Christianity and the Law of Migration: A Dialogue in Social Responsibility

Silas W. Allard
Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University
Managing Editor, Journal of Law and Religion
December 7, 2021

Christianity and the Law of Migration: A Dialogue in Social Responsibility

I want to begin by thanking the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) and Donald Kerwin for this invitation and by expressing my gratitude for the team at CMS who make events like this possible. It is an honor to be offered this opportunity to share some reflections with you all from our book, Christianity and the Law of Migration.[1] I also want to thank my co-editors, Kristin Heyer and Raj Nadella, for their generosity in responding to today’s lecture and for the incredible collegiality they have shared with me over the three years we have been working on this project. Finally, I want to acknowledge my debt to our contributors: any wisdom this lecture holds is the product of my learning from them and the insightful contributions they made to this book. I am particularly excited to share reflections on Christianity and the Law of Migration in this venue, the Father Lydio F. Tomasi Lecture on International Migration because the Tomasi lecture is structured in the form of a dialogue, and dialogue—the potential and the power of dialogue—will be my theme today. 

The Potential of Dialogue: Bridging Difference and Perceiving Differently

Our book was conceived as an experiment in dialogue: seven of our contributors are scholars of law and six are scholars of theology. Many of the legal scholars knew one another and many of the theologians knew one another, but few relationships existed across the disciplinary boundary. Furthermore, we built this project around boundaries that exist in discussions of migration: much is said about migration from the perspective of law, and much is said about migration from the perspective of religion, but religion rarely says much to law, or law to religion. When there is engagement, that engagement is often limited and more often a talking at than a talking to or with. So, this is where we began: with two groups of relative strangers who thought, spoke, and wrote about this issue in very different ways and largely within their own disciplinary horizons, but we also undertook this project with the hope that bridges across the boundary of discipline could be built that would enrich everyone’s understanding of migration—our contributors and our eventual readers.

Such an experiment in dialogue, we knew, would require actual dialogue. So, in February of 2019, we gathered our contributors at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. We workshopped draft chapters for parts one and two of the book—part one contains chapters on the “law of migration” from scholars of law and part two contains chapters on “theology and migration” from scholars of theology—and we assigned writing pairs who began brainstorming ideas for the chapters in part three. Part three of the book contains co-authored chapters—one legal scholar and one theologian writing together on a set of themes central to the discussion of migration. That workshop was a prelude to the conference “Migration and Border Crossings,” during which the contributors continued and expanded conversations begun in the workshop and a prelude to ongoing conversations by email and by exchange of drafts among our contributors. 

I begin here because that initial hope—to build bridges across difference and to mutually enrich our shared understanding—is the potential of dialogue. As Emilie Townes writes in the foreword to the book, the potential of dialogue is the potential that we might “become a community of sorts that has been through something together” and “hopefully we have some new insights or different angles of vision or committed ourselves to our next, perhaps some of us have come to understand a different viewpoint with more empathy rather than bare ideology. . . that we will find ways to live into what we have learned by taking it back to our home spaces and working with others.”[2]

What insights or different angles of vision did our community of contributors develop through their dialogue? As Kristin and Dan Kanstroom identify in the book’s concluding chapter, migration exposes the conflict between what they name as the “desiderata of empathy” and “legal legitimacy,”[3] or what we might call the desire for love and the rule of law. During her confirmation hearing before the US Senate, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that “Judges can’t rely on what’s in their heart. . . . It’s not the heart that compels conclusions in cases, it’s the law.”[4]

In their chapter, Kristin and Dan reflect on Sotomayor’s statement, arguing that “[w]hatever the merits of this position may be in other legal arenas, this book illustrates how untenable it often is when it comes to migration.”[5] It is untenable because, as our contributors demonstrate, the rule of law over migrants is so fundamentally arbitrary, unconstrained, and locked into a dehumanizing gaze on the migrant other that it is predisposed to cruelty; migrant suffering has become the necessary condition of the rule of law.

