think now there is a difference that both interrupts and clouds the discussion. At the zenith of industrialization, America needed lots of labor. It needed a certain curriculum in schools to turn out functional laborers and the wages earned in that endeavor were enough to live and move forward. There was also the appearance or understanding of unlimited abundance; lots of land, minerals, water, potential, and space to move into and out away from the urban intense lifestyle. The idea was things get better in America.

We do not have that necessity any longer. Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of the free market/globalization and even to a degree NAFTA has shifted large amounts of the non automated, manufacturing jobs away from the United States. Much of the abundance we once had in terms of land and water are compromised in varying degrees and create shortfalls. And to Bill’s point, the population has dramatically increased. Coupled with the Immigration act of 1964, the immigration from Europe was slowed and shifted in order to “balance out America”. All of these nuances have their lasting effect on our current disposition, biases, and prejudices.

Is this point of view that Phil speaks of new or cyclical? How then does the shifting of America’s “religiosity” affect the James Carafano and Edwin Meese argument, if at all? Is the shifting away from aspects of Judeo Christian teachings and leanings become ever more muted in a secular pluralistic democratic republic? Is the fall out from secularism the pugnacious argument between “right” and “left” drowning out the middle? Is the immigrant discussion further enhanced or enflamed by the national debt, taxes, limited opportunity and thwarting what was once coined the American dream? Was there ever such a thing as the American dream? Is the culture, language barrier(s) and difference in appearance challenging the current social aggregates? The answers are difficult, illuminating, and disarming, but necessary. All these pieces of the argument are part of a solution.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 22, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

Harvard Historian Samuel Huntington almost last fling at historical analysis questioned whether white European–largley an English heritage should be abandoned and the impacts of that abandonment. I regard Huntingto highly but regard merits in all cultures and problematic issues in many. The whole point is to make someone else the “other” and not welcome here. Well if someone were to really tell the American people the truth we are all the “other” and the real question is how many more “others” will be welcomed. Without any changes most predict the US population well over 400 million by end of the Century or before. Perhaps over a dozen states majority Hispanic by 2025. The issue to me is can the American economy become productive enough to support that 400 million not who they are. Well maybe but not if the FIRE sector is allowed to demonstrate their testerone and pirate blood over and over.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 22, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

Bill and Dan:

Thanks for the feedback and follow-on questions. As my post tomorrow may make clear, I offered this perspective on the immigration issue mostly as a way of personalizing or grounding the broader issue of the role played by religious perspective in public life. As Bill indicates, it does suggest at least an insurgent tendency… which reminds us that one man’s terrorist may be another man’s freedom-fighter.

One of the aspects of homeland security that most attracts me is how this ill-defined and broad topic (because it is ill-defined and broad?)can touch so many fundamantal human issues: liberty, privacy, security, vulnerability, confidence, etc. But I am also struck by how assiduously many of us (certainly not either of you) try to avoid dealing with these very troublesome linkages, and keep our nose to the grindstone of something more “tangible.”


Comment by Mark Chubb

July 22, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

Much of what we characterize as religious belief involves making distinctions between the pure and the profane. Making law-breaking a bright-line test of morality helps those who adopt this position avoid the hard work of distinguishing which of the two conditions describes the diverse and often mixed motives of immigrants who find themselves on the wrong side of our laws.

By focusing on prevarication or perversion of our punitive and often Draconian immigration laws and procedures, those who take a hard-line on undocumented and illegal immigrants provide for themselves a simple shortcut to answering their fundamental question of faith: Are these people’s motive pure or profane?

Given the ease with which our heart leans toward the notion that those who are different from us or of foreign extraction must be profane and the opportunity to avoid reasoning about motives that are for most of us simply too obscure to contemplate, we avoid the need to consider the possibility that immigrants’ motives are indeed pure. The law-breaking equals perversion path makes it to easy for our feet to lead our head and heart away from the compassionate course. This makes me believe it will be very difficult to change the minds of those who oppose amnesty programs and other measures to mediate the immigration policy debates currently underway.

Sadly, the notion that people of faith can and should engage both their heads and their hearts has always attracted me. The notion that religious practice is a way of guiding our feet along paths that will open them both has kept me in the fold when I was otherwise convinced by either my head or heart to pursue a different course. I am left then, as I think you are Phil, questioning whether those people who consider themselves both fierce advocates of faith and justice are really neither rather than either and much less both.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 23, 2010 @ 5:02 am


One of the reasons I retrieved the quote by Meese and Carafano is because I once knew the long-time Reagan aide and Attorney-General and feel as if I know Carafano from reading his work. I have no reason to second-guess the authenticity of their judgment or their commitment to dealing justly with those who have broken the law. All the evidence I have demonstrates these are men of integrity.

