A Catholic Reflects on Immigration

blog3-9The Catholic Church does not fit into anyone’s little political box. We are too big and ancient for that. And we serve a higher master. Our teachings predate current political categories and will surely postdate them as political lines continue to shift back and forth. The world, its nations, and political realities come and go, and still, here we are.

We have been called both the “Republican Party at prayer” and the “Democratic Party at prayer,” but we are neither. We are the Body of Christ at prayer. As such, we share his fate. The four political factions among the Jews of Jesus’ day (Herodians, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Zealots), who disagreed about essentially everything, all agreed that Jesus must go. Even the Romans concurred! Emblematically, Jesus was crucified outside the city gates; the polis (the city) could not contain him either. The Letter to the Hebrews advises, Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13:12-13).

So here we are, outsiders in a land we too easily call home. We are American citizens to be sure, but our true citizenship is in Heaven (Phil 3:20). As a Church we cannot simply conform to an “R” or “D” vision of the world. We certainly stand conscientiously opposed to abortion, the redefinition of marriage, the forced funding of contraceptives, euthanasia, and any erosion of religious liberty. But we oppose these and other related life- and family-related issues as Catholics.

Another critical moral issue that tests our soul as a nation is that of immigration. Here, too, the challenge for every Catholic is to approach the issue as a believer.

My own views on this matter have been shaped by over thirty years of daily Scripture reading in the Divine Office and Holy Mass. There are numerous texts (frankly, an avalanche of them) that command us to care for the sojourners, foreigners, and aliens among us. Over and over again the theme comes up. It is a steady drumbeat: hospitality and care are to be shown the foreigners among us. Here are just a few of the more than one hundred texts that command this:

  1. When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Lev 19:33-34).
  2. You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Ex 22:21).
  3. Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts (Mal 3:5).
  4. I was a stranger and you welcomed me … (Mat 25:35)
  5. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Dt 10:18-19).
  6. Give counsel; grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive; let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer (Is 16:3).

There are many other texts commanding us in this manner or reminding us of our own needs in the past and exhorting us to deal with strangers among us respectfully and with care.

You can read a list of many other passages here: 100 Quotes from Scripture on Immigration.

The amount of ink expended on this topic in the Scriptures is overwhelming. It is just not possible for me as a Catholic Christian who insists that we take Scripture seriously in other matters to simply say, “Well, this is just a bunch of old-fashioned thinking that we can ignore.”

However we work to secure our borders and craft reasonable immigration laws, we cannot simply suppress the overwhelming voice of God, who commands of us a stance of welcome, openness, and care for those who are among us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church seeks to strike a balance between the need of a nation to protect its borders and reasonably manage immigration with the command to welcome and care for others:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws, and to assist in carrying civic burdens (Catechism 2241).

By any assessment, the current system in this country is broken. Our laws are chaotic, selectively enforced, and have created a dangerous situation for immigrant and countryman alike. Fear and suspicion dominate; there has been a sad increase in nativist anger that is unbecoming a nation of immigrants with a Judeo-Christian heritage. Laws surely existed in previous decades, but there were fewer of them and they were far less confusing.

I am not a political genius or a policy wonk who has the perfect solution. But Catholics ought to approach this issue as Catholics, deeply rooted in Scripture and in our established teachings that summon us to welcome and assist others to contribute to our great land. We have suffered much from nativist sentiments in the past. We are and always have been an immigrant Church in America. We have a proud history of coming here, making a positive difference, and helping others to do so. Our parishes have always been centers of both familiar culture and of acclimation to our country.

In our charity we ought to be very hesitant to demonize the majority of immigrants as scofflaws and criminals. Even those who are currently without legal papers have most often come here to escape from desperate conditions of poverty and/or injustice. Some originally arrived legally but have since had their status expire and now cannot reasonably return.

As a priest, I know the personal stories of many immigrants; they are typically complex and often tragic. Almost no one leaves his country and his relatives behind on a whim, just to go and live in a foreign land. They often risk their lives and endure substantial hardship in order to come here because they are so desperate and see so few alternatives.

Are there criminals and opportunists among them? Yes. The same can be said about my own Irish and German immigrant ancestors. But most of my relatives were decent, hard-working people who wanted to survive—and to contribute as well. I have found nothing different about the vast majority of today’s immigrants. And these days, their children often speak English, even if some of the first generation struggle to master it.

We are Catholics and as such we need to think about this issue as Catholics. Our Scriptures and our teachings are unambiguous. The human rights of the immigrants, sojourners, and strangers among us are to be respected. We also need to help them to respect our laws and traditions. We can and should enrich one another.

