Immigration is one of the most controversial topics in America today. Many Americans just aren’t ready to tackle the topic from an ethical point of view.
Dr. Patricia McIntyre, a retired professor of theology and ethics at St. Mary of the Woods college, served as a keynote speaker for last week’s panel discussion on the economic and ethical implications of immigration. McIntyre believes that ethical considerations around immigration should outweigh economic considerations.
McIntyre says, “I grew up in California, on the west coast, where it is much more diverse.” She explains that being exposed to diversity at an early age has helped her to understand basic cultural difference. Differences which, in many cases, many Americans who hold ethnocentric views cannot see past.
McIntyre is the granddaughter of an immigrant. Her grandfather immigrated to the US in 1917, where he faced intense discrimination.
“We truly are a nation of immigrants,” McInytre says.
McIntyre observes that today’s political climate is exceptionally polarized, especially on the issue of immigration. While the media primarily focusing on immigration across the southern border, McIntyre reminds us that immigrants come from all over.
Terre Haute has seen the effects of immigration, despite its distance from the southern border. The city has a high population of Syrian and Lebanese people, as well as a high population of Arabs.
McIntyre observes that this fact does not cross the minds of Terre Haute residents. She explains, “I think that those groups of people settled here so long ago that they are now just part of the fabric of our city.”
So why is immigration such a taboo topic if they just want to settle in America?
McIntyre attributes this to an unspoken fear held by many Americans, particularly supporters of Donald Trump.
She suggests that people are afraid of losing their daily lives and routines.
“Allowing immigrants into our society, our culture, brings us face to face with differences that we automatically deem to be wrong simply because they are different,” McIntyre suggests.
McIntyre offers an example from personal experience. “When I lived in California, I rented an apartment from a Creole lady. One day, in the alley behind the building, a large group of Hispanic people were throwing a birthday party for one of the children in the building. They hung lights and strung up a Piñata, and everyone was happy and enjoying each other’s company. It was, essentially, a birthday party.”
“The Creole lady was not pleased with this little celebration. It only lasted a half hour or so, yet still she complained that an alley was no place for a birthday party.”
McIntyre says that her experiences indicate the discomfort and disbelief variation in cultural practices can cause. Yet, McIntyre explains, that if a child had gotten hurt, the Creole woman would have been the first to help.
“It’s sad that it takes such an extreme occurrence to see past differences, but it’s a step in the right direction for sure,” McIntyre adds.
Aside from a fear of the other, McIntyre believes that people simply don’t know how to begin an ethical discussion.
“I think that people don’t trust themselves with abstract concepts,” she quips. McIntyre believes that immigration must be thought of outside of the law. “The law really shows its limitations with issues such as immigration,” she says. Essentially, legality is not a guide to morality.
Every American citizen understands and respects the rule of law, but an unjust law is no law at all. McIntyre suggests that the American people must exercise their civic duty to change laws that are unfair or unjust. “Laws don’t always consider the common good, and with a complex issue such as immigration, we must think of the common good, and that includes immigrants.”
McIntyre, having a background in theology, finds it particularly shocking that people are willing to abandon their moral and ethical values for the sake of preserving the “American” identity.
Religious leaders such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell JR. have openly supported the president and his actions, despite it being directly contrary to the tenants of faith that they claim to affirm.
“This is what makes immigration such a complex issue,” McIntyre explains, “prominent leaders abusing their power to gain political favor just makes the cycle go on and on.”
McIntyre claims that the issue is further complicated by other considerations that must be considered, such as job availability, healthcare, environmental dangers and national security. “I mean, where do you even start?” McIntyre asks.
She suggests exposing children to diversity at a much earlier age. “Just as we dichotomize race, we also dichotomize immigration.” She asserts once again that, contrary to popular belief, Mexicans are not the ones immigrating in mass numbers to the US. There are far more Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans fleeing their countries for fear of violence or to escape extreme poverty.
“We really do lack access to one another,” McIntyre says. She believes that with the right person in place to facilitate productive conversations, we can easily find common ground with different cultures.
Ultimately, it’s not about facts or statistics for McIntyre. “We really have to stop viewing things as black or white, solve for x, one solution only,” she explains “ethics has a place in political discussions and that’s often overlooked.”
McIntyre believes that issues such as immigration must be explored through an ethical lens. Ethical considerations, she explains, are more geared towards solutions that work for the greatest number of people, regardless of nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation or age. She cites the example of family separation at the border, a practice that horrified people on both sides. McIntyre explains that such a realization is based in ethics.
McIntyre concludes by reminding us that we have the power to combat injustices with civil disobedience.
“In no way am I condoning violence or hate speech, but civil disobedience demonstrates to political leaders that we will not let injustice continue. People are people, and ethics dictates that those with ability to change things for the sake of the greater good must do so.”