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The immigration debate and Federalism

The Flip Side of Subsidiarity

By Stu Nolan

Fox News is reporting that the federal government is suggesting it will refuse to enforce deportations under the new Arizona law that attempts to secure the state's border and get the recent outbreak of violence under control. This follows in the wake of half of the legislature giving the Mexican president a standing ovation while he criticizes the law of one of the United States of America. Above is the link to the text of the Arizona law so you can read it and offer your own view as to whether it is reasonable in the context of what Arizona is confronting.

From the perspective of our faith, immigration presents a difficult challenge. On the one hand, we do not want to deny refuge to the persecuted or opportunity to the poor. On the other hand, especially in the context of an ongoing need to defend ourselves from terrorists and narcotics cartels, there is a need to secure the borders. Our preference is to assist more people in becoming American citizens, first by arriving here legally or by legalizing their status, but we can fault no one for meanwhile demanding that the violence and the threat of violence on Arizona's doorstep be eliminated.

It is simply sickening to watch members of the federal government applaud enthusiastically while the leader of a foreign nation criticizes a legitimate effort by one of our states to deal with the problem. Disagree with the Arizona effort on policy grounds, if you must, and work with them to address the issue more effectively and in greater justice, if you can. But do not undermine the validity of their effort to act where the federal government has refused to do so.

There are certain symmetries between the theological teaching of subsidiarity and the American governance principle of federalism. Subsidiarity teaches that the party closest to a problem or need is best positioned to remedy the problem or alleviate the need. See paragraph 1894 of the Catechism. The flip side of this, it seems to me, is that those farther away from the problem should respect the perspective and legitimate attempts of a local effort to address it.

Under the principles of federalism, people have ceded to states the authority to address needs that individuals and families cannot address feasibly by themselves, and the states in turn have ceded authority to the federal government. The federal government is charged in the Constitution with a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the nation's borders because it is not feasible for states to do it themselves. For the federal government to fail in this responsibility is bad enough, but for many members of that government then to applaud while a foreign head of state criticizes a state effort to fill that void is just an outrage.

A serious effort to reform immigration laws and protect America (and the would-be immigrant, by the way) has no room for childish reactions such as that which we are getting from Washington, DC.

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