The Catholic Church on Immigration

Much of the debate regarding immigration has centered on the religious and moral obligation to welcome immigrants. Some take the position that it is immoral to restrict immigration on the grounds that the Bible teaches the imperative duty to respect the alien. Others demur, contending that the regulation of immigration raises prudential issues on which reasonable members of a religion may legitimately differ.

On this point, it is instructive to note the discussion on “The duties of citizens” in the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church.┬áThe Catechism was published in 1994 under the imprimatur of ┬áCardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI.

Initially, section 2241 of the Catechism states that “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.”

While this paragraph supports a welcoming approach to immigration, “to the extent that [a country is] able,” the paragraph that follows places limitations upon the duty to welcome. It says that “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.”

This same language that appears in the second paragraph of section 2241 of the Catechism also appears in the August 2013 document, “Catholic Church’s Position On Immigration Reform,” which was published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services/Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs. Under the heading, “Catholic Social Teaching,” that document adds the following language to that of section 2241: “The second duty [of government] is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right: [quoting section 2241’s second paragraph].” The document goes on to state, under the heading, “Enforcement,” that “The U.S. Catholic bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would-be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.”

In contrast to the overheated rhetoric on both sides of the current immigration debate, particularly as it implicates President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration, the position set forth in these documents as representing the position of the Catholic Church strikes a sensible balance between recognizing the legitimate expectations of immigrants, on the one hand, and acknowledging, on the other hand, the government’s duty to protect its borders and enforce its laws.


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