Pontificating on immigration

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 17: Pope Benedict XVI attends a Canonisation ceremony in St Peter's square, on October 17, 2010 in Vatican City, Vatican. The pontiff today named six new Saints; Stanislaw Soltys, Andre Bessette, Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola of Spain, Mary of the Cross (Mary Helen) MacKillop, Giulia Salzano and Battista Camilla da Varano. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

We've had an interesting discussion after a post yesterday about an article on a group that monitors Muslim extremism. One of the last commenters, Irenicum, had a few interesting parts, such as noting how often "we're stuck in a false dichotomy of 'every Muslim is a potential terrorist' to 'there is no radical Islam.'" His last line, though, made me think of another news story:

As an aside, at what point does a legitimate concern for preserving a cultural "tradition/norm" as many non-Muslim Americans want to do become a xenophobic impulse that is potentially dangerous? A good deal of the controversy I see seems to come about from this very dividing line. And since this is about journalism, who is writing in a public venue about this in a nuanced way?

I thought it was interesting because I'd only moments before finished reading the Pope's Message for World Migrant and Refugee Day. Why was I doing this? I don't know. Anyway, I decided to look at the media coverage of this message because the message itself was so, well, nuanced. For instance, note this passage:

Venerable John Paul II, on the occasion of this same Day celebrated in 2001, emphasized that "[the universal common good] includes the whole family of peoples, beyond every nationalistic egoism. The right to emigrate must be considered in this context. The Church recognizes this right in every human person, in its dual aspect of the possibility to leave one's country and the possibility to enter another country to look for better conditions of life."

At the same time, States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host Country, respecting its laws and its national identity. "The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life."

It's not that the church's views -- at least those presented in the first paragraph above -- haven't been well documented in the press. I think the media actually has done a generally good job of reporting on the Catholic church's position that refugees are to be welcomed. But the second message, which, admittedly, may be a new emphasis, hasn't been well covered. The Pope thinks that countries have the right to regulate their borders and that migrants need to integrate into their host country? That's interesting stuff.

I figured that in this election year when border regulation is having a serious impact, this would get some noteworthy coverage. But it appears that it hasn't, at least yet. The Associated Press issued a four paragraph piece. Reuters had seven graphs. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal mention was only a few dozen words. The Catholic press did more thorough coverage. Here's Catholic News Service's piece and here's Catholic Culture, which said that the message sounded several familiar themes about treating all refugees with dignity while being more explicit about the right to defend borders and the need for migrants to assimilate.

But in general, this nuanced message was too nuanced to receive significant media coverage. It really is a shame when only the loudest or most extreme voices in contentious fights are heard.

One exception was a brief but notable BBC report, which didn't just highlight Benedict's remarks but used them as a hook to discuss immigration issues in Europe. It began:

Pope Benedict has called on immigrants to respect the laws and national identity of their host countries.

He said that every country had the right to regulate the flow of migration and immigrants had a duty to integrate.

The Pope's comments are likely to add to the Europe-wide debate about integration of foreigners.

The Vatican traditionally identifies with migrants and refugees and recently criticised France for deporting 1,000 Roma (gypsies) to Romania and Bulgaria.

This is a hot-button topic in Europe. It is here, too. I really wish that more reporters would avail themselves the opportunity to discuss the topic with more light than heat. Does it have an effect on policy and discourse when the only times we discuss issues is when more extreme news events provoke it?

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