The dialogue that informs and is reflected in our book exposes the particular mechanisms that produce this suffering and then interrogates and critiques these mechanisms. To offer just a few examples drawn from our co-authored chapters: Gemma Tulud Cruz and Enid Trucios-Haynes unpack how the structure of so-called “opportunities” to work abroad reify and deepen inequality, and they challenge the global labor markets preferential exploitation of the poor through Catholic social teaching’s preferential option for the poor.[6] Bill Ong Hing and Raj Nadella detail the imperial legacy of how the United States, through the rule of law, exposes Central American migrants to manifold forms of violence in their countries of origin and transit, as well as at our border. Hing and Nadella then draw on New Testament history and parables to warn us about the dangers of such demonizing practices for our own well-being, as well as that of our migrant siblings.[7] Donald Kerwin and Safwat Marzouk reveal the feedback loop that exists between the demand for assimilation and nativist violence, and they offer an alternative model of integration grounded in Biblical hospitality.[8] Ulrich Schmiedel and Rose Cuison-Villazor point our attention to the criminalization of humanitarian work at the border—where the desire for love is fully eclipsed by the rule of law—but also to the potential that the desire for love might find protection under the legal framework of religious freedom.[9] What these examples—and many others throughout the book—demonstrate is the potential through dialogue to perceive things anew, not as Paul wrote to the Corinthians “in a mirror dimly” but in their more fulsome reality, “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our dialogue has made us—the contributors to this volume—better critics of migrant suffering; it has helped us to expose the causes and conditions of that suffering, especially those that are obfuscated or hidden by respect for the law, ignored histories, or bureaucratic machinations; and it has enabled us to imagine other ways of relating to our migrant siblings—on this last point I will say more shortly. 

But first, to conclude my reflections on the potential of dialogue, I want to commend to you, on the basis of our experience, this practice of dialogue, not as a substitute for practices of welcome, hospitality, sanctuary, and political resistance, but as a form of discernment within your communities. To be clear: This is not an argument for dialogue across political disagreements about immigration. That kind of dialogue has its place, but it is not my concern here. Rather, my recommendation to you—particularly as members of faith communities—is to engage in dialogue with people who live and encounter the other aspects of this issue—with the lawyers, the social service providers, the teachers, the counselors, and, importantly, with migrants themselves whose lived experience is the ultimate testament to the realities of migration. Religious communities have long been at the forefront on the issue of migration: from the radical hospitality and politics of the Sanctuary Movement and border humanitarianism to the ordinary hospitality and politics of sharing meals and sharing space, religious communities have served as sites of encounter and solidarity within and across borders. Religious communities have been and continue to be the leading edge of ethical, theological, and political deliberation and action on migration. It is my hope that Christianity and the Law of Migration will be a resource for these communities, for your communities, but I also hope that it can be a model for the kind of dialogue that can enrich the work many of you are already doing, not only in Christian communities but across traditions. 

The potential of dialogue is an important lesson learned from our experience, and, without downplaying that importance, I want to suggest that the contributions we gathered, in the end and as a collective, offer something more powerful than a bridge across difference or new perspectives on critical concepts. The power of dialogue lies in its ability to enliven our imagination and to challenge the narrow, one-sided framework that undergirds migration policy as a site of perpetual suffering.

The Power of Dialogue: Making Space for Different Stories

Dialogue is both what we do when we converse, and it is the product of our conversations. In both uses of the term, dialogue names the conversational process of exchange, the mutual giving and receiving between conversation partners. To pursue dialogue, then, is to invite narration, to invite the storytelling that is the currency of conversation. And because dialogue is a mutual giving and receiving, it calls forth multiple narratives; we each contribute our stories to the conversation.  To learn or think through dialogue is to inhabit and engage this space of multiple stories. We might call this, as it has been identified in the work of the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, the dialogic imagination.[10]

For Bakhtin, the novel, with its multiple characters or speaking-centers builds its narration through relationship, exchange, and contest over meaning.[11] In this regard, the novel, as a literary form, better reflects the fundamentally “dialogic orientation”[12] of everyday discourse—the give and take of stories among conversation partners. Bakhtin contrasts the dialogue of everyday conversation and the novel with what he calls monologic discourse, which he describes as a “self-sufficient and hermetic utterance,” a type of discourse that seeks to stand on its own, sealed off from the world and imprisoned “in the dungeon of a single context.”[13] The national epic, with its singular point-of-view that is removed and guarded from intrusions by everyday life, is a central example of a monologic perspective for Bakhtin.[14] Where the dialogic imagination touches and enlivens the possibilities inherent in our social worlds, “ever questing, ever examining itself and subjecting its established forms to review,”[15] the monologic imagination seeks to cutoff those very possibilities, “to unify and centralize the verbal-ideological world.”