I fully expect a lot of pushback on a post like this. You are free to comment, but I ask a couple of things: First, don’t address me, address your fellow readers. Second, don’t just say why I am wrong or naïve, etc.; say what you think and why.

Before you press “Submit Reply” (and take your math test J) please take a moment and at least glance at the long list of Scriptures in the link above. Consider whether or not your remarks take sufficient note of what God teaches us. In the end, it matters little what you or I think; or whether the Church teaches this as dogma, doctrine, or discipline; or whether it is taught fallibly or infallibly. The question is this: What does God think and how would He have me speak of and respond to this profoundly significant human issue?

Catholics don’t fit into anyone’s neat little box. We’re too big, too old, too diverse, and I pray too much like Jesus (who didn’t fit in anyone’s box either).

27 Replies to “A Catholic Reflects on Immigration”

    1. To Brian:

      I edited out your remarks because you did what I asked you not to do, you addressed the comment to me (and made all sorts of remarks imply how I “don’t care” about a lot things).

      Let me reiterate my request. If someone wants to comment and disagree, fine. But please do not address you comment to me. Please state you view and why you think what you think. I have had my say. Now say what you think stick to the issue and avoid personal remarks directed to the author. I realize this issue is fraught with passionate views. All the more reason to avoid personal stuff.

      As for me and what I “care about”, I am in the business of trying to root myself and others in God’s word, even if that challenges. This is my chief motivation. And God says consistently:

      When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God. (Lev 19:31)

      1. It is not a good to violate the law of God. Romans 1:1-7 says that we must submit to higher authorities. This means that we must obey the law. Illegal immigration, by its very definition violates the law.

        Does that mean that you should hate or otherwise wrong a person who is here illegally? No.

        However, that does not mean that we should do nothing about illegal immigration. We have laws on the books about this but the government is not following the law. This is having a large economic and sociological impact on our society and we must deal with it.

        If government will not handle this then the people eventually will and yes, those who are here illegally will be impacted in a very negative way (see “fire, meet trees”).

        No one wants that but what do you expect the citizens to do? They see their jobs going away, their opportunities taken from them.

        I understand the Biblical law to be helpful to those who are strangers and are in need. I volunteered for years in the food pantry of my Catholic Church helping those in need. I have also seen the illegal immigrants who are here for two months and show up at the pantry showing proof that they are getting social security disability to the tune of $2,000 per month. I have seen 20 year old illegal immigrants come in and want food for their children including their 17 and 18 year old children. How can a 20 year old man have fathered a child at the age of 2? How is this right? How is this a moral good? What happens to the social security disability fund when it runs out of money (which it will within a couple of years at the rate it is being used up). When the money is gone what happens to all of the citizens who paid into it for years then became disabled and unable to work? Where do they go for help? What country do they illegally immigrate to to get “free stuff”?

        I work for a company that has brought many people here from many different countries. I have watched those folks go through the horribly slow and tedious process to get their citizenship. I have seen some meet their spouse here only to get married and one of them have to go back home for a year in order to qualify again for a visa. I have seen how happy they are once they become citizens.

        Why do we not care for them? Why should they follow the law? Why do we continue to follow the law when it is glaringly obvious that our government doesn’t want us to live?

        This issue is much, much more than the Biblical injunctions to be kind to the stranger in our midst.

        1. I would like to see an article from the perspective of what the Bible has to say about immigrating illegally and what the obligations are on those who desire to do so.

          1. I don’t think it exists. But perhaps if you’d like to write and publicize it, such an article would then exist. No bible verses immediately come to mind except maybe this one. Note especially the last verses which suggest what an exiled and resident alien should do for the receiving city:

            Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer 29:5-7)

          2. Yeah, I guess this means we stole the land from the Native Americans since we didn’t present proper passports follow their laws and we tended to trample them when they objected. We didn’t even try to learn their languages or adopt their customs or blend into their culture at all. We were definitely scofflaws and refused to jump into their melting pot. Maybe if this premise of current stealing is true and its hard to see how it doesn’t apply to us as well, we should go and find a native American and give back what we’ve stolen. Maybe since Brian is advancing it he can go first and give back and make restitution for the ways we just walked in like we owned the joint. I wonder what others think of this: “Thou Shalt not Steal” Are they doing this? Did our ancestors do this to the Native Americans? What is the difference between current situation and the one 100-300 years ago? If there is a difference, what is it? etc.

