Monday, March 19, 2012

Illegal Immigration and the Catholic Church

Q - What is the Catholic Church's stance on hiring of illegal immigrants?

Wow, you just opened up a big can o' worms, didn't you? Thanks for the question. I will have to do a lot of background before I get to directly answering your question, so bear with me. Just to let you know, I talked to several people (all with at least a Master of Theology and one with a Ph.D. who is a moral theologian and head of a Theology dept. at a Catholic University) to make sure that this answer was kosher with them as well. They agree with my sentiments. With that, we will proceed.

There are several principles about immigration that the Catholic Church teaches, sometimes having a tension that we must balance when examining the issue.

As a nation we are obligated to welcome those who wish to enter the USA, in search of a better life (that is, within limits that are imposed by the state). Those immigrating also have the duty of following the law.

CCC 2241 "The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens."

Notice, that this isn't an "open border" policy that the Church is advocating. Also, there are duties that those who immigrate have as well - notably to obey the laws of the country they are entering (including how they enter, paying taxes, etc.). Illegal immigrants, by definition, are not cooperating in fulfilling this principle.

Principle #1 - The state has the right to set the boundaries around what they consider to be the ordinary ways of entering the country and how they secure their borders. Thus, the policies of the USA are not inherently unjust because they define these parameters. But, this can't be a closed-door policy either. In fact, the manner in which all immigrants (both legal and illegal) are processed in the USA is shameful. But, the USA doesn't have to accept everyone who wants to come either.

Principle #2 - The homeland of every person should seek justice for it's people. Notice that corruption continues the cycle of poverty in most poor countries. If we truly want to seek justice for the immigrant, then we need to seek it in the homelands of our immigrants. The USA is still just in the vast majority of it's laws and public policies.

Principle #3 - If need be, then persons have the right to migrate for the good of their families of for their own sake. But, the Church doesn't make this an absolute. Rather, it is to be for the protection of those who cannot survive otherwise.

Principle #4 - Refugees and those seeking asylum should be protected. We should be the country where people can feel safe from totalitarianism and we should be a haven for refugees who cannot live in their homelands.

Principle #5 - Illegal immigrants are still human beings with inherent dignity and rights and should be treated as such. Of course, this doesn't mean that the USA can't enforce it's laws, but rather, it's laws should treat people justly. For instance, deporting only parents and not children is unjust. They also have the right to be treated fairly by the justice system during legal proceedings and/or deportation.

Marcel's Principle - Immigration is not an easy issue to solve, nor are any of the "easy solution" advocates balancing all of the above principles. This principle is my own. The best summation of a good solution to all of these issues, that I have seen, is from Mary Ann Glendon - the US Ambassador to the Vatican who wrote an article entitled, Principled Immigration, which I highly recommend.

What we should not do is pass off the issue as an easy one of either completely opening / closing the borders or of enforcement/non-enforcement of current laws. Rather, true immigration reform will have to take up the competing rights and interests of the many facets of the issue.

Now, to directly answer the question we can say this, with a caveat. As stated above, the state has the right to make just laws that govern immigration. This means that we, as Catholics and citizens, are obligated to follow such laws governing who can and can't be hired. The caveat is that like the speed limit, if the culture interprets the law loosely, then the application of the law in particular circumstances may also be loosely applied. So, in other words, you must do the following -

  1. Properly form your conscience on the subject, including intellectual and spiritual formation. So, you should continue to study the issue and pray about it. I would also recommend discussing it with a spiritual director. 
  2. You must then follow your conscience on the matter.

I know this was by no means an easy answer, which we are generally looking for, but this is the best I could do with the information you gave me. Thanks for the challenging question.

On a personal note, immigration policy is one of the more difficult issues for me as a political issue. I haven't seen any proposed (or current) policies that reflect the myriad of conflicting interests, but rather they seem to me to all serve a political purpose, not the common good.


Jeff said...

I haven't seen any proposed (or current) policies that reflect the myriad of conflicting interests, but rather they seem to me to all serve a political purpose, not the common good.

That is the problem in a nutshell. No one wants a real solution, they just want the answer that will get them (re)elected.

I will say that, overall, this is the first article that really looks at the issue from both sides in a fair manner. We can't continue to allow the stream of illegals, but the system stinks, as it is.

kristinr978 said...

I don't understand how the bishops can justify supporting illegal immigration. Those who come here illegally are breaking 2 commandments, "Thou shall not lie," "Thou shall not steal."

dmc said...

The two great commandments that contain the whole law of God are:
1.Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength;
2.Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Michael said...

It is easy for us in our wealth and comfort to judge illegal immigrants for breaking our laws. Many of my politically conservative friends are all about 'law and order' on this item (while much more lax when it comes to the 'law and order' of personal morality!). Most of them are also very hard workers who pride themselves on providing for their families.
I assure you, if they were born into a poverty-stricken colonias in Latin America and there was a land of opportunity on the other side of a fence or river where they could find better work, better wages, education for their children, and security for their families...they'd be over there working hard in a heartbeat.
That's important to keep in mind.
Also, I love what many bishops say about the immigration issue: WE HATE ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION because it uproots people, splits families, and often leads to exploitation and abuse. But it happens. They are fleeing often crushing poverty at home and they will keep coming. So as Christians we must meet them with compassion - not walls and barbed wire and dogs.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, WE ARE THE RICH MAN.