Bakthin’s dialogic imagination can be valuable for us beyond his innovations in literary theory because he gives us a framework to think about the power of storytelling in our social—which is also to say, our political and theological—lives. Bakhtin’s dialogic imagination helps capture both what the contributors to our book have achieved together and how to read our book as an intervention in the framing narrative of migration: dialogue and the dialogic imagination challenge the monologue and monologic imagination of the nation-state.

As I discuss in our book’s introduction, the nation-state as a hegemonic form of political community is both the occasion for and condition of international migration because it combines political sovereignty, national belonging, and territory, then replicates itself across the globe.[16] Put differently, there is no outside of the nation-state in our contemporary world. This hegemony creates a monologic perspective on the part of the nation-state: the nation-state is the only character whose interests and actions matter in this story. 

The Supreme Court case Chae Chan Ping v. United States, commonly known as the Chinese Exclusion Case, epitomizes this monologic perspective. In this case, the US Supreme Court decided that Congress could revoke Chae Chan Ping’s right to return to the community and livelihood he had built over twelve years of living in the U.S., and Congress could do so while he was on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Chae Chan Ping left San Francisco to visit China with the promise that he could return to the United States, and he left Hong Kong on his return voyage with that promise intact. By the time he arrived in San Francisco, however, the law had changed—Congress had prohibited all persons of Chinese nationality from coming to the United States—and he was barred from entry. In making its decision upholding Chae Chan Ping’s exclusion, the Supreme Court wrote,

That the government of the United States . . . can exclude aliens from its territory is a proposition which we do not think open to controversy. Jurisdiction over its own territory to that extent is an incident of every independent nation. 

. . .

The power of exclusion of foreigners being an incident of sovereignty belonging to the government of the United States . . . the right to its exercise at any time when, in the judgment of the government, the interests of the country require it, cannot be granted away or restrained on behalf of any one.[17]

In the Chinese Exclusion Case, the nation-state tells a single story of its own interests and power, to which everything else is irrelevant.[18] Chae Chan Ping’s rights and expectations, his relationships and livelihood, his contributions and exploitation, don’t matter; his story doesn’t matter. The construction of border walls[19] and the diversion of migrants to deadly routes through deserts or across oceans; separation of families at the border and through deportation; indefinite detention in poorly run, dangerous, and exploitative private prisons (and the list goes on)—these are all expressions and assertions of the nation-state’s monologism, ways in which the nation-state’s singular narrative reduces migrants to objects, not persons with stories to tell, to “individuals as sites of enforcement,” to borrow language from Kristin.[20]

But, the nation-state’s narrative is not the only narrative. As Bakhtin teaches us, the monologic narrative acts to suppress the dialogic imagination of everyday life, and that dialogic imagination is one of our most powerful tools. This is, I believe, a book of dialogic imagination; a compendium of other stories.

It begins with how we have constructed the subject matter. This is not a book on Christianity and immigration law. Immigration law is the monologic story of the nation-state’s power to exclude, admit, or deport migrants.[21] We are interested, instead, in the law of migration, which is to say the overlapping legal regimes as they are encountered from the perspective of the migrant.[22] This is not to deny the power of the nation-state; from the perspective of the migrant, the law of migration will often take the foreboding form of the border wall. But, it does disaggregate the perspective, so that the law of migration can be interrogated from the experiences of migrant suffering, agency, and resistance.

In doing so we begin to see—and here I am drawing on Kristin and Dan’s concluding chapter—undisclosed agendas, as well as the fractures and frayed edges, of the nation-state’s single story. The nation-state’s story about protecting the border and enforcing the rule of law is structured to reinforce and perpetuate racist, sexist, and class-based divisions and hierarchies (among others). These are the undisclosed realities of the nation-state’s story of sovereignty and the rule of law. Thus, Kristin and Dan remind us, “illegality is produced.”[23] Illegality is not a natural or given state of affairs, people are made to live under the conditions of illegality based on claims about what is lawful, proper belonging.[24] But, other stories can also be told. Taking the law of migration from the perspective of the migrant opens the conversation and, as Kristin and Dan summarize the themes of our contributors, reveals how “the demands of conscience, empathy, and faith may appear in different ways at various phases of the legal process;”[25] and “how identity is [defined and redefined] and [migrant] agency exercised in significant ways.”[26] When the single story of the nation-state’s interests and power is confronted by these other stories, it reveals that “there is more porosity, liminality, and promise than legalistic [and monologic] understanding[s] of citizenship disclose.”[27] By embracing the dialogic imagination and telling the stories that are not the single story of the nation-state, we can begin to unravel that single story, to inflect it with the realities of migrants. 

