Martin Marty: Sightings Opinion

Furies over immigration

Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois | Photo courtesy of John W. Iwanski via Flickr (cc)

When writing for Sightings I can look down from our residence window on two cathedral towers. A century ago, in the years after the Chicago Fire of 1871, those towers towered over a rebuilt cityscape, still of low-rise buildings. Cathedrals dominated the scene back then, but they are nestled among skyscrapers now. So, as an architectural theorist once advised, sanctuaries today have to stress substantive rather than dimensional references.

“Substance” relating to the U.S. immigration debate is currently on display from one of these structures, Holy Name Cathedral. Headlines in Chicago newspapers early last week were typical. “[Cardinal Blase] Cupich on immigration: ‘Let’s see where Christ is leading us’” was one, while the other headed an article by the cardinal himself: “It’s immigrants who have made America great.” He urged: “When so many want to make us afraid of diversity, of the migrant, of the immigrant… Let us not be afraid.”

In his characteristically mild and moderate but by no means timid way, the cleric counseled, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that publics should support the bipartisan legislation which addresses the situation. In his homily at mass for National Migration Week, he asked for constructive dialogue on the way to “[a] conversion. A new way of thinking about those who are strangers.” Five years ago, anticipating conflict over the then-debated legalization of marriage for same-sex couples in Washington state (where he was Bishop of Spokane), Cupich had “called for ‘a substantial public debate… carried on with respect, honesty, and conviction’ and asked for ‘careful consideration’ of the church’s position on” that issue. Earlier, in 2004, he had stood apart from hardline bishops who concentrated on abortion rights at the expense of support for broader social justice interests on Catholic terms: “We cannot cherry-pick particular issues. We have to be willing to talk about all issues.”

Respectful debate? Dialogue? Readers of responses to the cardinal’s stand on immigration might say, “Fat chance!” (or “Slim chance!”). One sample—many are available—is a vast collection that one can google from Free Republic. Sampling that sample from 2010, one can read an attack by someone who assumes that Catholics supported progressive immigration law reform so “the Church can make more money.” Others write: “Allowing our nation to be over-run, Northern White European influence destroyed, Christian religion to be relegated to subservience to Islamic beliefs, is not Biblical”; immigrants are “invading barbarians. The Bible doesn’t require you, or your nation, to commit suicide”; “God is a contract, blood, covenant God… He follows the Law.”

Here, now, are two headlines from Religion News Service about the past week’s congressional hearings featuring Senator Jeff Sessions: “Jeff Sessions needs a Sunday school lesson on immigration” versus “Jeff Sessions got it right on immigrants and the Bible.” The senator, defending his hardline views, cited Leviticus 19:33, about which debaters on immigration often fight. He argued that the text legitimated the figurative or literal building of walls against refugees and immigrants and “strangers.” We leave it to readers to look up the passage; they will soon be drawn into technical debates over the biblical Hebrew word ger and some not-quite-synonyms.

In the spirit of respectful debate and dialogue (and with only faint memories of the Hebrew language I studied in my seminary years), I would judge that the advocated “Sessions Sunday School Session” won’t solve or resolve much of anything. But it might at least distract the haters from following the counsel of two final respondents on Free Republic: “BOMB MEXICO!” and “I say we nuke it from orbit… it’s the only way to be sure.” To be sure. Can we start over, with Cardinal Cupich?

Sightings: Religion in Public Life is a publication of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Subscribe to receive Sightings as a twice-weekly email. You can also follow us on Twitter: @DivSightings.

About the author

Martin E. Marty

"Marty" is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for 35 years at the University of Chicago.


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  • If someone comes to the USA to seek a better life for themesleves and their children, fearing they will die in poverty where they were born, it is simply not Christian to round them up and send them back like escaped criminals. My non-church-going friends are very supportive of people who come here and actively try to help them get the proper documentation and join society. My churchgoing friends and family are a combination of people who will directly help (food and housing) through their church, yet stay out of politics entirely, and those who are outspoken in their political positions, consider these people to be lawbreakers, sinners and criminals who should be tossed in a truck and taken away – and they don’t care where.

    I don’t know the answer myself, but it is crystal clear where things are going.

  • I think we’re talking about “illegal”, criminal behavior, immigrants, not people who fill out the paperwork to come here, learn the language, and have plans to support themselves and build. The illegals can go to hell.

  • The problem is people in my wifes situation. They where brought here at 1 years old and now are 28.. You are saying that she should have filled out her paper work when she wasn’t given that option. You sir are not Christian.. Your a hate filled little internet bitch.

  • you are an excellent example. You probably believe yourself to be very holy, maybe go to church and believe yourself to be a good person. In reality, you’re allowing a government agency to make up paperwork, whatever it happens to feel like that year, and if someone doesn’t fill it out properly, or isn’t allowed to fill it out, yet comes here anyway, then you believe they have sinned against God, and should go to hell.

    you see? You have transferred the decision of who should go to hell, away from Christ’s teachings, to congress and a bunch of civil servants.

