Immigration and the Catholic Church


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There has been a lot of talk in the news and online about immigration to the United States, particularly illegal immigration along the southern border. Images of detention facilities from the previous and current presidential administrations have stirred up passions in the people. Many Catholic bishops, such as Bishop Robert Barron, have weighed in strenuously on the topic. This is especially the case where families are separated at the border.

There are some who are comparing the detention of illegal immigrant families to concentration camps and that those who are in favor of it are like the Nazis. There are those who say that separating children in the womb from their mothers through abortion is much more worthy of our political outrage. These opinions may be on the extreme, but I am having more and more difficulty finding the non-extreme.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the solution must be found in the middle ground (though it very well could be). What I am observing is that on both sides there seems to be a moral certitude in how we should act. Among Catholics this conviction is rooted in faith.

So how is a Catholic to respond?

Before anything else, we must remember to proceed with caution. We are now beginning to mix politics and faith. It is not that these two things shouldn’t overlap. Hopefully your religious convictions inform your political positions. But if these two areas are brought together incorrectly, the results can be volatile.

I am a man of very strong political convictions. But I do my best to never confuse them with my religious principles. By God’s grace I would lay down my life in defense of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. I would not go to the cross over what I believe to be a fair federal income tax rate.

This is even more confusing because there are some areas where politics and religion must overlap. Catholics are forbidden from voting for something that would intentionally make it easier to murder children in the womb or euthanize the disabled.

Regarding the hot button issue of immigration, we are walking into a gray area.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2241 states:
“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.”

There are two opposing factors that must be weighed here: taking care of the poor immigrants and legitimate border enforcement.

It is in keeping with the Scriptures that we must take special care of the immigrant in our country. “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) This means that all immigrants, whether legal or illegal must be treated with respect and dignity.

This also means that facilities and conditions must be humane. This is particularly true regarding vulnerable children.

But as we see above, the Catechism states that governments have the right to subject immigrants to various “juridical conditions” and that immigrants must “obey [the] laws.” Crossing the border illegally is a violation of the law and the government has the right limit, for the common good of the citizens, immigration to the country.

This is where this gets complicated. People who cross the border illegally are subject to detention. But what about children? If they are with their families do we keep them all in a detention facility? Is that humane? The current law says that children who are taken in by immigration officials can only be held for 20 days. But the adult adjudication process (especially if they are seeking asylum) usually takes longer? Should the children be take to foster care at this point? Should the law be changed?

If we wish for families to remain intact, it appears that there are ultimately two solutions: either keep all of them together in a detention facility or let them all go on the own recognizance. The former solution appears inhumane by some. The latter is claimed to lead to more illegal immigration. According to the US Justice Department, 25% of those released on the their own recognizance fail to show up for a court date.

This is a complex problem with many factors to consider. The answer will have to be a political one, since this involves the laws of our land.

And the Catechism recognizes this. That is why it does not give a definitive answer as to how strict the immigration laws should be. This is something that each nation must determine for itself based on practical consideration and moral principles. And it will vary from nation to nation and from era to era. The moral guiding light is that the dignity of the person should never be obscured.

I don’t pretend to be able to solve the problem here. But it is important to keep the following principles in mind when discussing the issue.

1. The Catechism is not definitive on immigration laws.
2. All persons, including immigrants who come here illegally, must be treated with dignity.
3. We have a special obligation to care for vulnerable children.
4. You can be a good Catholic and support the loosening of anti-illegal immigration laws so long as they reflect the common good of the nation.
5. You can be a good Catholic and support the enforcement immigration laws so long as they reflect the dignity of the person.
6. In charity, do NOT begin by assuming your opponent on this issue is motivated by hate (though evidence may eventually prove otherwise).
7. Pray for God’s guidance towards justice for all involved.

Copyright 2018, WL Grayson

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W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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