By putting law and theology into dialogue, we also invite consideration of how “the morality of the normative project pursued through the law is always subject to critique from other forms of moral discourse,” as Kristin and Dan describe it.[28] The legal theorist Robert Cover, like Bakhtin, was also interested in the power of narration, and particularly in the power of narratives to challenge the hegemony of the state. Everyone, according to Cover, lives in a nomos—a normative world, a world of rules and expectations, that is ordered by law. But, it is narratives that give law meaning, which make the nomos more than just a system of rules. “Every prescription,” Cover writes, “is insistent in its demand to be located in discourse—to be supplied with history and destiny, beginning and end, explanation and purpose. And every narrative is insistent in its demand for its prescriptive point, its moral.”[29] Also like Bakhtin, Cover is concerned about the dominant power of single stories, and he describes the creation of legal meaning in the modern nation-state as “imperial” because it uses state power to fix legal meaning in the midst of competing narratives. For Cover, the nation-state asserts its story as the only one that matters, but competing narratives continue to contest or resist the meaning fixed by state institutions.[30]

Cover illuminates how law makes its claim to normativity through stories and how that claim is contested by competing narratives. In so doing, Cover helps us to see how a dialogic imagination not only reveals the undisclosed agendas, fractures, and frayed edges of the nation-state’s single story, but how alternative narratives are necessary to contest the normative claims of that story and their application through law. Our dialogical encounter between scholarship on the law of migration and Christian theology offers competing narratives that call into question the purportedly fixed answers to questions such as: Who is admissible into the territory of the state? Who is removable from the territory of the state? What rights and protections are owed to people on the spectrum from unauthorized immigrant to citizen? The Christian theological tradition—as well as other religious traditions—offers different answers to these questions grounded in different narratives, and these narratives are necessary to interrupt and displace the monologic narrative of the nation-state and its attendant cruelty.

Following Bakhtin, we might say that the dialogic imagination is more faithful to reality and discloses both the falsities and obfuscations in the nation-state’s single story of migration; following Cover we might say that the dialogic imagination offers a necessary resource to challenge the cruelties that result when that story is made into law.

Conclusion: Dialogue and the Invitation to New Narratives

The potential and the power of dialogue are related. The dialogic format of our contributor workshop and the dialogic format of the book let our contributors tell multiple and different stories. Dialogue as practice invites dialogic imagination. We can begin to imagine differently as we encounter and learn from different stories, as we are presented with different perspectives and facets of migration, allowing us to understand it more fully

The ethicist Tisha Rajendra has called for “better narratives” in the ethics of migration; narratives that bear greater fidelity to existing relationships between migrants and citizens in destination countries; narratives that reflect the histories of colonialism and economic imperialism that undergird so much of contemporary international migration.[31] Christianity and the Law of Migration joins this call for better narratives and, through the work of our contributors, testifies to the power of dialogic imagination to generate those narratives. The novel, Bakhtin argues, “is a genre that is ever questing, ever examining itself and subjecting its established forms to review. Such, indeed, is the only possibility open to a genre that structures itself in a zone of direct contact with developing reality.”[32] It is my hope that you and others will find in Christianity and the Law of Migration a novelistic approach to the issues of international migration and an invitation to continue questing, examining, and subjecting the monologic narratives of migration to review. 

Response: Raj Nadella, Samuel A. Cartledge Associate Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary

I am grateful to Donald Kerwin and CMS for the invitation to be a part of the Tomasi lecture. It was a delight to work with Silas Allard and Kristin Heyer on this volume—Christianity and the Law of Migration

Thank you, Silas, for your excellent lecture. I am grateful for your invitation to engage in dialogue with people who see the other aspects of the issue—and, importantly, with migrants themselves whose lived experiences best illuminate the realities of migration. I am especially delighted to see that you have engaged the Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin and his concept of dialogism in your lecture. 

