'You Did It to Me'

"In You Did It to Me, Fr. Michael Gaitley [... Read more

$14.95
Buy Now


Part 3: Immigration

Print this story

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Comments

By Marian Friedrichs (Feb 29, 2016)
The following is the third in our series on Catholic social teaching.

There has been much spirited discussion lately of walls and bridges: of which image (or perhaps some combination of the two) properly represents a Christian perspective on immigration. The Bible commands us to shelter the homeless and welcome the stranger, but is it ever acceptable to close our doors to newcomers? Does the Lord expect us to give the green light to everyone wishing to cross our borders, or should our liberality be tempered by prudence?

In the Old Testament, God instructs the Israelites, "The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev 19:33-34). In the New Testament, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds Christians that Heaven takes a keen interest in their treatment of wanderers: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13:2).

The Lord Himself, who had "nowhere to lay His head" (Mt 8:20) warned that even after ascending His throne in Heaven, He would take personally anything done to one seeking shelter on earth: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Mt 25:35). And in our modern age, Pope St. John Paul II asked, "How can the baptized claim to welcome Christ if they close the door to the foreigner who comes knocking?" (Message of the Holy Father for the World Migration Day 2000).

On the other hand, no country in the world, even the most affluent, has unlimited resources — including available employment — and it is possible for even the wealthiest land to become overwhelmed by a too-concentrated population. God created a bountiful planet and intended all of its habitable regions, not only select areas, to be filled with human life.

To help Catholics understand the Church's perspective, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has compiled a list of "three basic principles of Catholic social teaching on immigration": First, "people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families"; second, "a country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration"; and third, "a country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy" ("Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples," see usccb.org).

The first and second principles may seem fundamentally at odds with each other, but they are not when viewed through a truly Catholic lens. The essence of Catholic teaching on immigration extends — as does all Catholic thought on social justice and morality — from the concept of human dignity. The native and the immigrant are equal in dignity, and where the dignity of either is threatened, each has the right to use any moral means to rectify that injustice and to call upon the aid of people of good will in doing so. That means that when a downtrodden soul comes knocking at a neighbor's door, that neighbor has the obligation to open the door and give him as much help as possible. When, however, the neighbor is honestly unable to welcome his poor brother inside, his obligation does not disappear: He is bound to do whatever he can to help that brother find relief elsewhere.

In his message for World Migration Day in 2000, Pope St. John Paul II reminded the world's citizens that most immigration is not a capricious or pleasure-seeking adventure but, rather, an act of desperation on the part of "men and women, often young, who have no alternative than to leave their own country to venture into the unknown." Frequently, however, "the reality they find in host nations is ... a source of further disappointment." And is this disappointment the inevitable result of the host nation's depletion of resources? Sometimes, yes, but too often it is simply the manifestation of "a public opinion disturbed by inconveniences that accompany ... immigration."

As citizens of various nations argue about who should be allowed to share their country and under what terms, the USCCB has this to say: "The native does not have superior rights over the immigrant. Before God all are equal; the earth was given by God to all. When a person cannot achieve a meaningful life in his or her own land, that person has the right to move." He has the right to seek domicile in a place that can provide him with the means to build a life worthy of his human dignity. Natives of more comfortable societies, however, do not have the right to force him to live in fear and want simply because we prefer to keep our lands to ourselves. Rather, even in cases when immigration must be restricted, "a sincere commitment to the needs of all must prevail."

The American bishops continue, "While people have the right to move, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized." And it must be added that no country has the duty to receive immigrants who would jeopardize its safety. If a country has reliable information that an individual wishes to enter the country with evil intentions, of course that country's government is obligated to turn that person away in order to protect the innocent.

This disturbing exception aside, a nation's refusal to well-intentioned would-be immigrants cannot be its final word. Every nation at all times should do what it can "to make it unnecessary for people to leave their own land": to prevent that desperation that Pope St. John Paul II described. In other words, if the bridge we extend to migrating people cannot be a bridge of welcome, it must always be a bridge of genuine concern that proves itself in our constant efforts to help make other lands suitable places to live in plenty and peace. Now, as in the earliest days of humanity, the answer to the ancient question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9) is yes.


And when we do encounter the immigrants among us, whatever their status, God's standards for our treatment of them are clear. "While we do not neglect whatever material assistance is permitted," Pope Pius XII wrote in the apostolic constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana, "we seek primarily to aid them with spiritual consolation" — seeing in these wandering ones the Holy Family, weary and exiled; remembering that they, too, are beloved of the Lord, who notices the fall of every sparrow, and who promised His friends, "Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me" (Mt 10:40).

View past articles from this series.

Print this story

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Comments

Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Elizabeth - Mar 2, 2016

It is so important to shelter the less fortunate as God has cimmanded. We do so with laws. God wants us to be obedient to the law. The prices can not be so chaotic. The walks only secure the proper process and safe entry. So families canbremain together and live a life without the fear.

Robert - Mar 4, 2016

Thanks for another illuminating article in this series. I think the trouble for Catholics today who understand and accept the basic Catholic social principles regarding immigration(so well summarized in this article) is to figure out how they apply to the extraordinary situation we face in the West today.

In generations past the United States welcomed waves of immigrants from Europe, especially from Ireland in the 19th century, and from Italy after WWI. But there are three huge differences between the immigration situation then and the one we face now.

