The Immigration Debate: A Catholic Perspective

Author Image

Ancilla College lecture

October 2, 2012

Thank you for the invitation to speak this evening here at Ancilla College. We are a little over a month away from Election Day and the news is filled with election coverage. Tomorrow evening is the first presidential debate. Many are talking about the upcoming election. In the midst of all the discussion, debate, and commentary, the Church continues to emphasize the importance of voting. The Church tries to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue and asks Catholics to shape their choices in the coming election in the light of Catholic teaching. We bishops see our role as helping our people to form their consciences. Catholic teaching on the role of faith and conscience in political life is explained in our teaching document entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, issued in 2007 and reissued this past year with a new Introductory Note. In that Note, we highlight six pressing national issues at this time, including the issue I will speak about this evening, immigration. We are careful to point out that some issues involve opposition to intrinsic evils that must always be opposed, as in abortion and euthanasia, which have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (FC 22). We also state that the right to life implies and is linked to other human rights. The issue of immigration also involves human life and dignity, though it is not morally equivalent to the direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life. Our grave concern about the preeminent threats to human life and dignity does not mean that we should dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity, “other serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.”

So this evening I will speak about the issue of immigration. Here is what the bishops point out in the Introductory Note of our document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: “The failure to repair a broken immigration system with comprehensive measures that promote true respect for law, protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees, recognize their contributions to our nation, keep families together, and advance the common good.”

Before looking at some particulars concerning the immigration debate in our nation today, I would like to present as context a summary of Church teaching on this issue. The Catholic Church, which is universal, has a large body of teaching in this area, as it approaches the immigration issue with an international perspective and with principles of social teaching founded in natural law and illumined by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Migration is a major theme in the Scriptures. There are numerous passages relevant to this issue, too many for me to cite them all. The most famous Old Testament story relevant to this issue is, of course, the Exodus. Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, and for forty years they lived as migrants, with no homeland of their own. From this migrant experience, the people of God learned a deep appreciation for the plight of strangers and aliens, people they believed they were called to welcome and to whom they owed hospitality. Thus we hear God’s precepts about care of aliens and strangers throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus, God says: “You shall not oppress an alien; you will know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9). In the book of Leviticus, similarly God commands: “You shall treat the stranger 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 strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33-34). Care for the stranger and justice for the alien are recurring themes in the Old Testament, reflections of the great commandment to love one’s neighbor.