St. Thomas Aquinas and the Bible Hold Keys to Common Sense Immigration Policy

By Michael Morris | September 24, 2015 | 2:26pm EDT
A group of illegal immigrants jump from a border fence to enter the United States, near Tijuana, Mexico, on Oct. 14 1991. (AP Photo)

The issue of legal and illegal immigration has been a hot topic in both the political and moral sphere, but just what is the Christian response?

John Horvat II, scholar, author and Vice President of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), briefly explains that St. Thomas Aquinas, Biblical principles and the Catholic Church provide the answers of how to deal with legal and illegal immigration, and it is not one of automatic acceptance and charity.

Here is a transcript of the dialogue on immigration:

John Ritchie: “When it comes to the immigration debate, more often than not, especially if you are Catholic, it is assumed that your position regarding legal and illegal immigration is one of automatic acceptance and charity. Is that really the case?”

John Horvat II: “St. Thomas Aquinas does an excellent job of answering your question. He explains that man’s relations with foreigners are twofold: hostile and friendly. And in directing both kinds of relations, the law has suitable precepts.

“In other words, St. Thomas affirms that not all immigrants are equal. Every nation has the right to decide which immigrants are beneficial, that is, peaceful to the common good. And as a matter of self-defense, the state can reject those criminal elements, like traitors or enemies or others, who it deems harmful or hostile to its citizens.

“The second thing he affirms is that the manner in dealing with immigration is determined by law, in cases of both beneficial and hostile immigration. This means the state has a right and duty to apply its law.”

John Ritchie: “Based on principle, especially Biblical principles, what would a very common sense immigration policy look like?”

John Horvat II: “St. Thomas acknowledges the fact that others will want to come and visit or even stay in a given country for some time. Such foreigners deserve to be treated with charity, respect and courtesy, which is due to any person of good will. In these cases, the law can and should protect foreigners from being badly treated or molested.

“However, in the case of immigrants who want to stay, St. Thomas sets two conditions. The first condition is that citizens have a desire to fully integrate into what today would be considered the culture and life of the nation. The second condition is that the granting of citizenship should not be immediate. The integration process takes time. People need to adapt themselves to the nation. He quotes Aristotle in saying that this process was once deemed to take two or even three generations.

“St. Thomas himself does not give a timeframe for this integration, but he does admit that it can take a long time.”

John Ritchie: “Okay, so if I understand this correctly, St. Thomas is saying that immigration is not an automatic right but a privilege that the state has the right to regulate. Is that really the way it is?”

John Horvat II: “That’s right. The common sense of St. Thomas is certainly not politically correct, but it’s very logical.

“The theologian notes that living in a nation is a complex thing. It takes time to know the issues affecting the nation. Those familiar with the long history of the nation are in the best position to make long term decisions about its future.

“It’s harmful and unjust to put the future of a country in the hands of those who have recently arrived, who, through no fault of their own, have little idea of what is happening or has happened in the country. Such a policy would lead to the destruction of a country.

“So, according to St. Thomas, immigration should have two things in mind. First, the nation’s unity and second, the common good.”

John Ritchie: “So, Mr. Horvat, maybe the toughest question is: What is a long term solution to the immigration crisis?”

John Horvat II: “What we need is a proportional immigration policy, because proportional immigration has always been a healthy development in any society since it injects new life and qualities into the body.

“But when immigration loses that proportion, and starts to undermine the purpose of the state, it threatens the well-being of the nation.

“Our nation would do well to follow the advice of St. Thomas Aquinas and Biblical principles. The nation must practice justice and charity toward all – including foreigners – but it must, above all, safeguard the common good and its own unity, without which no nation can long endure.

“Immigration should have as its goal, integration – not disintegration or segregation. The immigrants should not only desire to assume the benefits but also the responsibilities of joining into full fellowship with the country. By becoming a citizen a person becomes part of a broad family over a long period of time, and not a shareholder in some joint stock company only looking after short term self-interest.”

John Ritchie: “The family is a good term of comparison, because if a family home is overwhelmed with guests, what’s going to happen?”

John Horvat II: “I mean sure, that’s why so many Americans experience uneasiness caused by a massive and disproportionate immigration. Such policies artificially introduce a situation that destroys the common points of unity and overwhelms the ability of a society to absorb new elements organically in a unified and balanced way. The common good is no longer considered.”

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