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Some Thoughts on the Government Shutdown and Immigration

posted Jan 21, 2018, 8:05 AM by Carmina Chapp
Hi everyone. Larry here. I don’t often get political on here and I really won’t today either. But with our government shut down, largely over the issue of immigration, I wondered, as a Catholic Worker, what our response should be…

The great British economist E.F. Schumacher, in a wonderful little book called “A Guide for the Perplexed”, observes that there really are only two kinds of problems in life. There are “convergent” problems where there really is a single answer (this is the path followed by science) and you can reach that answer after careful analysis, and then there are “divergent” problems where there might be multiple possible answers to the same problem and it is not always so easy to see which should be followed. And most social problems are human problems, rooted in the great mystery of human free will and human nature. As such, social problems are almost always “divergent” problems, which means there might be a variety of different “political” solutions to the same issue. And maybe even non political solutions.

It seems to me the issue of immigration is a divergent problem. However, the political and economic powers that run this country like to treat social problems like convergent problems and to bring them under some kind of political control through various “programs and policies”. But this false reading of the nature of the problem causes our political classes to approach it in binary categories: there can only be ONE right answer to the problem and it is OURS. And of course the answers proposed are also inextricably tied into impure motives: Democrats want open borders because immigrants tend to vote Democratic. Republicans want that darn wall and the “Dreamers” kicked out for that same reason. Republicans then hide their false motives under the banner of some nationalistic jingle like “America for Americans” and so on, while Democrats wrap themselves in the mantle of “justice for all” when all they really want are votes.

This is why Peter Maurin distrusted political solutions to human problems. I am strongly pro-immigration myself, but I am pro immigration for pre-political and non-
political reasons. And I have no idea what a “political” solution to this problem would look like. I am not that clever. But I do know this: Peter Maurin would say that our response to the crisis of immigration is to forget the spirit of political and economic calculation and to focus instead on the human beings in front of us as persons made in God’s image and who are in grave need. If you encounter someone in the desert who has been lost and dying of thirst you do not direct him or her to the nearest government office. You give them a drink of water and then accompany them to safety. That is NOT to say that government and politics have no role to play here. I am just saying in an age of partisan, binary thinking, riddled with false motives and collusion with power, that the Christian response is immediate and personal: “I will feed you. Please come to my house”.

That was our response here on the farm when, two years ago now, I got a call from a Catholic Worker Farm in Missouri asking me if I could please take in a woman and her son who were political refugees from East Africa (Eritrea… a brutal dictatorship). The caller started listing off a long list of reasons why the Eritrean woman needed to come here in the hopes of persuading me. But I cut him off and said, simply, “Hey, its okay. Just send her. We will find room.” I am NOT writing this to garner praise (self praise stinks), but to point out that Peter Maurin thought that most large Catholic parishes, as with the monasteries in medieval times, should have houses of hospitality for just such purposes. That the answer to “the poor” is to stop "calculating" and just open your door. His answer was Christian and personal.

Our two immigrants that we took in became like family to us. They are now successfully relocated in Canada, near Toronto, and we love them very much. They really are part of our family now. So trust me when I say that we got far more from them than they from us. And THAT is not a cliché.

Therefore, as a Catholic Worker, I would politely suggest to the Catholic bishops of America that the Catholic Church take an even greater role in developing houses of hospitality for immigrants. Many parishes are already doing a magnificent job. So are many dioceses who are on the front lines so to speak. But I can only think of how transformative our experience was, and I wish that more parishes, especially wealthy suburban parishes, would pursue Peter Maurin’s model. And if this were pursued ecumenically and inter-religously, it would transform our nation in very positive ways.

What I am trying to say is simple. Most divergent human problems present us with real people. And real people and their needs are pre-political. Therefore, as Peter Maurin taught, the claims they lay upon the Christian conscience have nothing to do with politics: "Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me." The Christian needs no more than that.

Here endeth the lesson.