America is not the only one with a ‘right to be there’ problem.
Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico last week took an unexpected turn when he singled out Donald Trump, telling reporters that there are people in the U.S. who have no right to be there and anybody who wants to build borders “is not Christian.” The public spat over immigration made news, with Trump saying the U.S. has the right to close its borders and refuse documentation of the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. To this effect, as Trump said, the Pope just “doesn’t understand” America’s problems.
Trump may have a point. For the 95% of the world who do not live in America, it is hard to understand the country. And the opposite is true, too.
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With this in mind, the Pope — Christianity’s most celebrated embodiment of compassion — should respond to Trump with 5 thoughts:
First, to show this not an anti-American prejudice, the Pope should take the cause of all people who do not have the documents required to live, work and make contracts be in a particular place. The issue is not just an American problem, nor is it only about immigrants. It’s much bigger than that, as 5 billion of the world’s 7 billion people don´t have the documents to live in a particular place. To be precise, they don’t have the legal property rights required to reside, own assets, or do business in their own or any other country. That’s 5 billion without any enforceable guarantee that they will not be expropriated or environmentally contaminated by powerful businesses, government, terrorists, or criminals. That also means they will struggle to have access to credit or raise capital since borrowers typically need to pledge some kind of property in exchange.
Only 1 billion people living in the West, Japan, Singapore, and the like, and another billion in the westernized areas of developing and former Soviet nations have the documents to protect and leverage their rights.
Moreover, so that his war in favor of the downtrodden should not be confused with anti-Americanism, the Pope should challenge the Mexican government to improve property rights for owners of the country’s 10 million urban homes, 137 million hectares, and 6 million businesses. Most Latin American countries have yet to document the property rights of their own people.
Second, focus on property and not national borders. No one can successfully challenge America’s right under international public law to restrict entrance to people coming from outside across its sovereign borders. Pope Francis can publicly defend the universal right of all people – sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – to enclose, defend and develop property borders inside their countries so that they don’t have to migrate to America to get them.
Third, show Trump that if he builds walls around the property instead of countries, he will follow a great and very successful American tradition. In other words, talk to Trump in terms he and other business-minded Americans will understand. Remind him that he built a fortune from carefully documenting and enclosing property — both tangible and intangible— and putting it to its highest-valued use. When people have legally documented property and make deals according to accessible laws, they follow the rules.