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  • Refuge in the Lord: Catholics, Presidents & the Politics of Immigration, 1981-2013 by Lawrence J. McAndrews
  • Gráinne McEvoy
Refuge in the Lord: Catholics, Presidents & the Politics of Immigration, 1981-2013. By Lawrence J. McAndrews. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2015. 304pp. $34.95.

In Refuge in the Lord: Catholics, Presidents & the Politics of Immigration, 1981-2013, Lawrence McAndrews provides a comprehensive, richly-detailed survey and a reflective discussion of Catholic engagement with the national politics of immigration in recent decades. As he points out, while there is no shortage of books on immigration policy and even a literature on Catholic teaching on immigration, this is the first book to “connect the roles of church and state, by examining the interactions between the presidents who have executed American immigration policy and the Catholics who have endorsed, implemented, opposed, and obstructed it” (2). In the course of his study, McAndrews demonstrates how that relationship has been “alternately cooperative and combative,” but “always vital” (4). McAndrews’s mining of archival and published sources has produced a valuable recent history of how Catholic Church leaders, lobbyists, and critics operated, with varying degrees of success, within the corridors of legislative power. It is with a palpable tone of regret, however, that McAndrews ultimately argues that the Catholic approach to immigration reform has amounted to a missed opportunity for effective progress on finding solutions to this pressing national issue. “The recalcitrance of Catholic immigration advocates,” he posits, “too often undercuts their campaign for comprehensive immigration reform, as they contributed to an atmosphere which the International Herald Tribune aptly described as ‘two groups yelling across a void’” (17).

Through the tenures of five presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, McAndrews illustrates many examples of this “alternately cooperative and combative” Catholic approach to executive and congressional branch attempts to reform immigration law. In this way, he builds a body of evidence for his argument that, by “putting principle ahead of politics,” Catholics have contributed to the repeated [End Page 94] failure of immigration reform. McAndrews’s discussion of the Catholic position as regards the development, enactment, and enforcement of the Immigration Control and Reform Act (1986) provides one such example. Catholics, he explains, were satisfied by IRCA’s amnesty for the undocumented, but articulated their disappointment over its guest-worker programme and modest changes to family preference provisions. IRCA’s ultimate failure, according to McAndrews, lay in its ineffective enforcement, partly owing the law’s failure to introduce national identification cards, a proposal Catholic vociferously opposed. In his concluding analytical chapter, McAndrews drives home his view that the Catholic position on immigration reform, especially that of the nation’s bishops, has become increasingly entrenched within an uncompromising and, therefore, unworkable liberal wing of the immigration debate. Catholic leaders, he explains, have insisted that the state protect family unity and show compassion for refugees and the undocumented, while avoiding draconian enforcement of deportation policy and border security. McAndrews argues that in clinging to this “doggedly dogmatic” engagement in the politics of immigration, church leaders have foregone their responsibility, as he quotes from E. J. Dionne, “‘to cause discomfort, to encourage questions, to challenge narrowly ideological views’” (214).

While the book’s strength as a meticulous survey of legislative reform efforts over three decades is enhanced by its highly accessible structure, the reader might also have welcomed a more sustained analysis interwoven with the political machinations covered in the first five chapters. That being said, the final chapter, perhaps the most provocative and compelling portion of the book, has great potential value as a stand-alone essay on how the treatment of this national issue has unfolded over three decades and the extent to which interest groups (with Catholic voices as a case study) can shape legislation and enforcement. One should also note that McAndrews’s Catholic protagonists comprise a broad group, including church leaders, voluntary agencies, public intellectuals and commentators, political leaders and other public servants, and Catholic America writ large, often accessed through polling data. While McAndrews’s decision to broaden the parameters of his Catholic subjects beyond the institutional church is admirable, it might also be necessary to give more consideration...


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