Listening to the ongoing diatribe between Left and Right on the immigration issue caused me to reflect on the arguments of the contestants.
On the Left, we have a defense of the constitutional rights of illegals to due process. We also have a deep-seated belief that we should “help” these poor, struggling, potentially economically vibrant participants in our society who only need an opportunity for making a better life.
On the Right, we have several things. First, we hear the prima facie case that these people are here illegally, and as a sovereign nation, we have the right to determine whether to accept them as members of our society or not. We also hear the argument that they drive down wages for citizens by taking the lower tier of jobs at wages that citizens can’t afford to live on; that there is a large proportion of them that commit crimes (either on themselves or us), as they largely fall into the young male demographic known for its high crime rate. And, we hear that they have no intention (unlike previous generations of immigrants) of assimilating into the American culture.
At the core of the Left’s argument is a desire to “help” these people. (True, the politicians may have ulterior motives in generating more voters for themselves. But this thought is largely isolated to the Left’s political elites, not the rank-and-file.) How, exactly, that “help” would occur is left to one’s imagination. The key thing, it seems, is to be able to self-gratify oneself with the warm feeling that one is sticking up for the “little guy”.
Perhaps we should first examine who these people are and why we find them in our country. The nominal assumption of most Americans, and surely of the Left, is that they represent people who are victims of some injustice – some oppression. That’s mostly not true, though there are some anecdotal stories of escaping drug lords or other threats.
But mostly what we find is a population of people seeking more money, and therefore, to them, a “better life”. In some cases, that involves crime here. But in the vast majority of cases, these are simply people, like ourselves, trying to “make it”. They were no more “oppressed” or treated unjustly in their home countries than we are here. The majority are simply victims of the human greed for “more”.
The question then becomes: If we accept these folks and a significant fraction of them cannot find work that pays enough for them to afford to live in their location in the US, probably at a significantly higher standard of living than they enjoyed at home, do we extend them benefits so that they can live in that US location? This is really the gist of illegal immigration question.
To decide this question we should at least be given some evidence that this “help” is actually good for its recipient. Where is that evidence? And if there is some evidence, what does it show that it costs the US to provide this help, as opposed, say, to similarly helping its own citizens? What are the attendant health care costs, education costs and welfare costs to the American people? Either no one knows, or no one’s talking.
My point isn’t to disparage the desire of the compassion of the Left – “helping”. My point here is simply to ask whether the assumption that having the government provide health care benefits, education benefits and welfare benefits – to anybody – is actually good for them; actually in their best interest.
In the 19th, and early 20th centuries, the vast majority of “welfare” in the US originated in its churches. It was churches (and synagogues) that built hospitals to care for whoever needed care. It was churches or church-supported organizations that routinely supplied and staffed cafeterias for the poor. It was churches that saw to the clothing and shelter needs of the destitute. And, it was churches who founded and ran schools, including Universities such as Yale and (arguably) Harvard. This was their expression of their Biblically-mandated role in caring for the “poor”. And the source of their resources to perform all of these ministries was (at the time) the vast number of everyday parishioners giving of whatever resources they had, to be faithful to the mission that they understood they were called to by their Lord. Back in the day, this was called charity. It was designed to improve, to build up its recipients.
Charity is a virtue. It has an ancient basis in the scriptures of the major western religions, as well as in the writings of the early Greek philosophers. Charity is something you do for another. You actually provide for someone to the extent that you willingly extend to them your resources – your time and treasure.
Arguing for acceptance of illegal immigrants into America does not constitute extending charity to them. It is, rather, a proposition of an entirely different type. It is at best (again with rank-and-file proponents) a “want” leading to a warm feeling, and a sense of moral superiority. This feeling represents, in so many words, a drug, an addictive drug, to those engaged in it. This feeling is the goal.
The damage done to the proponents is to confuse them into believing that they are actually virtuous and righteous – “social warriors”, “a good person”, etc., etc.
The question these proponents should be asking themselves is this: Is life as even a working welfare recipient in America something to actually be esteemed? Should we be soliciting others to come into this country to be enrolled in its largesse? Is it actually better than independence in their home setting? And, if so, how do we measure “better”?
Perhaps we should first recall the Hippocratic oath: “Do no harm”. What is “harmful” about enrolling people in a system of existence-sustaining welfare benefits and below average education? The damage is to one’s hopefulness and expectation. One’s horizon of expectation collapses as the result of month after month of grinding, unchanging existence until ultimately they look forward to nothing more than their next aid check. It is hardly reasonable to assume institutionalized welfare to be good for its recipients if it crushes their spirits.
My evidence for this assertion is based largely my experience with the effects of institutionalized aid in Africa. There, we see the effects of multiple generations of well-meaning, but dependence-creating and expectation-destroying Western welfare. People there have lost the ability to plan for themselves, to expect for themselves, to hope. While there are some enlightened Christian development organizations experiencing some success in turning this mentality around, it still remains the norm – i.e. people merely waiting for the next opportunity to ask for another gift.
I would argue that institutional welfare is a virtual destroyer of the soul. Where are the “success” stories proclaiming the redemption of welfare system enrollees to full and prosperous life? Sure, you hear a few here and there. But you don’t hear those stories from the Department of Health and Human Services, or their state-based equivalents. The stories you hear are typically from local news organizations describing the story of a local resident. And in every case I’ve heard, the story revolves not around the role of the welfare system but of the individual’s grit and perseverance to make a better life for him/herself and his/her family, often featuring the assistance of local friends and neighbors.
I would submit that the reason you don’t hear success stories from the people running the welfare system is because they don’t care whether a person or family escapes from it. If they did, they would manage for it. And if they managed for it, as the desired outcome, they would publicize the stories where it happened to promote the success of their efforts. They would measure themselves by their effectiveness in producing these results.
Charity, on the other hand, is a personal endeavor, not a governmental activity. A person sacrifices something of his own for the benefit of another. It’s personal. It seeks the benefit – the building up – of one who is in need. Its goal is to lift up, not simply to sustain a minimum standard of living in Houston or Atlanta or Newark or Los Angeles. And therein lies the fundamental contrast with our welfare system.
People of compassion need to think rationally about their heartfelt desires. “How can I best help this person/family so that their life is uplifted, enhanced and made truly ‘better’? Is it by enrolling them in the stasis of institutional welfare, to become subjects of the state, and to become experts at playing that system? Or is it through my personal involvement and sacrifice to lift their lives to succeed on their own?”
Today there are no mechanisms for compassionate people in the US to directly assist illegal immigrants in obtaining job or language skills, or in navigating the maze of the healthcare system so that these folks have a caring advocate. They are just trapped in a system that literally could care less. It’s time for active one family-on-one family sponsorship if we’re genuinely serious about taking in people who want a better life. Passive statist welfare will only anesthetize its recipients and slowly destroy their humanity.
This is the challenge for today’s “compassionate” majority, and their friends in Washington. We’ll know if they truly care if they actually do something.