Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Sojourners Among Us

David T. Koyzis


?December 1l7, 2010
by David T. Koyzis

People have been moving from place to place from time immemorial. The motives behind such migrations are myriad. Pastoral peoples have abandoned arid countries to find better grazing land for their livestock. Some nomadic peoples relocate with the changing seasons. Many flee oppressive governments and persecution at home, while others may try to escape debt or legitimate commitments to parties back in the old country.
One of the peculiarities of the modern age is that the world is now parceled out among nearly 200 nation-states, with stable populations inhabiting well-defined territorial units. With some notable exceptions, virtually everyone possesses citizenship in a political community, normally by virtue of having been born within its geographical borders.

For millennia prior to the advent of modern citizenship, the aboriginal peoples migrated easily over what is now the border between the United States and Mexico. Little wonder that their Spanish-speaking descendants see the current boundary as an artificial imposition on what was once a single continuous territory. Yet there is no returning to the pre-modern world. Each nation must make its own laws governing immigration.

What would a just immigration law look like? Michael Gerson believes that the bipartisan DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) would do justice by putting children brought illegally to the United States by their parents on the path to productive citizenship. I would argue that a just immigration policy must in some measure:

•    Recognize the right to asylum of legitimate refugees from oppression in their home countries;
•    Acknowledge the responsibilities of hospitality, especially to those in need;
•    Take into account the economic well being of the United States and its capacity to assimilate immigrants into its ongoing network of production and exchange relationships;
•    Recognize at the same time that immigrants bring skills and resources that will enhance American life, including but not limited to the economy;
•    Acknowledge the prior rights of the hospitable majority to maintain their existing cultures, traditions and mores;
•    Recognize the rights of immigrants to bring certain elements of their cultures of origin with them to their new homeland;
•    Recognize that no country can possibly take in all comers and that each has the right to determine the number of immigrants it is prepared to accept;
•    Acknowledge that longstanding patterns, such as the movement of peoples across the ancient southwest, may call for a certain flexibility in immigration laws in such cases; and finally
•    Punish cross-border criminal activity, including human trafficking.

Of course, these principles stand in some tension with each other. Once we have affirmed them, we should not expect them to resolve every immigration-related issue. What is the proper and just balance to be struck in extending hospitality? This needs to be revisited periodically and worked out in light of current social, economic and political conditions. Even dinner party hosts necessarily limit their guest lists. Much as we might prefer to be as welcoming as possible, there is quite simply no such thing as boundless inclusivity.

Such limits must be kept in mind in undertaking any immigration reform. Yet once people have arrived in our country, we have obligations towards them. The Bible, especially the Old Testament law and prophets, single out three groups for special protection: the widow, the orphan and the sojourner, or immigrant. From the beginning America has been and will continue to be a nation of immigrants. A just immigration reform must continue to recognize this reality.

—David T. Koyzis is an American citizen teaching politics at Redeemer University College in Canada. He is the author of Political Visions and Illusions (2003).

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”