Bakhtin juxtaposes the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and argues that Tolstoy’s novels were monologic but Dostoevsky’s were dialogic. I have deep appreciation for Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism and his vision of dialogue as a literary and ideological space in which different characters and, by extension, individuals and communities contest each other’s perspectives in order to learn from each other. I am grateful for his suggestion that truth, authentic truth, requires more than one perspective and that dialogue enhances rather than undermines one’s perspective. There are significant ethical implications in Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism. For instance, promoting one point of view or approach without careful consideration of the rest can potentially lead to violence of various forms. You rightly observed, based on Bakhtin’s concept, that the only way to attenuate the power of a national epic that promotes a singular point of view is to posit a counter-narrative as part of dialogue.

I am a big fan of Bakhtin’s concept of dialogic imagination, but a key drawback in his concept of dialogism that Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson and others have highlighted is that at times Bakhtin had a somewhat idealized view of dialogism. His suggestion that different conversation partners come to the dialogue as equal partners is theoretically possible but does not always materialize in real-life situations. It was possible for Dostoevsky to create a literary world in which characters that inhabit the novels’ dialogue with each other as equal partners, but how often does it translate into reality? And it is possible for scholars of religion and legal scholars to come together, engage each other, shape and broaden each other’s perspectives in a collaborative manner. Which is what we accomplished wonderfully in this volume. The contributors to the volume were not monolithic in their worldviews, but we were able to collaborate because of a commitment to learn from and enhance each other’s perspectives.  

But how does dialogue as a tool and the power of dialogue work beyond the academy? This is not the main point of your lecture, but we are looking at the policies of the nation-state and its implications for people. You rightly observe that the nation-state as hegemonic form of political community is both the occasion for and condition of international migration. The nation-state, in this case, the United States has a legacy of fostering the root causes of migration in several Central American countries. I am specifically thinking of the US political and military intervention that has displaced a vast number of Central Americans over the last several decades. And when many of the displaced show up at our borders, they are often perceived and depicted as threats to our national security rather than as individuals deserving of our care and compassion, having been victimized by our nation-state. 

I can hear Bakhtin say that there is more than one side to this story. True, dialogue might broaden my perspective, but to what extent can it be effective when Christians committed to justice are interacting with political powers that have decided that there should be little room for empathy in dealing with migrants? How effective is dialogue when the goals of our dialogue partner might be purely political rather than intellectual or constructive and positive change?  

I appreciate Silas’s emphasis on bringing to the table the stories of migrants and other perspectives that can serve as counter-narratives to the monologic narratives of the nation-state.

The nation-state acts in monologic ways, as in the case of Chinese Exclusion Act, not because there was no conversation about it at all but because different parties in conversation are not equal partners in conversation. The nation-state’s narrative is not the only narrative, but it is the dominant narrative. It has lot of power and uses that power to exclude others, metaphorically and literally. 

I am not at all suggesting that dialogue is ineffective. On the contrary, dialogue is essential. Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism in a literary space entails an author (Dostoevsky in his case) who often plays the role of gatekeeper of justice and ensures that different characters are able to interact with each other as equal partners, at least for the most part. Who might possibly play the role of that dialogic author and ensure equity and justice for displaced migrants in the current debates about migration? The reality is that there is rarely such a dialogic author in real-life settings who might present migrants as sites of positive transformation. 

Which is why I am suggesting that while dialogue is important, it should be actively coupled with advocacy for the oppressed. As a New Testament scholar, I want to suggest that because biblical texts have been misused to dehumanize migrants and deny them justice, we have an obligation to actively reclaim biblical texts to advocate for displaced migrants. One such text that is relevant here is the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. The text presents strangers, outsiders as manifestations of the divine and as sites of encounter with the divine. My hope is that faith communities will use their power to promote such transformative narratives that see strangers as sites of encounter with the divine and accord them the dignity they deserve. 

Response: Kristin Heyer; Professor; Director of Graduate Studies, Theology Department; Boston College

In my brief response, I would like to pick up on Silas’ attention to the use of new narratives and suggest that putting the Christian story in dialogue with law and policy can unmask and challenge operative agendas.  As he notes, the volume’s interdisciplinary pairings bring texture to flat legalistic accounts that otherwise mislead: they contextualize migrations, reveal ideological drivers of policy and the role of power, and unveil new understandings of citizenship “from below.” After our manuscript went to press, Pope Francis issued a new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, that similarly highlights the role of harmful narratives that impact migrants and the promise of the Christian story, by contrast.[33] (I will leave it to readers to decide if that means he would wholeheartedly endorse our book). His approach, like ours, indicates how patterns that instill fear and threaten human rights reflect tendencies to approach migration primarily as a matter of crisis management; as Silas noted, this neglects transnational political and economic forces as well as histories of relationships between sending and receiving countries.  

