Understanding Immigration Means Understanding Family

Like many others, I was profoundly affected by the images of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi found dead on a Turkish shoreline. You may see and read more about the story here and here but do note that it is highly disturbing.

The migrant crisis today in Europe is massive, with 4 million Syrians having fled their homes, Aylan included. Concerning Aylan, the New York Times wrote:

[I]t is not the sheer size of the catastrophe — millions upon millions forced by war and desperation to leave their homes — but a single tragedy that has clarified the moment. It was 3-year-old Aylan, his round cheek pressed to the sand as if he were sleeping, except for the waves lapping his face.

Aylan was attempting to flee Turkey with his mother, father, and older brother. Only his father now survives. After the family’s previous petition to migrate to Canada was rejected, they reportedly felt the need to leave Turkey for Europe. While there are many things this heartbreaking story illustrates, one of them is clear: understanding immigration means understanding family.

In a recent address published by The Philadelphia Tribune, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput takes on the impact immigration laws can have on families:

Bad immigration laws undermine families and communities. They do special damage to the most vulnerable, starting with children. The damage happens in the sending countries, when a parent leaves home to support his or her family by finding work elsewhere. And it also happens in receiving nations, where undocumented parents can be deported away from their citizen children.

Family motivates immigration with the innate human desire to be together. It can drive people to do risky things, with or without children, in an attempt to give family members safety or opportunity. Even employment based visas are often used by immigrants to “send their kids to school, build houses and live the rest of the year” back home. Despite the risks, “family reunification and the desire to escape violence still appear to be the driving forces” behind dangerous acts of immigration. While some may argue that advancements like digital communication and more accessible airfare make family-based immigration a less compelling argument, there seems to be more to it than simply “staying in touch.”