COMMENTARY: Border wall is not inherently immoral

Over the weekend a priest at my parish, usually known for thoughtful sermons, delivered a rather polarizing talk. As someone who is wary of political discussions in church, I cringed when the priest broached the issue of building a wall along the southern border. He quoted Pope Francis's repeated calls against the wall, urged that American Catholics should stand against this rhetoric as German Catholics should have done during the Holocaust and decried it as wholly immoral. 

Putting the incomparable comparison of building a wall to mass genocide aside, there was no reason or explanation as to what makes a physical barrier immoral at any point in the sermon despite it being labeled as such. I am not surprised at the missing explanation since that sentiment and consequent lack of reasoning has pervaded the thinking of opponents to Trump’s plan since he first mentioned it. 

Most recently, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had some words for the wall in a press conference, calling it “immoral." Pope Francis has also previously decried the proposal as a moral injustice. Yet these talking points are devoid of any explanation and not conducive to the overall discussion of immigration policy. Instead, they are a poor display of political posturing and moral guidance.

Calling something immoral does not mean it is immoral. As with all claims of morality or immorality, there needs to be a reason behind such claims. The reality is that the situation at the border is a gradual yet drastic humanitarian crisis. The collapse of Central American governments and economies is prompting thousands of migrants to stream toward the open southern border, where there is a market for smuggling people into the country at a great cost to the migrants themselves. Women are routinely raped, children are dehydrated or sick and oftentimes people are carrying drugs across the border as a form of payment. 

By building a physical barrier along the southern border, the incentive to cross illegally is reduced. This will funnel people toward the proper channels of our immigration system, where proper vetting can be done and asylum claims filed if need be. Americans are not unsympathetic to a crisis, as we have accepted thousands of refugees from countries all over the world at various points in our history. Some of these migrants are coming from terrible circumstances back home, and if they work through the system to prove that they have potential value to our society, then they should be let in. Yet Pelosi has not talked about any of this. She has chosen to posture for the media and continue to espouse irrational rhetoric solely out of political disdain for the president’s agenda. 

One of the noteworthy themes of the Francis era has been to take theological teaching meant for intra-personal and interpersonal relationships and apply them to public policy. An issue such as abortion is compatible with this tactic, but when it comes to borders between countries, there are factors far more complex than deciding whether or not to legalize prenatal murder. To pretend that preventing mass illegal immigration across a desert via a wall is immoral does not actually initiate the discussion about immigration policy that Pope Francis is trying to have. Additionally, due to the unique complexity of this issue, many Catholics rightly believe this should be handled by civil authorities since illegal immigration is more about public safety and sovereignty than morality. The moral guidance offered by Pope Francis is not thorough in substance and not suited to handle the long-running crisis at the border.

The wall will not close our border. Rather, it will do the opposite and encourage legal, safe immigration. It will prevent criminal activity from overflowing into the United States as well as reduce the impact of criminality on the migrants themselves. To dismiss it as immoral is simplistic and currently lacks any serious argument. Democrats should start coming up with some real reasons for the wall being immoral if they want a political victory. Likewise, Pope Francis and his surrogates should stop relying solely on their theological authority to convince American Catholics how to think about the current immigration debate. What Pelosi and the pontiff have in common is a missing argument, and if they expect the rest of us to take their word for it, they are sadly mistaken. To change people’s minds on this issue, they will need to try a little bit harder than that.

 Matthew Mai is a freshman in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in public policy.

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