Can Donald Trump Learn from Pope Francis on Immigration?

Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Appearing on CNN yesterday morning, Donald Trump was asked to react to comments by Pope Francis on immigration.  The Pope had brought up the subject during a speech the previous day, where he told the American bishops that immigrants “possess resources meant to be shared” and encouraged the bishops to “not be afraid to welcome them.”  Trump responded:

Well, I think his words are beautiful, and I respect the Pope.  And I like the Pope very much.  I will say this: We have a country that is going through tremendous problems.  We owe $19 trillion.  So number one: We can’t afford this process.  We have tremendous crime problems.  As you know, the illegal immigrants are coming in, and you just have to look at San Francisco and Kate [Steinle] or so many other instances — California two weeks ago where a woman was absolutely decimated, killed, raped by an illegal immigrant — a veteran, by the way — at 66 years of age, by the way.  And many, many, you know — thousands and thousands of cases.  We’re having tremendous crime waves.  We have a lot of problems coming in — drugs pouring over the borders.  We have to seal up our borders.  We have to do something about illegal immigration.  And people like my plan very much, and I think it’s a plan that’s going to happen.

Our own Anna Pfaff has done a good job of showing the issues with Donald Trump’s immigration plan, including its potential extravagant cost to taxpayers and the economy, so Trump’s point about our national debt makes little sense when his plan would simply add further to it.

However, more interesting than the content of Trump’s response is his tone.  His heavy emphasis on the problems caused by illegal immigrants—crimes, murders, rapes, drug trafficking—with nary a mention of the many positive benefits immigrants bring to our country brought to mind Jeb Bush’s criticism of Trump during the last Republican debate:

We’re at a crossroads right now. Are we going to take the Reagan approach, the hopeful optimistic approach, the approach that says that, you come to our country legally, you pursue your dreams with a vengeance, you create opportunities for all of us?

Or the Donald Trump approach? The approach that says that everything is bad, that everything is coming to an end.

During his address to Congress later yesterday morning, Pope Francis also drew a stark contrast to Trump in his own approach to the issue:

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.

[…]

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.

The Pope, of course, does not make any particular policy prescriptions, nor does denounce the need for effective border control and other measures to protect the security of the nation.  Nevertheless, Francis does strike a tone of mercy and compassion, recognizing that most immigrants are drawn to the U.S. in search of opportunities, not handouts, with dreams of “building a better future” for themselves and their families.  Americans need not lessen their advocacy for border security in order to also acknowledge that immigrants play an important role in the economy and that we should be offering as many opportunities as reasonably possible for immigrants to contribute to our country, whether that be as temporary guest workers or, eventually, as citizens.  In fact, it is unlikely any country can have one without the other.

Donald Trump is right that border security is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.  However, it is possible to address it without the constant, inhumane implication that most or all illegal immigrants are problematic individuals coming to our country with malicious intentions.  If Trump truly likes and respects the Pope, perhaps he can emulate Francis by beginning to take a more humane and compassionate approach to the issue.

Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.