          3. Nice throwback. The Indians did not have governments with laws about immigration that our ancestors should have followed (if there were believers in Christ) so the point is really a non-starter. What our coming to this country really was was an invasion (lets be honest about it) and if you will recall the Indians fought back against it. Unfortunately for them, they lost. This has happened with many cultures throughout history.

            If I were to say that the Indians were all Christians then according to the verses in the article (snipped from their contexts, by the way) then they should have welcomed the invasion with open arms with nary a thought as to the ultimate consequences to them and their societies.

            Did our ancestors steal from the Indians? Yes and No. Should reparations be given? Some say yes, others no.

            What my original points was is this .. the article contained a list of verses (out of their contexts) and it said that we must follow them (regardless of the consequences). I asked if you would flip your viewpoint around and look at things from the viewpoint of whether people should come to a country illegally from a Biblical perspective. That is, should someone who is Christian violate a countries immigration laws to come here for economic advancement? I am concerned that you do not seem to believe that there are any Biblical verses that apply to this.

          4. A few other comments:

            Illegal immigrants work “under the table”.

            The don’t pay taxes on their income. This is stealing from the federal, state and local governments.

            Illegal immigrants work for less than US citizens. The citizens (who are low end wage earners and do not have the skills to get a better job) lost their jobs to these illegal immigrants. This is stealing from the US citizens.

            Illegal immigrants know how to game the system. For years I worked in my parish’s food pantry doing the intake of clients (filling out the required paperwork, verifying where they lived, there income, etc). Every saturday I did this and every single week I saw the obvious fraud that we were not allowed to say or do anything about. The illegal immigrant here two months and is now getting Social Security Disability of $2,000 a month is the truth. The husband and wife in their mid-20’s with 15 children the oldest of whom is 18 to 20 such that the parents would have to have been reproductively active at 7 to 8 years of age. I saw this stuff every single week Monsignor. Every single week. It is fraud. It is stealing. Our pantry was initially only for elderly, retired folks who needed some help. We became so overwhelmed with the fraud (people walking out with 15 to 20 fully loaded bags of food) that we hard a hard time helping the elderly.

            I understand that you see this from one point of view and for those who immigrate legally I fully agree with you and the Biblical injunctions. I have lived those injunctions.

            What I am saying is that there is a flip side to this coin and being told to just follow the Biblical injections, knowing what they will lead to (see Indians) is wrong, immoral and I cannot see Jesus condemning those who push back against it while welcoming those who also broke Biblical laws/injunctions.

            Is a scenario where both sides lose at their eternal judgement really the end result Jesus and we want?

          5. I would ask all readers to think about this issue as Catholics.

            I don’t think Brian’s charges are fair, I presented the teaching of the Catechism and scripture. It is not my job to present “all sides.” The combox allows other views. But it is the Catholic side I advocate for, not Brian’s, not the D version or the R version. The C (Catholic version)

            This is not about me and I once again ask Brian to stop addressing me personally.

            I am ending my replies to this post, I have written other things and am engaged there. I encourage other readers to continue the thread

  1. You have really made me rethink the whole immigration topic. I am ashamed to admit that I have not been charitable enough on my “old” stance. I now see the error of my thinking. Thank you!

  2. I agree , we need to be welcoming but not disordered, uncontrolled. There’s a balance to be had that allows immigration but does not entirely ignore the law. There’s a real genius to the Catechism which always seems to point toward this balance. Immigration laws were properly established by Congress, through the democratic process. Further as practical matter we need to do basic criminal screening. If these laws need reform (and I agree they are unduly complex and uneven in application) let’s do it through the ordered process rather than by one sided proclamation or laxity of enforcement etc. I think we should be open welcoming but not without basic checks and a rational process. Total lockdown or total openness is destructive. I think the nativist impulse arises from the lack of trust in our government, which is unfortunately deserved.

  3. This country is the most welcoming country in the world. We accept more legal immigrants every year then any other country in the world…perhaps even combined.

    The anger that is obvious in our current political climate is not directed at people who come to this country legally(for the most part), it’s directed at the federal government which refuses to enforce our existing laws that restrict open boarder access to anyone that wants to cross over. Illegal immigrants knowingly violate these laws and take advantage of a porous boarder that is not being actively enforced by the federal government. This is the reason for the anger.

    Another problem is the abuse of the H-1B work visa program. This abuse comes in the form of companies working with the federal government to bring in skilled workers to replace higher paid American workers. I’m sure everyone’s heard of what Disney is doing.

    The anger is real. It’s because the American people see their government actively refusing to enforce our immigration laws. They see their country being invaded, the jobs that some liberal politicians say Americans won’t do are going to illegal immigrants who gladly accept less money for the same work Americans could do. It’s about crony capitalism.