    My good friend spent 2 years getting his wife here. He met her, dated for a year. She was a professor of English at Cal State. She also happened to be Canadian. They got married, I guess without the right paperwork, then filled it all out, and the immigration folks decided it was a scam. Then she got pregant and they got interrogated about whether she was trying to make an “anchor baby”. Then she had to fly to the US consolate when she was 8months pregnant for an impromptu interview that, if she missed, would reset the entire thing. In the end, she lost her job, she had to spend a year in Canada separated from her new husband.

    Now, it’s been 10 years and they have 2 kids and both are back on track, but if a damn professor who’s native language is English, spends 2 years and thousands of dollars to get here legally, do you really think some farm hand is going to do that?

    The entire INS system is an utter cluster-F.

    Yet, for you, if it’s against the law, it’s a sin and the person should go to hell.


  • Remember, that hate filled little internet bitch voted and now is running the country. And in their eyes, that makes pretty much anything they say or do justified.

    God Bless your wife and all people in their situation, because hard times are coming.

  • It is a distinct incongruity to spill vituperation out of one side of your mouth, and then ask God to bless someone out of the other. If you expect the latter to be efficacious, you will learn to dispense with the former.

  • Typical. Nay, not a believer in god or gods, no sins. I stay away from people and all religions who believe in invisible powers above and below the ground with their voices in their heads. It’s going to be problematic, but not for me.

  • Immigrants, in reasonable numbers, are one thing. The waves of millions of immigrants, and their descendants, are another. Nothing has done more to diminish the quality of life for the US middle class through higher housing (land) costs, competition for jobs, low wages, greater poverty, mortgage fraud, medicare fraud, crime, disease, cost of public schools, cost of college, depletion of resources, burden on the taxpayer and overall congestion than the increase of and change in the nature of the population (more poor) since 1965, driven almost entirely by entry of outlanders and their descendants (immigrants, h1b visa holders, visa overstays, refugees, etc)

    Remember the 1950s, after thirty years of population stabilization (age 25 – 34), and before the last vacant lot was built on?

  • Omnibus response to a lot of nonsense claims about immigration issues:

    1. Only the Federal government and those deputized by the Federal government to deal with immigration law situations have any duty to enforce immigration laws. There is no duty of anyone else to report the immigration status of others.

    2.Immigration law is far different from criminal law. Any analogy between an illegal alien and a criminal is a sign that the speaker isn’t familiar with the laws in question and is grasping at straws. Criminal law has a far different level of burdens of proof, due process and expectation of proportionality in penalties.

    3. Don’t bother talking about rule of law unless you can demonstrate you are aware of what the laws really are. Otherwise you are just engaging in “Judge Dredd” style sophistry. “The Law is the Law” is not a legitimate argument in a democracy. Where laws are based on public mandate and knowledge. Where we are expected to protest unjust laws.

    4. A good amount of the illegal alien population (25-30%) did not cross the border illegally. But are such status due to severe deficiencies with our system such as exploitative work visas.

    5. Illegal aliens are a net positive for taxes/public assistance. They pay more into the system in the form of sales taxes on goods purchased, and property taxes as part of the rents paid than they receive. They are not eligible for anything short of the most basic care given to avoid a public health hazard. Natural born US citizen children of such aliens are eligible for benefits, like every other citizen of our nation. Even permanent resident aliens and many other legal immigrants are barred from public assistance. The claims to the contrary are a pernicious fiction.

    6. NumbersUSA and Center for Immigration Studies are fronts for white supremacists. They are not legitimate sources on the subject.

  • Well that is a load of bigotry laden language filled nonsense.

    “Outlanders” seriously? Casting aspersions on people who are better known as natural born US citizens (“…their descendants”)? Really?

    1. Population stabilization? You mean the recovery of the population decline caused largely by the Great Depression and World War 2. Do you realize without immigration, our country’s workforce and markets would decline to dangerous levels? Of course not. Your spiel is nativist (and probably racist if you talk long enough) nonsense.

    2. Decline in the quality of life for the US middle class and the panopoly of scapegoating accusations is directly attributable to the decline of organized labor, deregulation of financial markets, attacks on environmental regulation, corporate welfare, political cronyism under the guise of privatization. Blaming immigrants for such things is not even close to sensible. Many of them suffer the same fates for the same reason.

    In short, people who vote Republican.

    3. Every wave of refugees taken into the US was met with nasty bigoted receptions and the same tired arguments. Every wave of refugees taken into the US, has successfully integrated into our nation. Nowadays we speak of Irish, Russian, German, Scandinavian, Iranian, Southeast Asian and Cuban immigrants as “well off” communities.

    “Nothing has done more to diminish the quality of life for the US middle class”

    What you really mean is, “nothing has done more to upset the undue privilege of white Christians in the US”

  • There are many problems with our immigration system which needs to get fixed. Many illegals coming here simply want to better their lives, so they find legitimate work and settle in to live peacefully in our communities. They are welcomed and given sanctuary and assistance by some Christians. But it’s not all sweetness and light! Their coming makes it more difficult for poor Americans citizens to compete for low-value-added jobs. Second and third generation immigrants are usually dead set against the new arrivals. We need a system that regulates who comes here based on the the country’s needs for labor and specific skills. It’s hard for me to see where Christian beliefs enter into this equation at all. There’s no Christian position here relating to how we should regulate the inflow of new immigrants based on what our needs are.

