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.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.
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."
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:
- 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.
- We must then follow our consciences on the matter.
God bless all immigrants and our leaders trying to reform the system.