Catholic Teaching on Immigration

Rev. Michael P. Orsi | May 3, 2010 | 3:06pm EDT
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There is no scriptural injunction regarding immigration policy other than the Torah's admonition to treat the resident alien living among you fairly. The Gospels and other New Testament writings simply adjure Christians obey the laws of the state and to be good citizens of the cities in which they live. 
The church, therefore, has to extrapolate from the Bible what should constitute a Christian response regarding immigration and a policy for illegal aliens.
Ever since the publication of the encyclical Rerum Novarum (1893), which dealt with emerging social issues brought on by industrialization and the rise of the secular state, Catholic moral teaching has attempted to inform the contemporary humans as to what is vital for a good society.
Church teaching has re-iterated core Christian principles: the dignity of the person, concern for the common good, and the obligation of the state to protect itself and its citizens. It counsels that all just laws must be obeyed. And, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical Caritas In Veritate (2009), true justice must be tempered with charity since this is how God deals with us.
In light of the above, what should constitute a legitimate Catholic position on immigration?
The Catholic tradition upholds a universal destination for the goods of the earth. 
This acknowledges that people have a right to emigrate in order to procure a better life for themselves and their families. The role of government is to enable this to happen in an orderly, fair, and safe way. This stems from the concept of "distributive justice." 
States therefore must implement a reasonable plan for peaceful assimilation. To do this they have the right to establish quotas based on a country's capacity to sustain the new residents as well as the host country's needs, and some assurance that the incoming alien can be self-supporting. Illegal immigration bypasses all of these safeguards. It endangers established civil society and for that matter the illegal aliens themselves. 
In an era wrought with terrorist threats, in cities overwhelmed by illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, the exploitation of undocumented workers by unscrupulous employers, and the drain illegal aliens put on social services, civil authorities are compelled to uphold the rule of law for the common good. 
The recent legislation passed by the State of Arizona, which permits a more stringent inspection of documentation to enforce immigration laws, is specifically designed to do this.
There are those who believe, like Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, that the Arizona law is "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless anti-immigration law." They contend that, especially in the case of those illegal aliens who have resided in the U.S. for a number of years that it "could lead to separation of family members." 
They hold that deportation would place an undue burden on them and their children, who in many cases were born here, and therefore, are "allegedly" U.S. citizens. More often than not, they prescribe amnesty as the solution. But, amnesty condones delinquency.
It sends the wrong message to our citizens, to some potentially new citizens, and encourages others to take the same route.
Therefore, I propose the following suggestions which are in the mainstream of traditional Catholic social thinking. They are sensitive to both charity and justice.
1.    The 14th Amendment (1866) which confers the rights of citizenship on those born in this country must be interpreted according to its original intent which was to guarantee citizen's rights for the newly freed slaves. It was not meant to confer citizenship on children born here to illegal immigrants. Congress should pass a law stating that babies born here to foreign nationals do not have a birth right to U.S. citizenship. This will stop the use of so-called "anchor babies" from enabling their relatives to enter the country in conjunction with the Family Reunification Act (1965).
2.    The entire Family Reunification Act should be revoked.
3.    A quota system should be established for those wishing to enter the country. This will help America to control assimilation and choose among those persons who will help the nation prosper.
4.    State and local police should be able to question the immigration status of a person if there is "reasonable suspicion" to believe they are in the country illegally. This merely extends the "stop and question" rule created by the Supreme Court. Police may not consider race, color, or national origin in carrying out their duty. This will prevent racial profiling.
5.    Illegal immigrants are law breakers. They should be subject to deportation.
6.    For illegal immigrants who can establish that undue hardship will be caused by deportation, state courts similar to federal immigration courts dealing with political or religious refugees and other hardship cases should be established. If their case bears merit this does not preclude a fine since it is necessary that illegal aliens recognize that they broke the law and must make retribution for their crime.
7.    Immigrants must be treated with dignity and respect throughout the entire process. These measures capture the essence of Catholic social teaching. They recognize that justice without love may be inhumane and that charity without justice is destructive to society.
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