As explained, I fundamentally disagree with them principally on the basis of a religious insight. It is also easy to find New Testament sources for casting aspersions on lawyers and scribes. I am tempted to dismiss the argument which Messrs. Carafano and Meese offer as pharasitical, which for readers of the gospels is an especially harsh judgment.

But as I try to explain in my Friday post, these superficially religious motivations for second-guessing and/or dismissing those with whom I disagree would merely be an example of the pot calling the kettle black. The same religious ethic that, it seems to me, requires I disagree with Meese and Carafano also requires that I love them and listen to them with the care with which I would listen to Jesus.

This careful listening may certainly involve disagreement, but it cannot involve dismissal.

More to the point of my Friday post (and Thursday’s post was mostly a set up for Friday), if Meese and Carafano want to disabuse me of my impractical and unjust policy requirements related to immigration, they will have to engage my religiously-inspired understandings. To cause me to disengage from my insurgent or proto-terrorist tendencies, they will have to persuade me my religious understandings are mistaken.


Comment by Mark Chubb

July 23, 2010 @ 9:33 am

Phil, it certainly wasn’t my intention to impugn the character or motives of Messrs. Carafano and Meese personally. I do, however, remain of the view that their thesis, which strikes me as a particularly lawyerly prescription, does provide others who think far less carefully about such issues of the correctness of their position without compelling them to engage in similarly careful scrutiny of their own prejudices and positions.

The Gospels call us to have faith not only in God and the power of His love, but also the power of our love to change the hearts and minds of men, indeed all mankind, without regard to race or creed. As Bill Cumming reminded us, Thomas Aquinas showed us that our faith need not be divorced from our rational faculties.

Pope Benedict XVI reiterated this position in address that provoked the first major controversy of his papacy. Sadly, the subtlety and sophistication of his argument was lost on most who heard it (as only excerpts were widely available), as well as many who took the time to read it. Benedict XVI argued, I think rightly, that faith uninformed by reason is the real problem behind extremist violence.

I would only add that this difficulty is aided and abetted by those who make the path away from reason toward faith too easy for others.

Comment by 21stCenturyAmerica

July 23, 2010 @ 10:34 am

The issue is that We are a nation of Judeo-Christan value and We are also a Republic which has laws established for specific reasons and We expect all to abide by them, even our Congressional delegations!

Folks this moment are lined up waiting to get into a consultate often in a mile long waiting line each and every morning to see if they can secure a visa to the USA, an opportunity to come to the US and visit with hopes that following procedures, they might some day become a US citizen! Their own nations have laws and we also used to be a nation who abided by laws. So many wait maybe up to two years adhering to the law of their respective country and US immigration laws.

For those that do make it, many become excellent US citizens with allegiance to the flag!

Others often with visas expiring and no one here in the US tracking them or questioning them so in fact, it is we,too who are fault because we are negligent in enforcing the law of the land!

While we have immigration laws in place, far different than most other countries, when it comes to enforcement, we prefer to be negligent and look the other way.

If I were one standing in line for instance in the Dominican Republic outside the embassy/consulate waiting each morning to get to America, even to visit and I heard that people were just walking over the border adhering to no law, criminals, then, I, too would be upset and if I were not so enthusiastic to come to the land of opportunity, to make a change, I might start thinking what is going on in America when our family followed the procedures and have waited and waited, each and every morning getting in line to get the chance to go to America while CNN tells us that people are walking over the border and as one young woman told me, “My girlfriend who was not a citizen, illegal in America….her boyfriend’s visa had expired five years earlier and had been driving with no license and insurance and when his girlfriend, also illegal, got pregnant, the hospital bills, even their electric bills were paid for by local state government funds” – what a hoax….government giving benefits to criminals, folks who knowingly have broken the law!

The reality is the issue of immigration is about the failure again of our “professional politicians” spending far too many days off the job and not getting the job done. It is time for term limits and to make a change, a real change in November and show the politicians what the word “change” really means.

I would like to see one of us try to enter another country illegally and see how quickly we are returned home to our home port. Try going to Mexico and ask the government there for funding as an illegal, see what then happens.

The laws were established for everyone.

Those who have chosen a profession to enforce them, well, enforce them! Never mind the argument that these illegal criminals who knowingly break the law are here and are willing to clean the toilets. Let me tell you that the degradation of our beloved Republic is very much ongoing and there are numerous folks who are legal citizens, natural and otherwise would love to have a job cleaning toilets for people are in trouble here on Main Street USA.

