By Joe Guzzardi
September 23, 2015
Pope Francis’ six-day, three city visit to the United States has sparked intense interest about what his influence will be on world migration and how he perceives the West’s obligation.
Since he was first elevated to the papacy, Francis has been outspoken about his desire to see more global migration. His first trip outside the Vatican in 2013 was to Lampedusa, a small Italian island that serves as the entry point for thousands of mostly Muslim African asylum seekers, where he embraced the refugees. Francis, whose trip to Lampedusa displayed solidarity with the immigrants, charged that the world is “indifferent” to global suffering.
Frances’ Lampedusa gesture is an indication that he expects the United States to accept many more refugees than the 100,000 Secretary of State John Kerry promised to take in by 2017. But little is said about the bearing larger refugee influxes have on the host country. When the refugees stormed Lampedusa, Italy’s unemployment was more than 12 percent. The island’s normal 6,000 population was overwhelmed by more than 50,000 refugees who set up tent camps, and discouraged fishing and tourism, Lampedusa’s economic engines.
To date, the U.S. experience with refugee resettlement has been mixed. Lewiston, ME, St. Cloud, MN and Athens, GA have struggled to cope with large populations from diverse cultures that are slow to assimilate and mostly dependent on public services. The Pope’s trip comes at a time when reports from Europe indicate that many countries are already overwhelmed and at capacity. Italy’s former Senior Ambassador Stefano Stephani said that the refugee crisis risks bursting the EU at its already weak seams.
Interesting too that at the outset of his journey to America, Pope Francis declared that he traveling “as a migrant,” and not according to Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Perolin, as a statesman, prominent dignitary or even as the head of the world’s billion Catholics.
Self-identifying as a migrant is consistent with Francis’ pro-refugee advocacy position, and his condemnation of what he describes as “anti-immigrant hatred.” In 2014, at the height of the Central American border crossings into the U.S. Southwest, Frances told Americans that the refugees should be “welcomed and protected.” The Pope’s immigration views, it should be cautioned, are not the Roman Catholic Church’s formal ex cathedra position, and must not be interpreted as binding, infallible teachings.
Most religious institutions agree that refugee resettlement is humanitarian and must be encouraged. But a truly humanitarian refugee policy would balance the needs of the sending countries’ disadvantaged against the receiving countries’ needy. For instance, about 50 million Americans live in poverty. Their financial challenges are further set back by the arrival of more destitute people.
Once the U.S. admits refugees, their resettlement costs and ongoing support are funded by the American people, not the religious institutions that lobbied for their admission. The religious community and other activists take the credit for successfully bringing refugees to the U.S., but the taxpayer is ultimately responsible. If Obama prevails on his plan to admit just 10,000 Syrians, the Heritage Foundation pegs the cost at $130 million annually and $6.5 billion over 50 years for refugees’ welfare, education, and Medicare.
In the end, taking in thousands of more refugees strains Americans’ budget, risks sovereignty and, will never be the true solution to lifting Third World nations out of economic or social strife.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]