The Catechism of the Catholic Church has something to say about immigration, not because it is a hot political topic, but because it is a moral topic.
In my last post, I wrote about capital punishment—a hot political and moral topic—and received many comments. I feel obliged to acknowledge these comments since they helped me to think about the issue in new ways. Several people shared personal stories that brought home to me what people have suffered from criminals on death row. Others talked about the opportunity to repent and reflect while on death row. The issue of the dignity of the executioner also arose. This question is certainly worth pondering. Finally when I discuss the death penalty another time, I will base it on Romans 13:3-4 and Ezekiel 33:11. The former seems to support the death penalty while the latter seems to say, at least, that God takes no delight in punishment. In sum, I’m very thankful for all the comments.
Immigration and the Catechism
Like the death penalty, I have been prompted to address the hot topic of immigration due to a series of talks I heard from a Franciscan priest. Immigration, like the death penalty, is a thorny issue, but also one about which the Church has spoken clearly.
Arguably there are two main tenets to immigration found in the Catechism. First, people have a right to migrate when they are in need. Second, nations have a right to limit the number of people immigrating based on their resources. I will briefly examine each of these two issues.
The Right to Immigrate
The right to immigrate is granted by the political community according to the Catechism. To quote the Catechism, “the political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially . . .the right to private property, to free enterprise, to obtain work and housing, and the right to emigrate” (2211). Immigration then is a basic human right that should not be denied. We all have the right to seek a better life for ourselves and our families. In fact, we have a duty to provide for our families.
The Right to Limit Immigration
The same idea of having a duty to our families can be applied to the issue of limiting the number of immigrants. Immigration may be limited justly by countries in the same way that a family unit has a right to protect what is its own. Paragraph 2241 explains that “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.” Thus, as the duty of parents is first towards their children, so the state must first see to the needs of its citizens before extending its generosity to outsiders.
Reasons for Limiting Immigration
Paragraph 2241 explains what might limit a nation’s obligation to allow immigrants into the country. It states, “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.” The Catechism means that immigrants should not be allowed indiscriminately. A proper vetting process must be in place to ensure the safety of the country. Open borders lead to criminals and miscreants crossing into the country to the detriment of the citizens. Next, the Catechism goes on to explain that an immigrant should “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.” This suggests that an immigrant’s right to remain in the country and perhaps even to enter it is dependent on his or her behavior. Again, the Catechism advocates generosity but it also upholds basic common sense.
In conclusion, we might ask what the policy of the US government should be towards the many people crossing the southern border. In short, where does this leave us? First, no matter how complicated the debate becomes, the basic principles remain the same. Immigrants have a right to appeal for asylum while nations have a right to limit the number of immigrants who come into the country. Whether or not the US allows immigrants into the country should be based on a calculation of remaining resources. It should not be based on the race of a particular immigrant or, most likely, the religion of the person entering the country. Secondly, it seems clear that as a powerful and thriving country, the USA has an obligation to welcome many more immigrants. Nonetheless, as a protector of its citizens, the USA has at least an equally strong obligation to vet these immigrants and to make sure that the basic rights of current citizens are not threatened. Thus, I hope that when US government officials consider proposals such as a border wall they do so with a view towards charity for both its citizens and the immigrants.