Understanding the church’s teaching on immigration

Many Catholics have trouble on occasion aligning themselves with the church when it takes a position on matters of public policy.

What is often under-reported, though, is that there are truly large percentages of Catholics who disagree with the bishops on the question of immigration. This is troubling not only because the bishops’ position is both principled and humane, but because it also effectively balances a number of concerns, such as border security and the importance of keeping families together.

Gaining an understanding of the principles of a just immigration policy is one responsibility Catholics have as they prepare to vote in November. While election time often becomes a bit wearisome, it does provide us with a valuable opportunity to pray, “Help me to understand this, Lord. Help me to grasp why your church teaches this,” and it allows us to take the steps as responsible citizens to educate ourselves on issues of Catholic social teaching to make moral, reasoned judgments.

As an aid in this task, Minnesota Catholics are able to look to the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s 2012 statement on immigration reform, “Unlocking the Gate in our Hearts,” to find “principles for reflection, the criteria for judgment and the directives for action” on the issue of immigration.

A just immigration policy

Immigration policy is part of a consistent ethic of human dignity. The Catholic Church advocates for just immigration policies because we care about families and their well-being, and because we believe each person is created in the image and likeness of God. It is the same ethic that compels us to speak for the right to life, health care reform and fair access to housing.

We welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect. The right to immigrate stems from a person’s right to security and a means to a livelihood, if it cannot be realized in his or her country of origin. In turn, the welcoming country has a duty to secure its border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good.

Following are key principles from which immigration policy proposals should be assessed, taken from the MCC 2012 immigration statement:

  • 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.

Consistent with U.S. ideals

In fact, these Catholic moral principles are consistent with America’s founding ideals and aspirations to be one nation under God, as a country made up of many races and creeds. The statement goes on to say:

“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.

The “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” reminds us: “The immediate purpose of the Church’s social doctrine is to propose the principles and values that can sustain a society worthy of the human person” (no. 580).

Every person — a daughter, son, mother or father — possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone, in every circumstance. Lest we forget, this includes immigrants.

An electronic copy of the “Unlocking the Gate of our Hearts” statement can be found here.

For more reading on this and other issues of Catholic social teaching, visit http://www.vatican.va for a comprehensive, online version of “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”

Jessica Zittlow is communications associate with the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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