“Solidarity and Fraternity Should Prevail”

Immigration Reform

New Orleans    France, what a country!  Here’s an inspirational and “good news” story to bring some brightness into the bleak performance of so many countries in Europe and of course the United States in handling the ongoing political crisis involving migrants.

The French farmer who had attracted worldwide attention when arrested and fined for helping organize rescues through the mountains in southeastern France for migrants who had illegally crossed the border and driving them to his farm for food, shelter, and sanctuary won a critical court decision that should have huge ramifications not only in France, but around the world.  The French Constitutional Court ruled that Cedric Herrou’s actions were legal and protected under the constitutional principle of “fraternite” that means “all humanitarian assistance should be legal once people have entered France – provided it doesn’t entail helping them enter the country and isn’t delivered for financial benefit,” as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The French Revolution was different than the American Revolution.  “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” was the motto.  Political philosophers have often pointed out the power of the distinction between a demand for freedom in the United States versus the demand for liberty in France.  Equality is mainly ignored in both countries as we all know too well, but fraternity, the notion that all people must bond together in solidarity, is also unique.

Interviewing Harvard Professor Jacqueline Bhabha about her new book from Polity Press, Can We Solve the Migration Crisis? on Wade’s World it was impossible for her not to emphasize how much migration is not driven by choice, but by humanitarian crises of war, violence, and climate whether from Syria, Central America, or currently the forced starvation and conflict pushing people out of Yemen.  In our conversation we didn’t discount the “pursuit of Happiness” that drives economic migrants to uproot their families from their homes and traditions to seek better lives.  Bhabha’s book noted that the lifetime earning gain was over $225,000 for such families.  Reports from Central America indicate that the average cost for migrants to journey to the United States is between $9 and $10,000, and Bhabha notes that Syrian migrants were also paying about $9000 as well.  To believe that migration is simply “the poor and huddled masses” misses much of the modern experience even as we watch the repeated forced migration in the sub-Saharan area, with the Rohingya, and with others.

The French court was clear that the border needs to be protected and that traffickers must be prosecuted, but their decision about the responsibilities that we all have to protect and assist the men, women, and children that need our aid and succor should be a clarion call to all countries and all people, not simply the reading of a piece of the French constitution and law.  This is part of what drives the outcry about family separation and child incarceration at the US border.

The New York Times interviewed Vincent Gasquet, a pizza chef who aids migrants at the border near where he lives in France, and his statement should be close to all of our hearts, as he says,

“The law states that we shouldn’t help migrants, but it also says that we shouldn’t leave them in a dangerous situation, so what can we do?…The line is so thin, but solidarity and fraternity should prevail.”