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Immigration for Catholics

Updated on February 28, 2011

Immigration Reform

Immigration for Catholics

Immigration is one of the most prevalent and important topics in politics. The laws of immigration to the United States are in dire need of attention and revision. These laws are of enormous moral concern, as the lives of millions of people and their families are affected by them in a severe way. Many people in The United States are under the impression that as a country we have every right to deny anyone residence without regard to their circumstances abroad. From a strictly legal standpoint, this may be close to the truth. From a moral, and especially Catholic point of view however, this is in no way the correct course of action. Every person is a member of the human family, and as such retains the right to live in accordance with the law in the place of their birth or, if necessary, to move to another location better suited to encourage social, economical, and spiritual growth.

Currently, there are roughly 10.8 million immigrants in the United States that are living here illegally.[1] These immigrants are looked down upon by a majority of the population as inferior members of society, and are often exploited for financial gain. Most immigrants have seen no other alternative available to them to ensure the betterment of them and their children outside of disregarding the current legislation and finding a way across the border to find a new life. Once here, they are greeted with much hostility and aversion. This, coupled with the existing difficulty of creating a new home in an unfamiliar place makes their attempts at settling into their new society all the more challenging.

Many people in the United States believe that substantial immigration as a whole is hurtful to the country and therefore a significant amount of immigrants should not be granted amnesty regardless of whatever conditions they may be facing at their place of birth. It is attitudes such as this which create strict, protectionist border and immigration policies that make it extremely problematic and oftentimes impossible for foreign persons to obtain citizenship in America. A majority of the population as well as politicians uphold this agenda as the correct course of action for the issue. There are many points that are brought up in the debate against immigration such as economic, social, and possible overpopulation concerns. While many of these arguments contain a certain amount of validity, many stem from a lack understanding, defensive paranoia of a perceived degradation of current society and culture in America. Some are simply products of blatant racism, which undermines the overall objective approach to the subject.

For Catholics, it is important to believe in the dignity of every human being, and their equality to every member of the human race. Regardless of the fears of the American population that have been listed above, the fact is that the right of the individual to find a place that better suits their economic, social, and spiritual growth supersedes the country’s right to be concerned about their economic, social, and overpopulation status by the fact that every just law should ultimately exhibit above all the rights of an individual to certain freedoms due to every human being. As Pope John XXIII stated so clearly in his encyclical Pacem in Terris;   
    “Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own State. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that he is a citizen of a particular State does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor of citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of men.”[2]
This shows that, if necessary, a member and citizen of a unique country, society, and culture may uproot themselves and relocate to another location if they deem it necessary to improve their quality of life. Although it is important to give back to the community in which one grew and was given an upbringing, these previously mentioned and other possible motives are all conditions in which it may become a lesser evil to leave one’s place of origin to find a better way of life.

It is true, of course, that immigrants to a country adopt an allegiance to that country and by their residing within their boundaries they observe the legal infrastructure in every way they can. Every right given has a corresponding duty; and this case is no different. In this instance, the right of freedom of movement between countries is correlated to the duty of observing the laws of the place of residency. It is therefore the duty of every person who wishes to be a citizen to abide by the laws in every way. It is indeed an evil to fully intend to break a just law created by a country. If there is a legal barrier to entering a country, the lesser of two evils must be chosen. This choice is whether the current living conditions truly warrant the breaking of the law in the target country. There is also the concern of when it is that a law regarding immigration becomes unjust, since any human law which is by its very nature contrary to moral law cannot claim to be legitimate. Defining which laws are unjust is not always clear-cut however, although the Catholic Church does make it clear that there ought to be an opportunity for some immigration, as is evidenced in Laborem Exercens; The encyclical given by Pope John Paul II. In it he says that “Man has the right to leave his native land for various motives and also the right to return-in order to seek better conditions of life in another country.”[3]

In conclusion, it is true that there are valid concerns raised by those who wish to discourage or in any way altogether cease immigration. However, these concerns do not outweigh the right of any member of the human family to seek out and immigrate into a place whereby one may increase his quality of life socially, economically, and spiritually, in accordance with the just laws of the country and the common good of the world as a whole. Any actions which prohibit the preservation and growth of an individual are without a doubt contrary to the founding principle of christian charity, and it is necessary that just laws become enacted which reflect this fact. has given a clear summation of this in his encyclical Octogesima Adveniens when he affirms the rights and duties of immigration.

“It is urgently necessary for people to go beyond a narrowly nationalist attitude in their regard and to give them a charter which will assure them a right to emigrate, favor their integration, facilitate their professional advancement and give them access to decent housing where, if such is the case, their families can join them.”[4]

[1] Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009, Michael Hoefer, Nancy Rytina, and Bryan C. Baker. United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Accessed 11/18/2010

[2] Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, Encyclical Of Pope John XXIII, On Establishing Universal Peace In Truth, Justice, Charity, And Liberty, Vatican Web Site, April 11, 1963,

[3] Pope John Paul II, Laborem exercens, Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, To His Venerable Brothers

in the Episcopate to the Priests to the Religious Families to the sons and daughters of the Church and to all Men and Women of good will on Human Work on the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Vatican Web Site, September 14, 1981,

[4] Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Of Pope Paul VI, To Cardinal Maurice Roy President of the Council of the Laity and of the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace On the Occasion of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Encyclical "Rerum Novarum", Vatican Web Site, May 14, 1971


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