Just this week on the island of Lesbos, Pope Francis lamented how the Mediterranean is becoming a cemetery due to illusory narratives of personal and national self-interest. In Fratelli Tutti he draws attention to the forces impacting so many people on the move, expanding the migration question to consider the impact of populist discourse, neoliberal economics, and virulent individualism. This scope shifts the narrative we might say, offering a welcome reorientation to discussions that often focus on states’ rights or on border crossers alone. Pope Francis revisits longstanding commitments to the humanity of migrants and the gifts they bring. But his broader emphases reveal how barriers to reception and humane policy are not limited to matters of border fortification and refugee policies alone but include pervasive tendencies toward isolationism.

He traces how the Christian story that insists we fundamentally belong to one another—that we survive and thrive only through encounter with others—can serve as an antidote to the individualism and indifference that harm persons on the move. In contrast to standard communitarian and cosmopolitan models that tend to address rights to individual freedom of movement or the self-determination of political communities, these relational commitments underscore social dimensions of justice and sinful complicity alike. The Christian story’s universal destination of created goods similarly accents social understandings of what belongs to those in need and constraints on market freedom. The encyclical’s foundational social emphases ground his analyses of structures pushing and pulling migrants across borders like “pawns on a chessboard,”[34] whether exploitative economic models or aggressive modes of international relations. 

Pope Francis repeatedly underscores pervasive ideological threats to our social instincts, as well, convincingly indicating how self-absorption fuels both apathy and hardened insulation or group preservation. Revisiting his theme of globalized indifference,[35] he reflects on the many ways we are tempted, like the priest and Levite, “to pass at a safe distance,” whether we retreat inwards, ignore others, or [remain] indifferent to their plight” (no. 73). Francis elaborates how a culture of consumerist comfort abetted by social media distractions incubate false ideologies that can manipulate consciences and insulate them from different perspectives (no. 45). This attention to the practices and priorities that shape imagination is welcome—a theme in our volume, as well—given migration discourse often focuses on political and economic considerations alone. 

In line with its concern for forces that malform and distract, the encyclical also demonstrates the potential of religious narratives and symbols to (re)shape moral imagination. The extended meditation on the Good Samaritan not only invites personal self-examination but also serves as a metaphor for shared global responsibility for persons on the move, highlighting “social and political inertia is turning many parts of our world into a desolate byway” (nos. 70-71). Many migrants today face experiences of limbo, robbed of opportunities and stranded on the “roadside;” encounters with biblical and personal narratives may help us to perceive this reality and our summons anew. Our volume opens out with the former from biblical scholars like Raj.

Interdisciplinary work in the volume similarly exposes false narratives and illuminates paths forward. As Francis put it on Lesbos, we must “overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes!”[35] Combatting mindsets that drive current laws and policies demands a normative vision. Just last week, women religious protested in front of the White House calling on President Biden to end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or the Trump-era Remain in Mexico Policy.[36] Protestors condemned the policy in terms of both faith commitments as well as US obligations under its own legal system and international law. They called upon a Catholic president to draw on his tradition’s values that prioritize the lives of those suffering at the border over politics. Holding civic and religious ideals up to those whose calculus often neglects these commitments is what we try to do in these pages, just as these activists have done on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hence not unlike Fratelli Tutti, “essays in [our] volume also indicate how false narratives, ideologies of security, and idols of invulnerability facilitate susceptibility to exclusionary temptations…The transcendent telos of Christianity can help critique prevailing social imaginaries that prop up exploitative systems, even as religious traditions themselves are never immune to cooptation.”[37] We hope our interdisciplinary attention to new narratives and practices alike help meaningfully challenge the “dominant power of single stories.”