    Many other illegals are criminals because crime pays much better here than back where they came from. They continue to commit crimes and live well here. Their coming puts us in a terrible no-win situation: if we deport them back to their country of origin, they simply cross our borders again illegally. If we put them in prison, we have to bear all the costs. Getting these folks behind bars may lower the crime rate in this country, but it comes at a high cost. I fail to see how it’s not Christian to turn a blind eye to the suffering caused by criminal illegals, let alone offer them help and sanctuary. Neither do I find a Christian position regarding anything about their incarceration.

    We need secure borders to determine who comes and goes. We a system to allow new immigrants based on our skill and labor needs, and we need protection from the criminals to would do us harm. These are purely pragmatic considerations. The only spiritual element I see is the need to pray that our leaders figure this out and create the policies to accomplish these.

  • “The three decades . . . from the mid forties to the mid seventies, were the golden age of manual labor.” * * * Why were times so good for blue collar workers? To some extent they were helped by the state of the world economy. * * * They were also helped by a scarcity of labor created by the severe immigration restrictions imposed by the Johnson-reed Immigration Act of 1924.”
    Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal, Chapter 3 (pages 48-49)

    “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven! And so it was for the young adults of the fifties, those fortunate ones born in the low birth rate era of the 1930s.” Wordsworth, the Prelude; Richard Easterlin, Birth and Fortune, Chapter 2

    “A small generation, presumably, would do well if it arrived on the labor market when demand was high. The catch here is unrestricted immigration.
    * * *
    . . . the bright prospects of a small cohort were swamped by competitors from abroad.” Richard Easterlin, Birth and Fortune, Chapter 2, page 33

    The secret sauce of my generation is that when we came of age, the population density was relatively low, thanks to a restrictive immigration law of the 1920s. See Richard Easterlin, Birth and Fortune; also see Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal

  • “Why were times so good for blue collar workers?”

    Organized labor after years of violent struggles from the late 19th century through the depression. Something which was slowly being attacked and minimized from the 1960’s onward. Blame conservatives for it’s decline.

    Got a link to the Krugman and Easterlin quotes? Nativists and their neo Nazi supporters love quotemining and taking things out of context. An unattributed quote is not something which can be taken at face value in an online discussion.

    That being said, your central premise is fact free and based on bigotry. By the late 60’s the baby boom was over and populations started a decline. Immigration is what kept markets growing, spurred further foreign investment in the US. Blaming lie present woes on immigrants strikes me as lazy scapegoating from someone uninterested in facts or a sane position.

  • Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal, Chapter 3 (pages 48-49)

    Richard Easterlin, Birth and Fortune, Chapter 2, page 33

    Wordsworth, the Prelude; Richard Easterlin, Birth and Fortune, Chapter 2

    The facts are in the US Census.

    Where are your facts? E.g., by how much did the population decline during the 1970s? My facts show an increase of 20 million, or 10%. Could be that you are the lazy one, pulling “alternate facts” out of the air.

  • No link and a ton of ellipses in your quote = probably not genuine. No need to take it at face value.

    When you are quoting someone in an online discussion and it is obvious you are cutting and pasting a quote, it is in bad form and a sign of low veracity to avoid posting the link from where you cut and pasted from.

    The only exceptions usually seen are Bible quotes given the specificity of the quotes and the general availability of the entirety of the text from varied sources.

    Please don’t BS me with the argument you copied it verbatim from the original article. That sort of thing was close to plausible in the early 90’s but not so today. Unfortunately for you, the Holocaust deniers, Dominionists and Creationists soiled the nest for quotemining. Since they are well known for using phony, altered or entirely misconstrued quotes and not attributing them to an online source where one can see the original text in its entirety, they ruin it for anyone else who gives quotes without online attribution. Sorry for you.

    Unless you consider yourself to be on the same level of such dishonest online groups, you need a link for your quotes and there is no necessity for me to take them at face value.

    Birthrates dropped by half after the “Baby Boom” from 3-4 births per family to 2 or less by 1973. Population increases would have to be due to immigration.

    We can also blame the Green Revolution for making life difficult for people trying to make middle class wages for unskilled industrial labor. By eliminating the endemic threat of famine in India and China, both countries were able to develop an industrial base by the late 70’s to early 80’s which has made manufacturing a far less profitable endeavor in the developed world.

  • The quotes are from books. Read the books. You can get them at Amazon. Thanks for the link on population. It supports the claim that our overpopulation is due to immigration.

  • OK, you got nothing. Quotemining and phony pleas of scholarship. Fair enough.

    I doubt you even read the books cited.

    Of course the claim of OVERpopulation is entirely yours. Population growth is established however.

    There is not an honest bone in your body.