Skip to site content

Border Control Is a Moral Issue

Border control is one of the lynchpins in comprehensive immigration reform.

Political conservatives argue that the United States must secure its southern border before it moves toward providing a way for the undocumented already in the country to have a pathway to citizenship.

In a June 19 interview, Fox News’ Sean Hannity asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.) about border control and a rumored Republican amendment to the Senate immigration bill that would address border control concerns.

“I’m sure you are aware there is a lot of anger in the conservative community over this bill because the feeling is that this bill does not do what it said it would do and that’s secure the border first. Your reaction,” said Hannity.

“Every sovereign country on the planet has a right to defend its borders,” responded Rubio.

He later added, “We’re a sovereign country and every sovereign country in the world has a right to protect its borders and who has access to the country. Every country does that. Why would we be expected not to do that?”

The next day, details of the Republican amendment appeared.

The amendment “would double the number of border patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000 and authorize the construction of 700 miles of new border fencing,” reported The Hill. “The legislation would also include funding for other border security technologies, including infrared sensors, drones and other high-tech devices.”

The amendment was offered by Sen. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) with the support of other Republican senators.

Controlling the border is a serious issue.

In the summer of 2011, I screened on a Wednesday night a rough cut of our documentary, “Gospel Without Borders,” at a moderate Baptist church. One of the first questions asked was not about the plight of the undocumented or the biblical witness. It was not about the documentary stories about how the Christian community was addressing the situation. It was a political question.

A long-time church member said, “Robert, are you saying we ought to just throw open the borders and let everybody in?”

Of course, that position has never been part of any serious discussion about comprehensive immigration reform. Nonetheless, it is a fear – and maybe even a way to derail conversation about what the church ought to do. I have heard that concern expressed at other screenings.

While elected officials in both congressional houses bat around the details of border control, perhaps it would be helpful for the Christian community to think morally about border control.

And, as is often the case in moral reflection, our Catholic friends are most helpful.

Anthony Taylor, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, Ark., offers some guidance.

In his pastor letter on immigration available on EthicsDaily.com, Taylor underscored Catholic moral theology that holds that immigration is an “intrinsic human right” and that nations have the right to control their borders.

He wrote that “there is a right to migrate for those who are exercising their God-given rights and to meet their God-given obligations, for instance when necessary to protect and provide for one’s family or to escape persecution.”

A documentary interviewee, Taylor wrote, “Borders, like all human inventions, are at the service of the common good.”

Borders advance the common good at a number of points.

Borders protect nations from “unjust military aggression,” cultivate economic welfare, control disease spread, check crime and establish order, said Taylor, noting that nations have a “responsibility to safeguard the rights of their members.”

He wrote that borders “provide for national security and protect the legitimate sovereignty and identity of the state – this includes the right and duty to protect and secure its borders.”

Sen. Rubio echoed Bishop Taylor’s sovereignty note, suggesting that moral reflection does play a role in the senator’s position on border control.

Political borders are good and necessary things, which doesn’t mean that the way a nation controls its borders is always done in ways that respect human rights and treat people, especially the powerless, with dignity, as children of God.

Lord knows governments are deeply flawed institutions, marred by incompetence, arrogance, waste and even greed.

Efforts to make sure that our government rightly secures its borders are needed to advance the common good.

And while we, as Christians, honor national borders, we also practice a faith that has no national boundaries. We seek the well-being of all, regardless of their nationality, and we pursue justice for and with them.

As elected officials debate border control as a political issue, let’s as Christians think about border control from a moral perspective.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.