Mexico is riddled with drugs and criminals. Sure there are wonderful people in Mexico, however we here in America, with drug laws that are so lenient have enabled so many folks to get “hooked” and now many years later, because of such lenient laws, well, between illegal drug use and the pharma companies and some physicians who prescribe medications so easily, unfortunately….

Immigration to any nation must be enforced. As you say, look at all the immigrants and you Mr. President, where are the jobs, the job creation, the resurgence in the economy, an economy bolstered by stimulus and a multitude of federal reserve notes, a currency backed by only Goldman Sachs. Just ask the new Surpreme Court candidate and gee, another Goldman Sachs affiliate –

Do you really think that every one of these Obama administration’s Goldman Sachs employees or affiliates, these elitists given a damn about the law, the Constitution, immigration for these corporate and banker types led by this President, “Mr. Barney” and “Smug-smiled Pelosi” and the new order have only one thing in mind, to rid us of the middle class and enslave everyone and guess what, Kudos to these folks cause just like government failed to uphold “immigration” laws and the status and whereabouts of individuals, their agenda to tax and tax (2011 and beyond) will hammer the last nails into the coffin and we are off to War and angusih once again for mankind’s lust in prowess, his greed, his self-agenda since the first of man-made government dating back to Babylon, every form of government has failed and simply because the answers to Life are found in the Bible and unfortunately, when was the last time you saw anyone of the commuter rail reading the Bible..

God Bless you for there exists once again a void in leadership, a real lack in understanding the values in Life and continued dysfunction among the crowd and those it entrusts to serve the public not like you Mr. President and your cohorts, to dictate to the people. Quite honestly, no matter the discussion, the issue today, all has blatantly failed. That is reality!

Our beloved Republic, the nation under God who was founded on principles, Judeo-Christian principles, a Constitution not to be tampered with, well this wonderful, young nation which changed everone’s Life by the comprise, sacrifice of our forefathers and those who have served and given their Life far yonder, well, we had no need to learn how to speak German as Hitler intended, we will have no reason to speak in any Arabic dialect for shortly man’s greed and his abusive ways towards others, his indifference to adhering and enforcing law will entangle us in War, not this nine year Goldman Sachs et al “adventure” imposing ourselves into Afganistan and making every attempt to take stone walls apart which have been placed there for reason, well we have lost here and abroad and so have the Europeans and the Germans who will be duped and led by new leadership with the 27th September elections –

All this debate is unncessary. We have a Republic where many, many have give their Life to allow us to live freely, however within laws established. These laws must be enforced. They have not. You Mr. President and your obviously inexperienced White House staff and a Congressional membership serving itself and applauding one another with incestuous accolades and the inability to stop spending…well, we are bankrupt, bankrupted 13 trillion times and each day, the debt costs $5+billion, but heck, the bankers and central bankers, you know, the Goldman Sachs guys, they’ll take care of it….

Here in Massachusetts, led by another multimillionaire elitist, the Governor who tells us how the Massachusetts economy is doing ok, well, bankruptcies are up by 25% since last year and this morning’s breaking news – the illustrious Kerry, Senator Kerry some refer to this arrogant elitist has bought a new yacht and placed it in the neighboring state, Rhode Island, saving himself $500k in Massachusetts taxes…hey, why not, we’re doing just fine here in Massachusetts! Yeah, right….

The only “change” we have seen in Massachusetts is whatever spare change any of us had had has been stolen from us –

There is no religious dimension to immigration.

The ensuing discussion should be about laws and enforcing laws as well as all abiding by them.

We have all these illegal folks who we are giving benefits to directly or indirectly, 12 million+ and for the most part they individuals who are here illegally, “criminals” in knowingly and willfully breaking the law and those “entrusted” to enforce the law and are not, whether Congressional member, State legislator, whomever, all negligent and while the clock ticks, our children have less and less funds for educational gain and we are quickly being enslaved to a thid world status to the extent that the shining light of hope of America is losing its shine each and every day!

We cannot afford Congress and its spending mode – we cannot afford to carry folks who do not adhere to the law and let’s face it, the system cannot afford even those of us babyboomers set to retire in these next ten years and come November let’s hope all incumbents are voted out of office no matter their party designation!

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
aka Joe Citizen

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 23, 2010 @ 11:13 am


I am sorry for having read too much into your closing comments. I have enough problems being clear regarding my own motivations, much less being sure of others.

Your emphasis on the relationship of reason and faith is of critical importance. I will also highlight that at the heart of both faith and reason is a call to careful self-criticism.

Mr. Tingus:

While it was clearly not your intention, I perceive your post is a helpful demonstration of my argument.


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