Agnes M. BRAZAL and María Theresa DÁVILA, editors.  Living with(out) Borders: Catholic Theological Ethics on the Migrations of Peoples.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016.  pp. 272.  $42.00.  ISBN: 978-1-62698-166-9. Reviewed by Marianne T. FITZGERALD, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.


            The assortment of struggles facing migrants throughout the world is daunting, and we, as a community of theologians and ethicists, are called to respond to these challenges through our scholarship, teaching, and advocacy.  In this collection of essays by prominent theologians, scholars from all over the world grapple with some of the problems faced by migrants, refugees, and those trying to create a new life for themselves.  This book offers much-needed commentary on one of the largest crises in our world today. 

Living with(out) Borders looks at the issue of migration from a variety of helpful perspectives.  The book is divided up into seven parts, each with a slightly different focus.  Part I introduces the idea of migration through the lens of globalization.  Sociologist Saskia Sassen writes about migration in Europe and the sociological issues that compel someone to leave his or her home.  The immigration trends she examines illuminate some of the larger concerns of migrants as well as the societies that they both leave and enter.  She says of immigration, “There are patterns, and there are past patterns” (21), which help us understand the larger context of migration.

            In Part II, questions of human rights are raised as they relate to asylum seekers and refugees.  The essays in this section include perspectives from the Czech Republic, Egypt, Rome, the United States, and the Carteret Islands, and common themes throughout these essays include the importance of recognizing the full humanity of refugees and the Biblical mandate to welcome the stranger.  Maryanne Loughry’s selection, in particular, highlights the specific needs of the Carteret Islanders.  As “the world’s first climate refugees” (38), the Carteret Islanders are particularly vulnerable in their struggle to relocate.  Essays like Loughry’s illustrate how concerns of the larger world, like climate change, can significantly impact the experience of migration and seeking asylum.  Refugees have particular struggles depending on where they came from and where they are resettling, but the notion of human dignity extends to all of us.

            Part III of this book looks at the particularities of embodiment that often get overlooked when discussing migration.  Of specific concern when thinking about embodiment is the question of gender.  Gender plays a major role in the experiences of many migrants and those who live along borders.  Nancy Pineda-Madrid highlights the dangers for young women who live along the U.S.-Mexico border where violence against women is a major problem.  Feminicide and sex trafficking are common occurrences along the border, and the bodies of women are often overlooked or disposed of casually.  Pineda-Madrid calls the reader to consider “the broken body of Christ in the bodies of victims of sex trafficking and feminicide” (88), which prompts us to reflect on embodiment and how it relates to issues of migration in new and important ways.

            The experiences of migrant families are at the heart of Part IV.  Both families and marriages are highlighted in this section because the experience of migration for families definitely requires special consideration.  Regina Wentzel Wolfe explores the challenges of the Hukou system in China which has burdened families and forced spouses to live hours apart from one another if they want to survive economically and provide for their children.  Kristen Heyer, similarly, argues for the flourishing of families and cautions against U.S. policies which may be “inattentive to …transnational family dynamics” (128).  She notes the many complicating factors involved in trying to balance transnational families and engage in cross-border Christian ethics.

            Part V looks at specific virtues upon which we as a Christian community are called to reflect, as well as virtues that support migrants and refugees in their struggles.  Virtues such as solidarity, hospitality, and fortitude are examined in light of migration.  Through an analysis of specific cases around the world, these virtues are highlighted as helpful resources for both those welcoming migrants and those who have traveled to create a new home.

            Important theological themes are explored through the essays in Part VI.  For example, Nontando Hadebe looks at the notion of ubuntu or “shared humanity and dignity” (213) through a Trinitarian lens.  The Trinity, when imagined as a functioning community, reflects the individual traits of each person, but also works towards the common good through interdependence.  This Trinitarian analysis reflects the ways that ubuntu can help welcome migrants in South Africa.

            The final part of the book asks readers to imagine a world without borders.  David Hollenbach’s essay examines the importance of subsidiarity and the responsibilities that countries have to one another.  He says, “In the face of the grave need of those being driven to migrate …neighboring countries …may have genuine moral obligations to respond to those in distress”(229).  While a world without borders seems to be far from where we are today, the process of thinking through what this could look like is an important first step.

            Living with(out) Borders is a helpful text with a variety of different case studies and perspectives from which to learn.  It offers a broad array of topics and considers the specific experiences of many different groups. It also examines important theological themes such as solidarity, theological anthropology, political engagement, and human dignity.  As our world continues to grapple with questions of migration, the insights provided here will no doubt continue to prove exceptionally useful.