Time for the Pro-Life Movement to Address Immigration by Colleen Shaddox

With the overturning of Roe, the Catholic pro-life community has a duty and an opportunity to extend its activism beyond the very beginnings of life. Pro-life activists have much work to do in ensuring that every child has health care, housing, a terrific public school, and more. Most urgently, we need to be working toward a pro-life immigration policy. Given the wealth of Catholic social teaching on immigration, from papal encyclicals to statements from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, it is shocking that every parish in the country is not in some way acting to protect the vulnerable children of God who seek entrance into this country.

The number of undocumented immigrants who die as they journey across our Southern border consistently grows. In the last fiscal year, more than 800 lost their lives this way, according to Border Patrol figures. Now the Rio Grande is blocked with buoys wrapped in razor wire, a move ordered by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who like me attributes his opposition to abortion to his Catholic faith. A pregnant woman miscarried while caught in the wire. The Houston Chronicle has reported that a Texas Department of Public Safety officer was instructed to throw babies back into the Rio Grande and deny undocumented immigrants water in the hottest summer on record.

Where is the Catholic outcry? Where are the people who are ready to move mountains based on the belief that human life is sacred from conception to natural death? And yes, I can list Catholic groups and individuals working to protect immigrants. But they remain heroic exceptions because our pro-life activities have focused mainly on abortion and, tragically, aligned the movement with a single political party.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. “You only care about babies before they are born.” When I hear that old chestnut, I rebut the charge with a list of other actions I take: I work to reduce child poverty, end mass incarceration, and establish housing as a human right. That’s an abbreviated list. I am progressive in the extreme. If I were to fulfill a lifelong fantasy and meet Che Guevara, his advice to me might well be, “Tone it down already!”

The policies of the Trump Administration moved many progressives to more forceful defense of immigrants. While I’ve been proud to support sanctuary churches that harbor people facing deportation to countries where their lives would be in danger, I have always felt disappointed that none of the congregations I was involved with were Catholic.

Many Catholics in the pro-life movement viewed Donald Trump and his immigration policy more favorably than I did, to put it mildly. They are, by and large, far more conservative than I. But being pro-life is supposed to be about more than politics. It is about the sacred. I have been told by erstwhile allies that I don’t care about rape victims and that I want women to resort to rusty coat hangers to end unwanted pregnancies. I am not a particularly brave person; a scary story can keep me up all night. But I was not afraid to lose some friends over the sanctity of life. Now I ask you, my more right-leaning sisters and brothers, are you willing to do the same?

Immigration is a complex issue that should involve addressing the conditions that compel so many people to risk their lives in flight. But let’s set that aside a moment. For now, let’s start with the pro-life movement’s most basic premise: With the possible exception of self-defense, it is wrong to cause the death of another human being. Let’s fight for an approach to immigration that at least conforms to this principle.

What would that mean? Obviously, the razor wire needs to come out of the Rio Grande. When people are thirsty, the directive should be exactly what Jesus commands in Matthew 25: Give them something to drink. No person should be held in conditions that threaten their life, including extreme heat.

There is so much more. For instance, what policies and structures steer people to cross into the United States in places where the natural terrain so often leads to injury and death? How is our handling of immigration enabling an illegal and exploitive industry that falsely promises people help crossing the border? But for now, let’s agree to stop killing people whose only crime is that they want to be one of us. I hope that my pro-life sisters and brothers of all political stripes can find it in their hearts to shift gears and urgently advocate toward protecting migrant life. There can be no authentic pro-life movement without this work.  

When the Dobbs decision overturned Roe, as so many progressives bemoaned and conservatives celebrated what had happened, I was relatively mum, because I know that a change in legal status is not enough to protect every unborn child. Abortions have been going on throughout history, inside and outside the law. They will continue to go on, until we build a true culture of life. I do not so much want abortion to be illegal as unthinkable. I want a much more widespread recognition that human life is a great wonder, a gift never to be rejected.

That recognition cannot happen until the pro-life movement takes on the mantle of the seamless garment. Across the political spectrum, we act as if some lives have more value than others. Or more to the point, we act as if we get to choose which lives are worthy of protection. In this, we confuse ourselves with God.

Questions of life should not be tools of either political party. At our baptisms we affirmed our belief in the Creator and in eternal life. We need to live like we mean it. When everyone who professes to be pro-life becomes a defender of all life, womb to tomb, toxic political divisions will become harder to exploit. It starts with stepping outside your comfort zone, with welcoming the stranger and insisting that no harm come to him. It starts with making pro-life less of a label and more of a vocation.

Colleen Shaddox is co-author with Joanne Samuel Goldblum of Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending U.S. Poverty.

Image: Sujeeth Polta / Unsplash
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