Fr. Richard MacDonald, SCJ, a member of the North American Migration Committee, shares the following reflection on a recent source of job creation in the Rio Grande Valley:
I think this is all about “restoring human dignity” but it seems like a “win-lose” situation. Let me share the facts:
Today the local media announced there would be a “job fair” with 200 jobs available. The jobs are tied to a migrant children’s shelter that is opening by December of this year. So far, 300 jobs have been filled, meaning that it will bring a total of 500 jobs for the area. The federal government will have a payroll budget of between $20 and $24 million dollars to run the facility. The location will be an abandoned Walmart on the edge of Raymondville. Note that the reason Walmart closed this store is because it only brought in a profit of approximately $400,000.00 a year.
The newspaper article expresses joy at the creation of 500 jobs. I personally know many of the families who now have jobs and are giving thanks to God that that life will be a bit easier. The wages start at about $12 to $14 an hour; more than Walmart paid and the benefits are better!
This migrant children’s shelter in Raymondville will house another 500 minors, held in captivity, without any contact with parents or family. It is one of many we are aware of in cities such as Harlingen, Brownsville and Weslaco. The number of people wanting to live in the United States grows regularly. We are well aware of the huge ministry done by Sr. Norma in McAllen. It is no surprise that many children suffer from post-traumatic disorder.
In the parish Masses that I celebrate, I find a way to “remember the children.” We must never forget them. But something is terribly wrong about the reality I describe. Human dignity should be a reality for us all.
It is difficult to know what to think about all of this. We need wisdom. I am happy for those who have jobs. But what is the real price to society?
Thank you, Fr. Mac, for your article, “New jobs, but at what price”. It’s quite challenging to say the least: no job or one at a detention center for immigrant youth. This stirred up several reflections on my part. I think your question “But what is the real price to society?” goes to the core of what it means to be a Christian, especially today. Please allow me to offer these reflections.
First, the young woman, Cheryl, who cooked for us for twelve years here in Chicago, is now cooking at just such a youth detention center because it was the only place that offered her a salary comparable to that which we paid her. When she described this place to me and her motivation one evening at a local restaurant, all I could do was listen. It seemed most awkward and condemning to do otherwise, She seemed almost apologetic to me, I suspect, because we are friends and she knows a lot of my positions. Later, I promised myself to explore it further with her but we haven’t gotten together again. Perhaps gladly for me given the awkwardness of the question.
Second, a number of years ago, a friend, Chuck Quilty, quit his long-term job as a chemical engineer at a company which began to accept military contracts. Though the owner argued that this was a small part of the company’s business, Chuck said he did not want to acquiesce to the further encroachment of the military-industrial-complex into his life and that of his community. (He lives near the Rock Island Arsenal which makes Howitzers that deliver nuclear weapons, among other weapons.) He was well aware that the military intentionally spreads its contracts among as many communities as possible in the US in order to ensure their support for military spending. We see such strategies also being played out in the prison-industrial-complex where smaller, often rural communities, vie for the building of prisons in their area because of the jobs being offered. It seems to me that this is the case you now describe relative to the youth detention centers.
Third — and I hope you take this in the vein in which it is intended, a reflection on difficult choices – is an experience I had at Auschwitz concentration camp many years ago. As I walked amid the structures of this place of unthinkable horror, on a terribly cold January day, I realized that the persons who did these fiendish acts were very much like myself but had found themselves making gradual concessions in their moral code for various reasons: to save face, to avoid being ostracized, to keep or get a better job to support their family, to stay safe, and so on, until they became the persons we call devils today. I realized that given the right circumstances, I too might easily follow this path. I prayed to God that I would have the courage to speak out when I should. I must admit, in various ways, I still pray for such courage.
Fourth, in the ensuing years, I came to realize that this is the foundation of what we have called, original sin, that is, an immoral state into which we are born and to which we gradually become accustomed and out of which we make other “moral” choices.
Two years ago, I wrote “A Spirituality of Activism: the Chicago Air and Water Show” for a book entitled Taking It to the Streets, a portion of which I attached to this email. In it, I try to explain this notion of “Original Sin” which forms the basis for our social life and further describes ways in which I have tried to oppose it.
Fifth, it seems to me that the policies of the US government toward refugees and immigrants is at the core of this moral dilemma. If we want to protect our communities from such diabolical choices, we must do everything in our power to oppose these policies while at the same time we must help our communities understand the moral concessions they are being forced to make. I know that this is far from an easy thing to do but we must help each other find ways to do so.
I for one live now in a working class, mostly white retirement community with many traditional values and perspectives. I try to reflect with them during my homilies, and some of the materials I distribute to select persons, a more Christian view of what should be our approach to the issues of the day. It is not easy because the last thing I want to do is act self righteous, create guilt trips, or make them feel attacked. Frankly, that’s the least helpful thing to do. My goal is to get them to think of the situation(s) from a Gospel point of view. What kind of world do they want to leave for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren? The ages here range from mid-seventies to 102. I am just a baby.
Sixth, I recently read that the most widely cited estimate says that 200 million persons will be migrants by 2050 due to the climate crisis (a possible 1 Billion persons is the worst case scenario). If that is even remotely possible, what should our position be today re the climate crisis and immigration, especially as Dehonians?
Mac, thanks for reading this. I hope we can continue the conversation about this most difficult moral question.