First of all, when the Irish and Italians arrived, America was truly "the land of opportunity." Her industries were expanding and in need of factory workers, and there was plenty of cheap land in the west available for farming. But the United States today is hardly in the same condition now. We have just come through a sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, and we continue to struggle with the highest "underemployment" rate since the Great Depression. (The jobs situation in Europe is even worse). In addition to that, we already accept approximately 1 million new legal immigrants into this country each year, from all over the world. Opening, or keeping the door open annually to even more legal and illegal immigrants is no real service to them or to the rest of the nation: it means inviting them into a "poverty trap," a situation where there are few if any entry-level, lower-skilled jobs available, and the chances of pulling themselves up into the middle class are small. The result is that more and more immigrants crowd into urban ghettos marked by poverty, frustration and resentment, which inevitably festers and becomes the perfect breeding ground for crime, and political and religious extremism. France, for example, has been living this reality for several decades now. What's more, the continual influx of relatively unskilled workers leads to a large labor surplus at the lower end of the wage scale, thus keeping down wages for the poor and lower middle-class who already live here--and breeding racial tensions.The Irish and Italian immigrants had to deal with prejudice in their day, but the problem is magnified even further in a weak economy.

Second, America has something it never had before: 12-14 million illegal immigrants already here--some being exploited by companies in hidden "sweatshops," others turning to crime to try to survive. These people need to be properly integrated into the economic and social system (Catholics rightly hope and pray that most will be allowed to stay according to some fair and compassionate criteria, while the convicted felons among them doubtless will be deported). In any case, providing economic opportunities for these people has to take precedence over the desire to welcome even more.

The third unique aspect of the immigration problem today is international terrorism. With Al-Qaeda, and even more with ISIS, we now have major, well-funded international terrorist organizations seeking to infiltrate western nations, and especially the US, where they can position themselves to carry out attacks on our home soil. The FBI recently testified before Congress that it does not have the resources even to begin to properly vet the several hundred thousand additional Middle-Eastern refugees that the Obama administration has promised to take in. Experts on international terrorism assure us that this situation will be exploited by radical Islam for its nefarious purposes. (NB: it is no real argument to say that since some of the most recent terrorist attacks on US soil have been home-grown, and even by white natives of this country, that we should therefore recklessly ignore the growing threat from abroad. The San Bernadino shooters were not home-grown. The Paris bombers last year admitted to entering into Europe un-detected through an immigration wave. This is a real and present danger to the western democracies that we ignore to our own peril, and at the risk of many innocent lives.

So how can Catholics apply the Church's social teachings on immigration to such an extraordinary situation? I want to suggest: with compassion and prudence. The solid majority of immigrants seeking asylum in this country are not terrorists or even potential terrorists: they are, as St. JPII said, people desperately seeking to escape poverty and misery. We should take in as many as we can safely vet for terrorist connections, and as many as our job growth can realistically absorb.

What do our two morally bankrupt political parties offer us instead? The leading Republican candidate talks of building (at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars) a 2,000 mile wall between us and Mexico, of forcibly deporting 12 million men, women and children from this country at gun-point, and of blocking all legal immigration by Muslims, even refugees from war-torn areas, simply because of their faith (as if most Muslims were terrorists): these are hard-hearted policies laced with racism and religious bigotry.

The other party, with its President in power, continues to allow the southern border with Mexico to remain over-run with illegal immigrants, holds out a promise of legislating an easy path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and recklessly invites more Middle-Eastern refugees into the country than our Homeland Security system can handle. These policies are born of naive imprudence and cynical political opportunism: they keep the whole racket going on the calculation that more minority-group immigrants ultimately translates into more votes for Democrats.

As usual, neither party seems to be paying much attention to Catholic Social Teaching. Our Lady of America, pray for us!


Daphne Young - Mar 10, 2016

While this article is so educative on IMMIGRATION, AND IS SPELT ALONG THE LINES OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING, I beg to differ in quoting there are "EXCEPTIONS TO EVERY RULE." The USCCB has rightly pointed out in its excerpts furnished below:
As citizens of various nations argue about who should be allowed to share their country and under what terms, the USCCB has this to say: "The native does not have superior rights over the immigrant. Before God all are equal; the earth was given by God to all. When a person cannot achieve a meaningful life in his or her own land, that person has the right to move." He has the right to seek domicile in a place that can provide him with the means to build a life worthy of his human dignity. Natives of more comfortable societies, however, do not have the right to force him to live in fear and want simply because we prefer to keep our lands to ourselves. Rather, even in cases when immigration must be restricted, "a sincere commitment to the needs of all must prevail."

The American bishops continue, "While people have the right to move, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized." And it must be added that no country has the duty to receive immigrants who would jeopardize its safety. If a country has reliable information that an individual wishes to enter the country with evil intentions, of course that country's government is obligated to turn that person away in order to protect the innocent.

This disturbing exception aside, a nation's refusal to well-intentioned would-be immigrants cannot be its final word. Every nation at all times should do what it can "to make it unnecessary for people to leave their own land": to prevent that desperation that Pope St. John Paul II described. In other words, if the bridge we extend to migrating people cannot be a bridge of welcome, it must always be a bridge of genuine concern that proves itself in our constant efforts to help make other lands suitable places to live in plenty and peace. Now, as in the earliest days of humanity, the answer to the ancient question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9) is yes.

I agree in TOTO with the comments of brother, Robert - Mar 4, 2016.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!