Catholic Church’s Wise Views on Illegal Immigration

Catholic Church’s Wise Views on Illegal Immigration May 6, 2016


A sign at the international boundary between Canada and the United States in Point Roberts, Washington. Photo by “Makaristos” (10-13-07) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2241) provides a brief summary as to what the Church thinks of illegal immigration:
    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.
One can be compassionate regarding the plight of an illegal immigrant who is looking for a better life, but that doesn’t mean that they should be encouraged to break existing laws or to avoid all the usual penalties for same. If there is a law passed granting amnesty (such as with those who avoided the draft in the Vietnam era) then that would be a matter of new law. But that is the way to go about it: by the rule of law, not by non-enforcement of existing laws, and confused, contradictory, and (merely) politically-soaked policy, as we have today.
According to Donald Kerwin, Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC):
The Catholic Church in the United States does not support open borders, illegal immigration, or an “amnesty” that would grant legal status to all unauthorized immigrants. It believes nations have a legitimate responsibility to promote the common good by denying admission to certain migrants and by regulating the flow of all those who are seeking to enter. However, the church sees the current US immigration system — while generous in many respects — as badly in need of reform. It has been particularly offended by hundreds of deaths along the US-Mexico border; the growth of human smuggling rings; the disconnect between US labor needs, trade policies, and immigration admission levels; and decades-long delays in some family reunification categories. (“Immigration Reform and the Catholic Church”— 2006)

The 2003 document, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” — from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, states:


    36. The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.
    39. The Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good. It also recognizes the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realize their God-given rights. These teachings complement each other. While the sovereign state may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated. . . .
    78. As explained above, the Catholic Church recognizes the right and responsibility of sovereign nations to control their borders and to ensure the security interests of their citizens. Therefore, we accept the legitimate role of the U.S. and Mexican governments in intercepting undocumented migrants who attempt to travel through or cross into one of the two countries. We do not accept, however, some of the policies and tactics that our governments have employed to meet this shared responsibility.
    85. In order to address these excesses, both governments must create training mechanisms that instruct enforcement agents in the use of appropriate tactics for enforcing immigration law. . . .
The consistent theme in Catholic documents is compassion for the immigrant (legal or illegal), while acknowledging the validity of immigration laws. Hence, Pope John Paul II, in his message, “Undocumented Migrants” (7-25-95), stated:
    Migration is assuming the features of a social emergency, above all because of the increase in illegal migrants which, despite the current restrictions, it seems impossible to halt. . . . Illegal immigration should be prevented, but it is also essential to combat vigorously the criminal activities which exploit illegal immigrants. . . . Thus it is important to help illegal migrants to complete the necessary administrative papers to obtain a residence permit. Social and charitable institutions can make contact with the authorities in order to seek appropriate, lawful solutions to various cases.

I think that the Church has shown great wisdom in this issue, as always. The sublime moral theology of the Church was the first thing that drew me in, back in 1990. I’ve never seen anyone or any other institution with the consistently thoughtful, deep, wise reasoning that the Church always provides on socio-political issues such as this one.

See also:

Pope John Paul II, message for World Migration Day, 2000.

Holy See Press Office: World Day for Migrants and Refugees (collection)

Address of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II to Congress on Pastoral Care of Migrants (9 October 1998)

(Catholic Priest) Cites Church Stand Against Illegal Immigration (Dexter Duggan, The Wanderer, 04/22/2010)

Catholic Bishops Launch New Push for Immigration Reform, Pathway to Citizenship (Christopher Neefus,, January 08, 2010)

Solving illegal immigration requires fixing economic causes, stresses Bishop Wester (Catholic News Agency, 6-4-10)

Migration laws must respect national sovereignty and individual rights, Pope urges (Catholic News Agency, 5-28-10)

Immigration reform is not amnesty, Bishop Wester says about bishops’ position (Catholic News Agency, 5-9-10)

Arizona immigration law shows need for reform, Archbishop Chaput writes (Catholic News Agency, 5-4-10)

Archbishop Dolan calls Arizona illegal immigrant law ‘harmful’ (Catholic News Agency, 4-28-10)

US bishops oppose ‘draconian’ Arizona immigration law (Catholic News Agency, 4-28-10)

U.S. Bishops begin push for ‘humane and comprehensive’ solution to immigration issues (Catholic News Agency, 1-7-10)

Illegal Immigration and Catholic Social Teaching, Fr. Thomas Berg (Catholic News Agency, 5-18-10)

[see also other related articles mentioned as further links in the sidebars of all these CNA articles]



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