The I.C.E. man cometh

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Evanston, Wyoming, is a town of 12,000 people in the extreme southwestern corner of the state, approximately 80 miles east of Salt Lake City. It was founded in the late 19th century as a railroad town. Its economy was built on ranching and mineral extraction. Folks in Evanston are mostly Mormon, but the town has a strong Catholic presence, too.

A private company recently began developing plans to build and operate a detention facility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in town. That company lost interest in the project, but others are now submitting bids on it. Local officials claim that the majority of the community favors the proposed detention center, and it’s entirely plausible they do. Wyoming is a conservative state, and Evanston is a conservative town. Dana Perino spent part of her childhood there.

But conservative majorities tend to be non-vocal ones, and liberal opponents of the facility argue that letters to the city council and Uinta County Commission run heavily against it. That’s almost certainly true, but it proves nothing—except that too many liberal activists have nothing better to do than make trouble for the conservative majority, and too much time on their hands to devote to the effort.

Immigration is a complex and emotional subject in this country, and its various elements excite, in particular, religious people of a liberal persuasion. It is, in fact, ideally suited to stimulate their various liberal commitments.

Last August, Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne wrote a public letter opposing the detention center. The Bishop finds the prospect of a private company earning a profit from building and running such a facility morally offensive. His secondary objection is that privately-operated prisons are insufficiently scrutinized by the responsible authorities.

I wonder if he would support a government-run detention center in Evanston instead. I wonder what his view is on the government-run facilities on the Mexican border, which struggle to handle the hundreds of thousands of dubious asylum seekers that have been arriving in droves since the beginning of the year. I imagine he’s unhappy with the nonprofit solution as well.

Bishop Biegler’s letter was read out by Fr. Augustine Carillo, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Evanston, at the WyoSayNo Fiesta de Familias in Evanston.

During the festivities, a man identified by the Casper Star-Tribune as “a local pastor” who has spent time in prison testified convincingly to the extreme unpleasantness of his experience. He added that the presence of a prison in town makes an entire community “look bad.” (No one present objected that Rawlins, a town of equal size 150 miles east of Evanston, is not morally reprobated on account of the federal prison that was built there decades ago.)

A member of the Sudo Solidarity Committee, comprised of survivors of the Japanese internment camps during World War Two, offered a letter from Japanese Americans in support of the present wave of migrants to the United States. There were the usual clichés about no member of the human race being illegal and cries of “No more cages!” One mother present boasted that she’s raising her children to “respect everyone,” value all cultures, and consider “every family… important.”

As Dr. Johnson said, a man might express such nonsense forever, should he “abandon his mind to it.”

Of course, this is the voice of the untutored liberal rabble. Still, it’s dispiriting—though, alas, not surprising—to find a Catholic bishop concurring with these machine-made, mass-produced, pasted-together locutions George Orwell famously objected to in the 1940s.

“As Catholic Bishop of Wyoming,” Bishop Biegler wrote in his letter, “I stand in opposition to the establishment of an ICE-for-profit detention center in Evanston, and everywhere else in our state. I invite all people of good will to join me in seeking a more just and morally responsible manner to treat our fellow human beings.”

The Bishop quoted Pope Francis’s message on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants: “It is not just about migrants; it is also about our fears. The signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of ‘the other,’ the unknown, the marginalized, the foreigner” and “condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even—without realizing it—racist.” “It is not just about migrants,” Francis concluded, “it is about charity…[and] our humanity.”

It’s true, as Christians read in the Book of Leviticus, that “when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…”

But it’s an inconvenient fact that the word employed in the Hebrew, “ger, refers to what we today call a resident alien, a common enough type in Palestine after the Conquest. The ger presented himself conscientiously to the Israeli authorities, who granted him the privilege of abiding among the Jews. The Tshabi, on the other hand, was a stranger or sojourner who had not been accepted as a permanent resident. They were therefore barred from the redistribution of goods in Jubilee years, for instance.

In Christ’s time, Jews refused to break bread with Gentiles and foreigners. My suspicion is that a man of Benedict XVI’s immense scriptural knowledge is intimately familiar with all of this.

Pope Francis and Bishop Biegler wrongly identify the principal moral issue involved here. “Fear” is not at the heart of the West’s growing concern with the immigration crisis. Nor is it charity that’s finally at issue—nor humanity, nor even the migrants themselves, qua migrants. It is the law, and the order law is meant to maintain and promote. That’s order in the most fundamental sense, which is freedom from chaos.

If only because Christianity is the religion of self-sacrifice, a nation of Christians needs to be circumspect about the notion of a Christian nation and its implications. A man may be morally justified in laying down his life for his friend, but a government that sacrifices the lives and welfare of its citizens to those of strangers isn’t justified by either law or religion.

The crusade for permanent peace since the collapse of the Soviet Union has instead produced an era of perpetual warfare. So, too, the opening of their countries’ borders by progressive Western governments, in order to relieve social and political chaos in the Third World, would only guarantee the dispersal of that chaos globally.

“I do not believe,” Flannery O’Connor wrote, “that Christ abandoned us to chaos.” The nations of the West, degenerate as they have become, continue to represent systems of relative order in a world that succumbs a little more each day to radical disorder. Can the seeds of salvation take root in the midst of mere anarchy?

[Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images]

Chilton Williamson, Jr.


Chilton Williamson, Jr. is a senior contributor at Crisis. He is the former editor of Chronicles magazine, and his column "Prejudices" appears in The Spectator USA. He is the author of After Tocqueville (ISI, 2012) and the novel Jerusalem, Jerusalem! (Chronicles Press, 2017). For over a decade he served as literary editor, then senior editor, at National Review. He blogs at

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