Elena Muller García
About ten years ago one of my co-workers approached my desk and began to address me by saying:
“Did you see those illegals,” I stopped him abruptly midsentence.
“Calling undocumented immigrants ‘illegals’ is the same as calling the unborn child a ‘fetus’. Both terms are used to veil their humanity,” I said. He listened and went back to his desk.
Although this might seem to be an insignificant conversation, the demeaning way in which he said “illegal” still rings in my ears. My dear co-worker was then, and still is, a committed Catholic and an ardent pro-lifer. The sharp contrast between what I knew to be his pro-life advocacy and his abrupt anti-immigrant rant, which I managed to stop that day, saddened me and worried me. Unfortunately, he was not alone in his inconsistency. Worse yet, ten years later the tear in what should be a consistent advocacy both for the immigrant person and the preborn child has exponentially widened.
As I remember this incident, several life experiences coalesce in my mind. All Americans, except native Americans, have an immigrant ancestor somewhere on their family tree, but I am the immigrant on mine. I was also an unplanned child. In addition, doing post graduate work at the University of Miami in the 1970s had led me to do research on the personhood of the unborn child. I still remember some of the arguments that were proposed then to justify abortion by denying personhood to the early embryo, describing it as a blob of protoplasm or by comparing the fetus to an unconscious violinist attached to an unwilling person for nine months.
I have shared my experience of arriving in the United States as an unaccompanied minor in different venues and publications. Although I initially did not want to leave my native country, Cuba, much less without my parents, I eventually agreed to do so and left the island when I was thirteen years old. I am one of more than 14,000 children who left Cuba and arrived in the United States thanks to Operation Pedro Pan, between late December of 1960 and mid-October of 1962.¹ This was a transformative experience, many times painful but also at times joyful, that constitutes part of the core of the person I am today, sixty years later. Early on I came across John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants. In the midst of my deep longing to be with my parents who stayed behind in Cuba for three more years, and of the intense feeling of rootlessness that sometimes overwhelmed me, the book helped alleviate my pain. It made me feel welcome in what eventually became my adopted country. I don’t recall in great detail the content of the book itself. Remembering the title, even to this day, helps sustain my welcoming attitude towards today’s immigrants.
I do not often share my experience of first suspecting and then confirming that I was an unplanned child. I had a happy childhood in Havana, Cuba. I was the fourth child and only girl. I loved my parents and my siblings. My life centered on my family, my school, my friends, and my Catholic faith. My family life contrasted sharply with the political unrest that had plagued the island nation and had come to a seeming end on January 1, 1959 when the dictatorship of President Batista ended. Tragically, the autocracy only replicated itself in a more virulent strain with the Castro-Communist takeover, which is the reason why I left Cuba, followed, one by one, by each of my brothers and three years later by my parents.
As I was trying to become acclimated to my new country, in the early sixties, the sexual revolution was well underway as well as concern for overpopulation. I used to dream of someday having a large family. If it was true that human population was a threat to civilization and to the planet, then it was not advisable for me to fulfill that dream. Two opposing views were published in 1968: the much maligned encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI and Paul Ehrlich’s best seller The Population Bomb. Population Control or Race to Oblivion. Although the encyclical and the book are diametrically opposed as far as what course of action should be taken, Paul VI expressed concerns about overpopulation. I read the encyclical but not the book. Thus I became interested in natural family planning. It was then that I started suspecting that I had been an unplanned child myself since I was the caboose child. In Cuba my parents had been able to make ends meet, but that was it. We lived on a shoestring budget although my Dad worked two jobs and my Mom worked outside the home too.
I moved in with my parents again several years after they immigrated to the United States, but I did not ask my mother the question. I harbored a fear that confirming that I was unplanned would devastate my self-esteem. Decades later when I was studying to become a certified teacher of natural family planning I gathered my courage and asked her: “Mami, was I planned?” Her quick answer did not surprise me: “No, you were not planned.” What surprised me was my reaction. Far from feeling shattered, I felt elated by a deep sense of worthiness and freedom. In twelve-step program terms, I realized I was here because of a higher power. I was also overcome by a deep sense of gratitude towards my parents who, though I was unplanned, never made me feel unwanted and always took loving care of me.
Two strikes against me
Sometimes I feel that if I were an immigrant today, I would not be admitted in the United States and that, since I was the fourth and unplanned child, if I had been conceived today, I would probably have been aborted. My personal experience makes me pro-immigrant and pro-unborn child. Unfortunately, as I experienced that morning years ago when my pro-life co-worked started to berate illegal immigrants, many people do not see the connection. For many, one can be pro-life and anti-immigrant, and for many others one can be pro-immigrant and pro-abortion.
In general, pro-lifers who are anti-immigrant will make a big fuss about being “pro-legal immigrants,” but instead of advocating for a change in our immigration system that would allow for more immigrants to come here legally, they tend to support greater and greater restrictions to legal immigration and initiatives for the building of walls. I was able to come to the United States legally because the United States government created a visa waiver program for Cubans fleeing communism which is to say, because immigration laws changed. Immigration laws should be changed to answer to the needs of today’s migrants.
Pro-immigrant advocates who are pro-abortion will not admit to being so. They will claim to be pro-choice. I have to admit that in recent years I have come to see that there is some daylight between being pro-abortion and being pro-choice. However, pro-choice would still not protect me if I were to be an unplanned child in the womb today. The legal status-quo should change to provide more protections, not less, to the bond between pregnant mother and pre-born child.
Peas in the same pod
Apart from my personal conviction that pro-immigration and pro-life belong together, is there an objective connection between the anti-immigration and the pro-abortion movements? There is. The pod that contains these two peas is the population control movement. Not pretending to give exhaustive proof, let me just direct your attention to one internet site.
The Overpopulation Project lists organizations around the globe concerned with the issue. I would like to point out two of many listed under America.
Numbers USA a foundation “providing a civil forum for Americans of all political and ethnic backgrounds to focus on a single issue, the proper numerical level of U.S. immigration. The group favors reductions in immigration numbers toward traditional levels that would stabilize the U.S. population.”
Negative Population Growth is described as a national nonprofit membership organization aiming “to educate the American public and political leaders about the devastating effects of overpopulation on the environment, natural resources and the overall standard of living. They advocate for a significant reduction in current population numbers in the U.S.”
The Kissinger Report of 1974, also available on the internet, includes this mantra: “No country has reduced its population growth without resorting to abortion”
Ken Cuccinelli, who was acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Trump administration, had joined in 2007 a group called State Legislators for Legal Immigration. Shortly after he joined the association it issued a statement asking that then President George Bush “terminate” illegal alien invasion to protect Americans.
Terminating the life of the unborn child and terminating the flow of immigration fit snuggly into the same pod.
¹ Fleeing Castro, Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children’s Program. Victor Andrés Triay. University of Florida Press, 1998
Elena Muller Garcia holds an M.A. in Religious Studies from Barry University. She worked for 25 years at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach and is currently an instructor with the diocese’s School of Christian Formation. Elena arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1961 as part of Operation Pedro Pan. This article first appeared in Consistent Life Blog. Elena blogs at elenamullergarcia.