Photo courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh / Flickr

Faith and Border Ethics: BC Faculty discuss Immigration in the Trump Era

On Wednesday night, the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life hosted a panel called “Faith and Border Ethics: Immigration and Human Dignity in Trump’s America.”

The panel consisted of Kristen Heyer, a theology professor, Dan Kanstroom, a professor at Boston College Law School, Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education, and Peter Skerry, a political science professor.

The panel discussed a variety of topics, from whether borders should be enforced to the socioeconomic discrimination that undocumented immigrants face throughout the United States.

The conversation moved to the topic of whether nations needed borders. Prof. Kanstroom stated that borders can be viewed as constructs to shield inequalities. He feels that for all of its faults, the nation is safe, but that the border is a contradiction between the people and the power of the state. He believes that borders are needed but are complicated.

Prof. Heyer believes that it is possible to be opposed to borders but still treat those seeking asylum with respect. She noted the recent Family Separation Policy and how the audio of children from inside detention facilities showed a different side of the border crisis.

Prof. Ospino mentioned the historical context of borders. Noting that it is important to analyze borders in through a historical lens to see how they are created, he provided a historical example from 1848.

“Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans went to bed as Mexicans,” said Ospino, “and when they woke up they were Americans,” referring to the American border shifting in 1848 which meant that many Mexican homes were now in American territory.

A new perspective was brought up by Prof. Peter Skerry, who spent a lot of time with border patrol agents. He noted that these agents often said that if they were in the position of an undocumented immigrant, they would cross the border in order to better their children's lives.

On the contrary, undocumented immigrants would not want to be in the position of a border patrol agent, according to Prof. Kanstroom, who pointed out this dichotomy.

Prof. Kanstroom also brought up the point that the Trump administration's policies were a culmination of certain trends that have been present throughout society. He stated that while the topic of immigration is heavily debated today, these ideas have been present for decades and were only brought to the surface by the current administration.

Prof. Heyer pointed out that President Trump capitalizes on people's anxieties about the changing demographics of the United States, and that the Trump administration has had a harmful impact on policy and rhetoric within our country.

The panel also discussed the question of whether it was ethical to deny people entrance to a country, and, if so, under what circumstances. Ospino noted that most nations around the world are ready to welcome the wealthy, which leaves poor immigrants more restricted. “To what extent do we separate humanity to those who are desirable and not desirable?” asked Ospino.

Adding on to the conversation, Prof. Kanstroom noted that the definition of a refugee was important; a person who can prove that they are under the threat of persecution under five very specific grounds. The problem lies in how to differentiate those who have a legitimate claim for refuge from those who don’t, according to Kanstroom.

Kanstroom also noted that it is improper to use the term “illegal alien” as illegality applies to conduct and not humans.

The question still lingered on what can be done to ethically address the border crisis. Heyer noted that it is important to challenge harmful diversionary rhetoric and to instead look at legislative implementations. She noted that legislators cannot bypass efforts to rebuild public trust.

In conclusion, the panel largely agreed that the border crisis was synonymous with social class. Professor Kanstroom left the audience with one last question to think about before the event ended.

“What is more dangerous to society?” asked Kanstroom, “the undocumented immigrant who is working for low wages, or the billionaire who is hurting the economy?”


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