“Unlocking the Gate in Our Hearts” — 2012 Immigration Statement from the Minnesota Catholic Bishops

A Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Minnesota on the Need for Federal Immigration Reform

March 2012

We, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Minnesota, are deeply concerned about the nation’s immigration policy.  It is inconsistent, ineffective, and does not promote the common good.

The lack of an effective, coherent national policy has led to the introduction of many bills in state legislatures around the country, including in Minnesota, that seek to address the complex issue of immigration.

Such bills are a response to the failure of the current federal immigration laws and regulations to halt illegal immigration and the resulting economic, social, and fiscal impact this has had on many state and local governments.

Enforcement-focused state legislation, however, often divides immigrant families and criminalizes the efforts of those who work with immigrants.  State legislation cannot repair a failed national policy.

Thus, we seek to reiterate our support for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, as well as propose the relevant principles that should guide those reforms.

We recognize that finding solutions to the plight of immigrants today will sometimes necessitate the overcoming of boundaries in the heart, not just on the land.  People erect walls for protection when they feel threatened.

At some point, however, we must reach out to human persons in need, and the demands of our common human nature compel us to open a gate in the wall, so that what human dignity demands is not denied to a sister or brother.  But before a gate finds its way into the walls outside, there must be a gate that opens in the heart.

This is what the Good Samaritan did: without denying the differences that kept Jews and Samaritans apart, he gave the assistance that was demanded of him by the universal law of love—the law of our common humanity—by supplying the basic human needs of a poor stranger.

Like the Samaritan, we must see all people, including immigrants and undocumented workers who may be different from us, as children made in the image and likeness of God, and fashion our response to their needs accordingly.

Pursuing Life, Liberty, and Happiness While Recognizing Obligations

The Church’s perspective on immigration is rooted in her teaching that every human person is created in God’s image and has God-given dignity, rights, and duties.

America’s founders properly understood that human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are universal and inalienable. Governments merely recognize and respect these rights; they do not create them.

The human right to life—the foundation of every other right—implies the right to emigrate.  A dignified existence that preserves life requires food, shelter, clothing, and economic opportunity.  Political instability, economic distress, religious persecution, or other conditions that offend basic human dignity may require one to seek these basic necessities in another country.

The right to emigrate, however, is not absolute. Immigrants are obliged to respect and abide by the laws and traditions of the countries in which they come to reside, and must work toward building solidarity with citizens of their new country of residence.

Catholic teaching also recognizes the sovereignty of nations to secure their borders and make decisions about the identity and number of immigrants they allow into their countries.  Our government has the duty to consider immigration’s impact on the domestic economy and our national security.  Yet, we must always make sure that we are not exaggerating these concerns in ways that deny the basic humanitarian needs of good people seeking refuge in our country.

It is often true that undocumented workers may break immigration laws to come to the United States.  We wish to emphasize that a concern for upholding the law supports the common good.  But it is also true that laws that undermine human dignity, separate families, and which prevent the exercise of basic human rights are unjust laws in need of reform.  Good laws should not and need not exclude the possibility of mercy.

The United States is a nation of immigrants and our unique historical experience shows the important contributions—social, cultural, and economic—that immigrants have made and continue to make to American society. Although immigrants have not always been received with hospitality, Minnesotans, like all Americans, have a responsibility to comfort and welcome the stranger in their midst.

Principled Immigration Policy

We believe, with our brother bishops around the country, that policy proposals in this complex area should be assessed by five key principles:

  • Persons have the right to seek economic opportunities in their homeland; conditions ought to be such that persons can work and support their families in dignity and safety;
  • Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families when they are unable to find work and therefore are unable to support their families at home;
  • Sovereign nations have a right to protect and control their borders for the common good;
  • Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection; and
  • The human rights and human dignity of all persons, including undocumented immigrants, should be respected.

In addition, any just immigration policy should also:

  • Uphold the human dignity of all persons and work against any injustice that compromises the dignity of immigrants;
  • Promote and give priority to the reunification of families; and
  • Recognize the rich contribution to the community by those immigrants and migrants who work and live here.

These Catholic moral principles are consistent with America’s founding ideals and aspirations to be one nation under God, a people made up of many races and creeds.

Based on these principles the American bishops support comprehensive immigration policy reform that secures our national borders and provides undocumented immigrants the opportunity to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship.

Such reform should include:

  • an earned legalization program for foreign nationals of good moral character;
  • policies designed to keep families together;
  • a revamped temporary worker program that protects both the workers who come to the United States and U.S.-citizen workers;
  • the restoration of immigrants’ due process rights; and
  • an effort to meaningfully address the root cause of migration, such as underdevelopment and poverty in countries of immigrant origin.

Moreover, such reform would include the targeted, proportionate, and humane enforcement of immigration laws.

Taking Action

Legislation at the state level cannot achieve necessary reform of national policy.  Such legislation also could result in conflicting laws among the states that could lead to the abuse of human rights, disruptions of families in ways that adversely affect children, and send a message of hostility when Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger, and to love others as He has loved us.

The more fruitful approach would be for public officials in our state, and all of us as citizens, to petition Congress and the President to courageously enact comprehensive immigration reform.

We encourage members of the Minnesota Legislature to reject any measures that are in opposition to the fundamental human dignity of immigrants—especially the undocumented; and we encourage the Minnesota congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. to work for just and compassionate reform of the nation’s immigration system.

Finally, we ask that people join us in prayer to God for a just, yet merciful solution to the plight of immigrants in our country.


The Most Rev. John C. Nienstedt
Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

The Most Rev. John F. Kinney
Bishop of St. Cloud

The Most Rev. John M. LeVoir
Bishop of New Ulm

The Most Rev. John M. Quinn
Bishop of Winona

The Most Rev. Paul D. Sirba
Bishop of Duluth

The Most Rev. Michael J. Hoeppner
Bishop of Crookston

The Most Rev. Lee A. Piché
Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis

The Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn
Archbishop Emeritus of St. Paul and Minneapolis

The Most. Rev. Victor H. Balke
Bishop Emeritus of Crookston

The Most Rev. Bernard J. Harrington
Bishop Emeritus of Winona

(Link to Spanish version)

(Link to PDF of statement)

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