Limits to Compassion

With deference to Alexia Salvatierra (“Sacred Refuge,” September-October 2007), I do not believe that our current laws regarding “illegal aliens” (securing our borders, penalizing businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens, and the deportation of illegal aliens) are inherently unjust. Moreover, though existing laws may need some reforms, they were written to justly serve the most basic human needs, like security and stability. Indeed, if our inept federal government was enforcing existing laws, we would not have 12 to 20 million illegal aliens in our nation.

I also wish her article reflected more balance. Nowhere, for example, does she mention the enormous economic cost of providing health care, education, and other social services to illegal aliens. There is no mention of the social cost when thousands of illegal aliens smuggle drugs into our nation. What about the environmental impact on limited natural resources by the addition of 12 to 20 million people? While mentioning the responsibilities of religious communities, why not also mention the responsibilities of individuals who place their children at risk by immigrating illegally into our nation and the responsibilities of the government of Mexico to care for its poor?

Like Salvatierra, I do believe in compassion. Perhaps we differ on the context in which compassion takes place. I believe that compassion needs to be sensitive to reasonable and morally justifiable laws. I also believe that compassion has limits: economic and environmental.

Bob Blackburn
Berlin, Wisconsin

Patty Kupfer responds:

While there certainly are costs associated with education, health care, and other services for undocumented immigrants, most studies show that the overall economic contribution of these immigrants greatly outweighs the cost at both the national and state level. One study, published in 2006 by the comptroller of public accounts in Texas, calculated that the state’s population of 1.4 million undocumented immigrants cost the state and local governments $504 million, which sounds like an alarming number. However, the growth in the state and local economies attributed to the same group was a whopping $17.7 billion. Studies around the country, from California to North Carolina, have shown similar trends. It is legitimate to call into question the lack of adequate funding for specific state and local governments that bear an increased burden of providing services to undocumented workers and their families. But we cannot pretend that these immigrants don’t give back to the national economy as a whole as much or more than they take.

With regard to the responsibility of parents to not put their children at risk by emigrating illegally, the opposite may be just as true. Would it not make you an irresponsible parent if you found yourself unable to provide education, health care, or even food for your children and you didn’t do everything in your power to change that?

Patty Kupfer is the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign coordinator at Sojourners.

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