    All immigrants should be treated civilly and fairly. Those that break the law should be deported. That includes every single person that is in our country illegally, whether that be because they overstayed their visa or they jumped a boarder fence.

  4. The sad truth of the situation is that there are a very limited number of jobs available for the low skilled, manufacturing and skilled trades. There would be ample competition without immigration, legal or otherwise. In fact, most of the job growth in those sectors over the last 8 years have gone to immigrants. For example, the U.S. government estimates that 24% of the workers in the construction trades are illegal immigrants. In a workforce of approx 8 million that translates to almost 2 million jobs. These are not jobs Americans won’t do. That’s 2 million American men who will not be able to support their families. But the people in the top third of the economy, those who do not fear for their jobs, love to tell those of us who do how un-Christian we are. What nativist bigots we are.

    Pardon me for being offended when the pampered Prince who sits at the head of the boat in his secure seat, tells me I must take my children and jump overboard, so that an illegal and his family may have my spot. Rarely have I heard the Church castigate the ruling elites of Central America, who have created the stinking cesspool that their citizens escape from. The only reason those elites haven’t been dragged from their mansions is because of the safety valve they have found in the United States. The encouragement of unfettered immigration enables the behaviors of those elites to continue. How is enabling their immorality moral?No wonder Vincente Fox is against the wall!

    Let us turn out attention to history. When the first and second estates of France refused to listen to the legitimate grievances of the third chaos and bloodshed ensued. There is no safety valve for the desperate class that is being created here. There is only so long that people who feel they are being shafted will pretend to care about the moral preening of those who would give away another man’s livelihood as “charity” then announce it with trumpets. Others may focus on verses that they say demand defacto open borders, but I will focus on Thessalonians 3:10 and attempt to stay employed so that my family may eat.

    Btw, After sitting through 2 homilies at my former parish wherein I was told what a bad Catholic I am for holding a different political viewpoint than the priest (re this subject) I consider myself a former Catholic. Why contribute money to the Church so that they may take it and use it to impoverish my family, while castigating me for objecting?

  5. #2241 states essentially that it is the political authorities who are responsible for discerning the common good. It is the leaders who must figure out “especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption.” How is the immigrant disposed? Are they in fact “in search of the security and the means of livelihood which they cannot find in their country of origin?” Does the immigrant in fact “respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws, and to assist in carrying civil burdens?” Divine Revelation is Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Magisterial Teaching. Every word of the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be condensed, distilled, and synthesized into just one Word – Jesus. So what should the political authorities do if this, that, or the other immigrant has no regard for their duties, are not in search of security and the means of livelihood, and have no respect for the material and spiritual heritage to obey it’s laws and assist in carrying civil burdens? Competent authorities should not act like permissive parents.

    Whatever process of vetting and/or followup we come up with – leaders have a “grave duty” to protect their people. If they fail to take seriously this duty due in whole or in part to a false compassion a false mercy – they will have to answer for that before Almighty God; 2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others… (Catechism)

    Yes we must welcome the stranger – so long as that stranger doesn’t want to rape, murder, and set the house on fire. We need to be soft hearted – but not soft headed. Something that came into my mind in the last year or so in regards to this issue of immigration is welcoming the stranger in the womb. The smallest of immigrants – I cannot help but wonder if more of us had a sense of urgency about welcoming the strangers in the wombs if that might not go a long way to helping us get some of these other questions right. I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said an error in the beginning is an error indeed.

  6. This is an issue that is troubling on a lot of levels. We must care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien. But with a massive influx of people coming from and essentially alien culture that is however geographically quite close there becomes a massive threat to social cohesion. If a state cannot secure its own social cohesion then things will eventually reach a point where it cannot secure even the basic welfare of its own citizens much less provide for the widow and the orphan and the stranger.

    My solution: build the wall to stop the flow, and build it yesterday. Then give everyone who is already here illegaly a choice: either you can stay, learn English, be granted permanent resident status on a path to citizenship, and integrate yourself into the above ground work force or you can go back to your country of origin. This would force the big agribusiness companies to pay people more than $1.50 an hour to pick fruit and vegetables and might drive up the price of food at least temporarily. But I think we can handle that: just cut back on your monthly data plan for your iPhone whatever and rejoin the real world.

