If you are like me, you struggle with the issue of immigration. The politics seem to me to go too far one way or another. Some want to build huge walls around the US and kick out all illegal immigrants currently here. Those on the other side feel that any further restrictions would be too much. So, what is a Catholic, who struggles with the issue to do? I wish I knew. The exercise of writing about this issue is as much an exercise of organizing my thoughts on it as it is to offer a balanced and Catholic view.
There are several principles about immigration that the Catholic Church teaches, sometimes with a tension that we must balance when examining the issue.
As a nation we are obligated to welcome those who wish to enter the USA in search of a better life (that is, within limits that are imposed by the state). Those immigrating also have the duty to follow the law.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2241) says:
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.
Notice, that the Church is not advocating an "open border" policy. Yet, there are duties for those who immigrate as well — notably to obey the laws of the country they are entering (including how they enter, paying taxes, etc.). Illegal immigrants, by definition, are not cooperating in fulfilling this principle.
Principle #1 – The state has the right to set the boundaries around what they consider to be the ordinary ways of entering the country and how they secure their borders. Thus, the policies of the USA are not inherently unjust because they define these parameters. But this can't be a closed-door policy either. In fact, the manner in which all immigrants (both legal and illegal) are processed in the USA is shameful. But, the USA doesn't have to accept everyone who wants to come either.
Principle #2 – The homeland of every person should seek justice for its people. There is a scourge of corruption which continues the cycle of poverty in most poor countries. If we truly want to seek justice for the immigrant, then we need to seek it in the homelands of our immigrants first. The USA is just in the vast majority of its laws and public policies.
Principle #3 – If need be, persons have the right to migrate for the good of their families or for their own sake. But, the Church doesn't make this an absolute. Rather, it is to be for the protection of those who cannot survive otherwise.
Principle #4 – Refugees and those seeking asylum should be protected. We should be the country where people can feel safe from totalitarianism and we should be a haven for refugees who cannot live in their homelands.
Principle #5 – Illegal immigrants are still human beings with inherent dignity and rights and should be treated as such. This doesn't mean that the USA can't enforce its laws but rather its laws should treat people justly. For instance, deporting parents and leaving their children behind is unjust. All have the inherent right to be treated fairly by the justice system during legal proceedings and/or deportation.
Principle #6 – Immigration is not an issue that is easy to solve, nor are any of the "easy solution" advocates balancing all of the above principles. I rarely see someone wrestle with the issue; more commonly, I see a political agenda being pushed.
What we should not do is pass this off as an easy issue of either completely opening vs. completely closing the borders or of enforcement vs. non-enforcement of current laws. Rather, true immigration reform will have to take up the competing rights and interests of the many affected parties.
As Catholics trying to decide what political policies are best in this area, we must first properly form our consciences on the subject, including intellectual and spiritual formation. We have to study the Church's teachings and understand as much as we can about the specifics of our country's situation. In addition, we should pray for clear understanding and wisdom for ourselves and for our nation to behave justly. Second, we must then follow our consciences on the matter.
Immigration policy is one of the more difficult political issues for me. I haven't seen any proposed (or current) policies that justly balance the myriad of conflicting interests and seem crafted with the common good in mind; rather they seem to me to serve a single political purpose. What our nation needs is informed and conscientious Catholics to lead the way in seeking a just political solution.