Friday, October 21, 2011

The Catholic Church and Immigration

I struggle with the issue of immigration. The politics seem to me, to go too far one way or another. Some want to build huge walls around the US and kick out all illegal immigrants here currently. Then on the other side, it seems that any restrictions would be too much. So, what is a Catholic, who struggles with the issue to do? I wish I knew. The exercise of writing about this issue is as much an exercise of organizing my thoughts on the issue as it is to offer a balanced and Catholic view on the issue.

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.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2241, says:
"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 the Church is not advocating an "open border" policy. Yet, there are duties for those who immigrate 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. There is a scourge of corruption which 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, first. 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 or 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. Yet, 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 leaving their children behind is unjust. All have the inherent right to be treated fairly by the justice system during legal proceedings and/or deportation.

Principle #6 - Immigration is not an issue that is easy to solve, nor are any of the "easy solution" advocates balancing all of the above principles. This principle is my own. I rarely see someone who wrestles with the issue, but more commonly see a political agenda being pushed.

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.

So, as Catholics, when trying to decide what political policies are best in this area, we must do the following:
  1. Properly form our consciences on the subject, including intellectual and spiritual formation. So, we should continue to study the issue and pray about it. I would also recommend discussing it with a spiritual director.
  2. We must then follow our consciences on the matter.
Immigration policy is one of the more difficult political issues for me. 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 single political purpose, not the common good. May informed and conscientious Catholics lead the way in seeking such just political policies.

God bless all immigrants and our leaders trying to reform the system.


George @ Convert Journal said...

FWIW, a record 1,046,539 persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008. The leading countries of birth of the new citizens were Mexico, India and the Philippines. These are legal immigrants; we have nothing remotely approximating a closed border.

Personally I don't see a unified Catholic voice on this matter. It is just too complex and well meaning, well informed people can easily come to different conclusions.

Gert said...

"to obey the laws" seems to be a key phrase. We can never meet our neighbor and treat him with disrespect or inhumanely. On the other hand, it seems that the fourth commandment is being totally disregarded by those who come here and knowingly break the laws of our country. As I remember my catechism, the fourth commandment includes obeying legitimate authority.

Jamie said...

Very well written and expresses the complex nature and true thinking of immigration reform that is necessary.
Getting into the United States in order to work is not an easy task and perhaps this is one thing that can be worked on. Many of the illegal aliens coming to the US DON'T want to stay. They want to come here, make money and go back home. But in order to get her legally in order to work is difficult.

Edwin Juarez Rosales said...

I think Marcel did a good job expressing the complexity of the issue, but I would like to add two more things.

First, it seems to me that the general assumption is that undocumented immigrants come to the United States to break the laws, and most of the immigrants actually end up paying taxes, obeying traffic laws and other laws in general, so, let's not put a label on "them"

Second, most people are not willing to see the role that the US has had in Latin American History. In many cases a direct consequence of the political interventionism from the United States lead to the uneven distribution of wealth that is present in Latin America. I am not arguing that this makes it okay for anyone who lives in extreme poverty to just immigrate to the United States. But as Catholics we need to learn to deal with the consequences of our actions, and as a country, the United States should play an important role in promoting social justice in our neighbor countries, just like it played a role in recent history when the social differences were being accentuated.

Marcel said...

Edwin - I think what we need to keep in mind is that crossing the border without proper authority to do so is a crime.