Global Migration

What's Happening, Why, and A Just Response

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Elizabeth W. Collier, Charles R. Strain
  • Winona, MN: 
    Saint Mary's Press of Minnesota
    , March
     118 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Elizabeth W. Collier and Charles R. Strain start their book on the phenomenon of human movement around the globe by defining faith as the courage to move, offering the migration of Abraham as a prototypical religious example of this within the framework of the Abrahamic faith traditions. Unfortunately, the authors quickly distract readers well-read in biblical studies by making reference to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews as “Paul” (7). The authors also mention the Islamic hijrah, the transportation of slaves from Africa, and the Irish potato famine  all on the first page of the book’s introduction! Whatever else might be said about Global Migration, it aims to pack a great deal into its mere 118 pages. Statistics are included, such as when the authors inform us that if all the “immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and migrants fleeing natural disasters” were brought together, that location would represent the third largest nation on the planet, more populous than the United States (9).

The introduction of Global Migration continues by sharing the recommendation, which emerged in the Catholic Action movement in the middle of the twentieth century, to follow the steps “See – Judge – Act” when responding to injustice. We should first perceive and seek to understand, and then evaluate and draw conclusions before responding in practical ways. This structure provides the outline for the remainder of the book. In concluding their introduction, the authors use language which seems inspired by Einstein’s famous dictum about religion and science: “Action without ethical reflection is blind, but ethical reflection without action is sterile” (17).

Chapter 1 provides a broad overview of the situation of refugees, focusing on the history of international laws, as well as recent and current situations that make our time different from past eras. Chapter 2 introduces new kinds of refugees: those fleeing climate change as well as other more local human-caused environmental disasters. Though some deny the reality of climate change, the United States has already had to deal with its first batch of climate-related migrations—ironically, and sadly, among Native Americans who managed to avoid forced migration in the 19th century because they lived on an island (Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana) which has lost 98% of its land mass in recent times (28). Where wars typically end within a matter of years, allowing for at least the possibility for refugees to return home, climate change can require permanent relocation. In contrast with Garrett Hardin’s image of “lifeboat ethics,” with rich nations likely to capsize under the weight of an enormous influx of would-be survivors, Catholic Relief Services prefers to seek to develop the potential of poor individuals, communities, and nations so as to reduce their likelihood to need to relocate and become dependent on others. Chapter 3 explores unauthorized migration to the United States, especially from Mexico, surveying possible ways of understanding the causes of and responsibilities for the economic situations that motivate people to relocate in search of employment. The chapter also provides a quick historical overview of nativism and the laws passed in the past to limit immigration of Chinese, Jewish, and more recently Mexican individuals. The budget for border patrols has been increased in recent years by more than 1400%, justified in terms of preventing terrorism. A brief discussion of “Dreamers” (those brought illegally to the United States when they were children) rounds out the chapter. Chapter 4 shifts the focus away from particular causes of migration to the current debates in the United States between those who think immigration benefits the country and those who think it detrimental. Data indicates that immigrants start new businesses more frequently than native-born citizens do, and employ more than one person for each of their own number, indicating a net increase in jobs (53). Illegal immigrants pay into social security and Medicare without ever being able to claim those benefits, which is to the advantage of these systems (55-56).

Part 2 claims to move from the seeing to the judging phase. It has been clear throughout the book, however, that the authors have already made judgments on matters related to immigration, and have been leading readers to do likewise from the outset. Chapter 5—the only chapter in the “judging” section—illustrates the fact that the authors, like their readers, do not merely perceive bare facts before proceeding to interpretation. One of the authors (Liz Collier) shares her experience of encountering injustices experienced by immigrants before discovering what the Roman Catholic Church’s position was on such matters. Collier did not see first and then judge, but saw and judged simultaneously, and then proceeded to investigate the ethical teachings of her own religious tradition. That tradition of Catholic social teaching (CST) has its roots in papal encyclicals published from 1891 onward (67). After outlining core ethical principles of CST, Collier and Strain then illustrate their application to migration in a manner that seeks to balance the right of nations to secure their borders and the right of people to seek their own well-being.

Part 3 moves to action, beginning with chapter 6 which focuses on the role of NGOs, and several specific ways of helping immigrants and refugees, including advocacy, emergency aid, and microfinancing. The latter can also play a crucial role in giving people the option of not migrating as a solution to their economic situation. The Sanctuary Movement that began in the 1980s represents yet another option: resistance. Chapter 7 focuses on law and policy in the United States, and ways that it might be reformed. Chapter 8 tackles the question of what individuals can do to make a difference by telling stories about what individuals have done. A final epilogue connects the book’s message to the most recent developments in migration, such as the Trump travel ban.

The book is very specifically targeted at a Catholic audience, focusing entirely on Catholic sources of ethical and theological teaching and Catholic organizations. This level of specificity was not something that I expected, based on the book’s title. However, this small book manages to pack in a great deal, and its contents are mostly either things that non-Catholics can relate to, or things that non-Catholics ought to know about Catholic values and emphases. And so, in addition to being especially useful to those working within the same religious framework as its authors, the book provides a more broadly compelling call to action on behalf not only of refugees and immigrants, but also those who never wish to become displaced and would be better served by efforts to address the underlying root causes of such migration in the first place.

About the Reviewer(s): 

James F. McGrath is Clarence L. Goodwin chair in New Testament language and literature at Butler University, Indianapolis.

Date of Review: 
October 18, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Elizabeth W. Collier is professor of business ethics at the Brennan School of Business at Dominican University.

Charles R. Strain is professor of religious studies at DePaul University.


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