The impression is being created and fostered that, in order to be a truly good and great country, we must, at all costs, take in all who want to come here, no questions asked. Many bishops and clergy seem to be on board with that view. For this, and for a whole host of other reasons, it would seem that the Summa Theologiae
is no longer required reading in Catholic seminaries. But despite being a dead white Western male, and a member of the oppressive Catholic hierarchy into the bargain, the Angelic Doctor does have one or two illuminating things to say that are pertinent to the question of open borders.
Before we get to Aquinas, a couple of observations are in order. First of all, when the rubber meets the road, virtually nobody really
believes in open borders. How many people would like to dissolve the borders of their own real estate holdings? How many allow all and sundry into their residences? How many open-borders advocates go so far as to live in gated communities from which most even of their fellow Americans are excluded? During the last days his administration, Barack Obama, a passionate unbeliever in borders for the rest of us, busied himself with building a big, brick wall around his post-presidential palace. He also put an end to "wet foot, dry foot" for persons who manage to escape the workers' paradise of Cuba, proving that there are some categories of people that even he thinks we already have enough of in this country.
Secondly, the average person who supports restrictions on immigration is not an ogre who wants to turn our backs on persons in dire distress. I for one support reinstatement of "wet foot, dry foot," and I deplored the forced repatriation, under Bill Clinton, of Elian Gonzales, whose mother died getting him to our shores. I think persecuted Christians from Syria and Africa and Asia should be moved to the head of the refugee line. I welcome persons who believe in what America stands for and want to come here to work hard and be a part of it, like my Italian great-grandparents at the turn of the last century.
But am I wrong? Is it true that, in order to be a good Catholic, I must support a policy of flinging wide the doors of the country to let in all comers, regardless of who they are or where they came from, or what they believe, or whether they have a criminal history, or contagious diseases, or are violently mentally ill, and to grant them all the privileges and prerogatives of citizenship?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church at paragraph 2241 says (emphases added):
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
Clearly, (1) the obligation to take in immigrants is not absolute, but must be balanced against the common good, and (2) immigrants owe duties toward their country of adoption.
Let's look at the Summa Theologiae
, First Part of the Second Part, Question 105, Article 3 (ST I-II. Q.105 A.3
). Question 105 explains the judicial precepts of the Old Law. As you read through Question 105, it becomes clear that the preservation of a nation is a good, and the Law was designed in part to effect that good. In his Reply to Objection 3 in Article 2, Aquinas says, "...the regulation of possessions conduces much to the preservation of a state or nation," and explains that the reason for the law against permanently alienating real property "was to prevent confusion of possessions, and to ensure the continuance of a definite distinction among the tribes." Article 3 of Question 105 explains the laws pertaining to foreigners. Aquinas begins by noting that there are two kinds of relations with foreigners: peaceful and hostile, and the Law provided suitably for both kinds. Then he lists the three opportunities Israel had to carry on peaceful relations with foreigners: when they traveled through the land; when they came to settle as newcomers; and when they wished to join their full fellowship and mode of worship. In the first two cases, the Law commanded that they not be molested. Be it noted that you will nowhere find Aquinas suggesting that this precept applied to troublemakers and disturbers of the peace.
In the third case, Aquinas observes, there was a certain order:
For they were not at once admitted to citizenship: just as it was law with some nations that no one was deemed a citizen except after two or three generations, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Polit. iii, 1). The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people. Hence it was that the Law prescribed in respect of certain nations that had close relations with the Jews (viz., the Egyptians among whom they were born and educated, and the Idumeans, the children of Esau, Jacob's brother), that they should be admitted to the fellowship of the people after the third generation; whereas others (with whom their relations had been hostile, such as the Ammonites and Moabites) were never to be admitted to citizenship; while the Amalekites, who were yet more hostile to them, and had no fellowship of kindred with them, were to be held as foes in perpetuity: for it is written (Exodus 17:16): "The war of the Lord shall be against Amalec from generation to generation." [Emphasis added.]
So peaceful foreigners are not to be molested. Nor, as Aquinas emphasizes, are men of any nation excluded from the worship of God and the things that pertain to the good of the soul. The question is to what extent are they admitted into a nation's civil affairs. Answer: not until they have the common good firmly at heart. Foreigners, then, especially newly-arrived ones, are not deeply rooted enough in their adoptive country to become involved in its affairs; thus, as Aquinas notes in Article 1 of Question 105, the Law forbade the Israelites to choose a foreigner to be king, "because such kings are wont to take little interest in the people they are set over, and consequently to have no care for their welfare...."
And foreigners have no right to cause injury to their adoptive country or its people, any more than any one else has. Under the old Law, some nations were to be excluded entirely from citizenship, on account of their hostility. Aquinas:
But in temporal matters concerning the public life of the people, admission was not granted to everyone at once, for the reason given above: but to some, i.e. the Egyptians and Idumeans, in the third generation; while others were excluded in perpetuity, in detestation of their past offense, i.e. the peoples of Moab, Ammon, and Amalec. For just as one man is punished for a sin committed by him, in order that others seeing this may be deterred and refrain from sinning; so too may one nation or city be punished for a crime, that others may refrain from similar crimes.
From the talk these days about immigration, one gets the impression that the rights are supposed to all be on the immigrant side of the ledger, and the obligations all on the nation side. But the Catholic Church teaches otherwise. Nations have rights as well as obligations, and immigrants have obligations as well as rights, and these must all be rightly ordered for the sake of the common good. A nation has the right to self-preservation, and to grant citizenship only to those who have the common good firmly to heart. Gratitude imposes on immigrants the obligation to respect the law and the culture of their adoptive country. If they don't, the state has the duty not to tolerate disorders for the sake of the people's welfare.
Those of us who want strong borders believe that our distinctive American culture (as distinguished from foul, rotten pop culture), founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs, is worth preserving. We want our lives and our property to be protected from people who mean us harm. We want to preserve the value of citizenship, and to not have its benefits diluted by conferring them on persons who are not entitled to possess them. We want to help people in need, to the extent possible, but we want them to be willing to fulfill the duties of immigrants to their adoptive country.
None of which is contrary to the Christian faith, as the Catechism and St. Thomas Aquinas seem to indicate.