  1. Silas W. Allard, Kristin E. Heyer, and Raj Nadella, Christianity and the Law of Migration (New York: Routledge, 2022),
  2.  Townes, “Foreword: Displacement and Trauma,” in Christianity and the Law of Migration, xvi.
  3.  Heyer and Kanstroom, “Empathy, Legitimacy, Faith, and the Dangerously Uncertain Future of Migration,” in Christianty and the Law of Migration, 332.
  4. Quoted in Ari Shapiro, “Sotomayor Differs with Obama on ‘Empathy’ Issue,” NPR, July 14, 2009,
  5. Heyer and Kanstroom, “Empathy, Legitimacy, Faith,” 332.
  6. Cruz and Trucios-Haynes, “Labor, Inequality, and Globalization: Legal and Theological Perspectives on Vulnerable Migrant Workers,” in Christianity and the Law of Migration.
  7. Hing and Nadella, “Empire, Displacement, and the Central American Refugee Crisis,” in Christianity and the Law of Migration.
  8. Kerwin and Marzouk, “A Vision of Integration Rooted in Hospitality,” in Christianity and the Law of Migration. 
  9.  Cuison-Villazor and Schmiedel, “‘No More Deaths’: Religious Liberty as a Defense for Providing Sanctuary for Immigrants,” in Christianity and the Law of Migration.
  10. M.M. Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).
  11. M.M. Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 299–300.
  12. Bakhtin, 275; see also M.M. Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 25.
  13. Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel,” 274.
  14. See Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel,” esp. 17.
  15. Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel,” 39.
  16. Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel,” 270. The political theoriest Andrew Robinson offers a particularly clear and succinct definition of monologism: “In monologism, one transcendental perspective or consciousness integrates the entire field, and thus integrates all the signifying practices, ideologies, values and desires that are deemed significant. Anything irrelevant to this perspective is deemed superfluous or irrelevant in general.” Andrew Robinson, “Bakhtin: Dialogism, Polyphony and Heteroglossia,” Ceasefire, July 29, 2011,
  17. Allard, “Introduction,” in Christianity and the Law of Migration, 3. This theme is also discussed by other contributors, see particularly, Dan Kanstroom, “Exclusion, Admission, and Deportation: Categorical Evolution and Normative Challenges,” and Ulrich Schmiedel, “The Theopolitics of the Migrant: Toward a Coalitional and Comparative Political Theology.”
  18.  Chae Chan Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581, 603, 609 (1889).
  19. Robinson, “Bakhtin.”
  20. Robinson also discusses border walls as a form of monologism, particularly with regard to the assertion of nation-state sovereignty across and through the sovereignty of indigenous nations. See Robinson.
  21. Heyer and Kanstroom, “Empathy, Legitimacy, Faith,” 339; see also, Heyer, “Migration, Social Responsibility, and Moral Imagination: Resources from Christian Ethics,” in Christianity and the Law of Migration; Heyer, “Migrants Feared and Forsaken: A Catholic Ethic of Social Responsibility,” Interdisciplinary Journal for Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society 6, no. 1 (July 2, 2020): 158–70,
  22. Heyer and Kanstroom, “Empathy, Legitimacy, Faith,” 343, see also 338–39.
  23. For a particularly insightful discussion of how illegality is constructed, see Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).
  24. Heyer and Kanstroom, “Empathy, Legitimacy, Faith,” 337.
  25. Heyer and Kanstroom, 343.
  26. Heyer and Kanstroom, 343.
  27. Heyer and Kanstroom, 343.
  28. Robert M. Cover, “Foreword:  Nomos and Narrative,” Harvard Law Review 97, no. 4 (1983): 5.
  29.  Cover, 17 (internal citations omitted).
  30. Tisha M. Rajendra, Migrants and Citizens: Justice and Responsibility in the Ethics of Immigration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017).
  31.  Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel,” 39.
  32.  Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti (October 3, 2020) available at I have adapted some of these reflections from “Walls on the Land and in the Heart: Fratelli Tutti and Migration,” Berkley Forum on Fratelli Tutti and the Future of the Catholic Church (October 26, 2020).
  33. Pope Francis, “Migrants and Refugees: Toward a Better World,” World Day of Migrants 2014, available at
  34. Pope Francis, Homily on Lampedusa (July 8, 2013), available at
  35. Pope Francis, “Reception and Identification Centre” in Mytilene
    (December 5, 2021) available at
  36. Catholic News Service, “Catholic organizations voice ‘anger’ over policy that keeps migrants out,” National Catholic Reporter (December 3, 2021) available at
  37. Heyer and Daniel Kanstroom, “Empathy, Legitimacy, Faith and the Dangerously Uncertain Future of Migration” Christianity and the Law of Migration: An Introduction, ed. Silas W. Allard, Kristin Heyer and Raj Nadella (Routledge, 2021).
Author Names

Silas W. Allard

Date of Publication December 7, 2021