    1. oops, Mike broke the rule, so I had to delete. He address the comment to me and then went on to cast doubt on the inner motivations of bishops et al. Please do not address comments to me that suggest I am naïve, uninformed or that the Bishops are insincere. Please say what you think and why, and please avoid accusations that go to inner motivations of the Bishops, or me or other commenters. Stick to the issue please and avoid personal attacks if possible. Mike if you’d like to resubmit your own thoughts, direct it to the readers (not me) and back up what you say, you are welcome to do so. But please follow the guidelines.

        1. Again, you are missing the point. As you can see from other comments posted here, differing views are fine. But do not address me or the personal motivations of others. Please make your point by addressing readers. A little hint might be that you not begin a comment with the word “Father” or Msgr.” Say what YOU think, address the readers and the issues. Not me. You can submit evidence to back up your point etc. But the discussion is with other readers. I am not the point, Catholic teaching on Immigration is, so don’t address me.

    1. See, you’re making it personal. As you can see from other comments, differing views are permitted. Please comply as others have with the requested protocol for the comments. In case you missed it, it is at the end of the article.

  7. The current wave of mass immigration is about driving down wages. Unlimited immigration doesn’t serve Christ, it serves Wall Street, hurting poor and working class Americans to bolster profit margins has nothing to do with charity.

  8. 100 verses makes you think. I wonder if Brian and others have really counted how many verses that is. I don’t agree with everything in the article and I feel angry too at illegal numbers so high. But I am not sure if Brian calling them immoral and thieves is right either. As for me, I was struck by the 4th or fifth quote and then there were still 90+ more to go. Anyway it helps me to look at them, frankly I had not read even one of them before. I’m actually a little dismayed! I don’t like the high numbers of illegals and I wish we had more of a will to secure our borders, but these verses make me think twice bout my attitude, even if I still think we should reasonably set limits.

  9. Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ and to All Persons of Good Will,

    In viewing the immigration debate through the lens of Catholic teaching, paying particular attention to scriptural passages, I think the balance that is struck in the Catechism 2241 referenced above, is often woefully lacking. Many in the pulpit across the denominational seem to espouse an “open borders” policy by focusing solely on the scriptural passages that command us to care for the refugee, sojourner and traveler, whilst ignoring the right of civil authorities to protect its citizens, maintain borders and regulate the flow of migrants. Romans 13:1-7 teaches us that the rule of law is an indispensable part of civil society and that Christians are under biblical mandate to respect the divinely-ordained institution of government and its just laws, that government has a duty to fulfill its ordained mandate, and that Christians have a right to expect the government to fulfill its ordained mandate to enforce those laws.

    The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution that hits the nail on the head on this issue because it balances mercy with justice, with balance in true Christian fashion tipped in favor of mercy. Although this is a Catholic blog, truth can be found in other religions, particularly fellow Christians. The resolution cites many of the passages in this blog post and is consistent with the Catechism, and the merciful parts appear before the just parts. I posit to your reading pleasure—http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1213

    I do not believe the vast majority of illegal immigrants are criminals, but that is not the only reason to tighten our laws and borders in this regard. There is the burden and drain on the public coffers when it comes to health care and education. States like California are hemorrhaging at the seems because of the public health and education demands that must be afforded to illegal immigrants. It can’t go on like this. What will happen if we do nothing and keep allowing millions more to immigrate whether legally or illegally, is that everyone will become poorer because of it, particularly the middle and lower middle class. So the immigrant, coming here poor, will stay poor but at least not destitute and the native population poorer as well whether through lower wages or higher taxes or a combination thereof.

    We need a sensible policy that recognizes our history of immigration, meets the needs of our economy as there are sectors who rely on immigrant labor, at the same time ensuring that our borders are secure, laws are respected and our own citizenry taken care of first.

  10. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    Thank you for this important reflection and for bringing up the issues regarding our ancestors and Native Americans. All you are doing is guiding us (Thank you!) to think and behave as authentic Catholics. Thank God for his Church (Her God-gifted wisdom and discipleship) and faithful spiritual guides like you to help us attain the Mind and Heart of Christ Jesus.

    God bless men in dire straights who sacrifice and risk so much to provide for their families.

  11. Considering this post and Msgr. Pope’s post on poverty versus destitution (grossly, and perhaps inaccurately, summarized as that we should not seek to eliminate poverty but, in effect, to welcome its spiritual implications), could it be that the redistribution of wealth resulting from immigration are part of God’s plan and ultimately a beautiful thing? The fact that some of us lose income while others gain is not to be feared but welcomed with joy, knowing that at some point we may all live in comfort without fear knowing that we will take care of each other out of love and compassion? That immigration (legal or illegal) allows us to come together as one and live simpler, less worldly lives?

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