The rules of migration

Posted on August 18, 2011 by


Immigration is currently a hot political topic, with anti-immigration policies on the rise in the West. As a Catholic, I find the entire debate confusing and troubling. The Church’s own stance is not cut-and-dried, so there is room for disagreement between Catholics in good standing. Here is what I have been able to glean from researching…

Catholic teachings on immigration

  • The Holy Family were once political refugees, which implies that there is nothing immoral about seeking asylum from persecution in a foreign country. It also leads to the conclusion that granting asylum seekers refuge is a moral duty. This is explained in detail in Exsul Familia Nazarethana (1952) by Pope Pius XII.
  • Catholics have a 2000-year missionary tradition, from which we derive the tradition of welcoming peaceful strangers.
  • The Catholic Church claims no responsibility for assisting nation states in enforcing their immigration laws. Catholic services are available for “all comers”, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, or legal status.
  • Illegal immigration is wrong because it defies the state’s obligation to protect and police its borders. The Catholic Church is against “open borders” and teaches that we should respect the rule of law in our country of residence. Illegal immigrants should either have their status legalized (if possible) and receive a proportional punishment for their crime, or they should leave the country. But the Church also says that they should not be driven from the country in a mass expulsion.
  • In 2008, Pope Benedict said, “Many of the people to whom John Carroll and his fellow Bishops were ministering two centuries ago had traveled from distant lands. The diversity of their origins is reflected in the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America. Brother Bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.”
  • In Pacem in Terris (1963), Pope John XXIII writes: “Again, every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own State. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that he is a citizen of a particular State does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor of citizenship in that universal society, the common world-wide fellowship of men.”
  • The Catechism states: “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.”
  • But it also states: “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.”
  • In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), Pope John Paul II writes: “The exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons. Those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess. Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity, should not adopt a purely passive attitude or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all. The intermediate groups, in their turn, should not selfishly insist on their particular interests, but respect the interests of others.”

My muddled opinion for the huddled masses

  • States have the duty to control immigration for the sake of their citizens, and to provide a refuge for the truly persecuted. All states should have a well-defined, coherent, and strictly enforced immigration policy.
  • States should be allowed to limit the absolute number of immigrants to protect their societies from dramatic social upheavals or loss of social cohesion.
  • If immigrants refuse to assimilate or resist offers of help in that assimilation, they have shown a lack of gratitude and solidarity with their new country of residence, and their residence permit should be revoked.
  • Illegal immigrants (like any other human) should be given a minimum of charity and assistance by Catholics, but their behavior should not be condoned by anyone in the Church. They should not be mistreated, but they also should not be supported.
  • Immigrants who wish to overthrow or overwhelm the state should have their residence permit immediately revoked. They are guests, not conquerors.