There is little disagreement that “something” must be done about immigration in the United States but that “something” is a hotly debated national issue.

Why does the Catholic church care about immigration? And, what’s a Catholic to think?

The Catholic Church has a responsibility to spread and put into action the message of God in every avenue and therefore she has long been the defender of those who are marginalized and whose God-given rights are not respected. Therefore the church is compelled to raise her voice and wade into the immigration debate to help create an immigration system that is fair and just for all. Read: Justice for Immigrants Video: Historical look at the Catholic Church and Immigration

Similarly, as Catholics, we are called to welcome the stranger, but also to respect the law. We are morally bound to respect the dignity of every human person, but cannot create civil disorder. It is our responsibility as lay persons to put the Church’s teachings into action and help advance an immigration system that serves the common good.

It’s evident that immigration, like most issues of public policy, is a matter of prudence, and serious Catholics will disagree on the answers. Which makes informed and intelligent discussion imperative.

Our Bishops have rightly placed the needs of real people — human persons — at the heart of their pleas for reform. Children and families are not political pawns. Our bishops are right: people are suffering, our immigration system is broken, and it must be reformed. Video: Immigration and the Catholic Church

That’s all nice but doesn’t the Catholic Church support illegal immigration and “open borders”?

No, the Catholic Church has never advocated for illegal immigration or open borders. It respects the sovereign rule of law of the United States. It recognizes the need for effective border enforcement that protects Americans from criminal and terrorist elements but at the same time allows for orderly and legal immigration. Video: Illegal Immigration & Catholic Social Teaching

Oh, that makes sense. What about Amnesty? I’ve heard the Catholic Church supports amnesty, or as some like to call it, “earned legalization”?

False. Amnesty & earned legalization are very different. Amnesty is a giveaway or forgiving of debt. This is not what the Bishops are proposing. Earned legalization requires workers to earn permanent status by working over a number of years, paying the applicable fines, undergoing criminal background checks, demonstrate they are learning english, paying taxes, and securing a visa that could eventually lead to permanent residency.

Where can I read more about this issue?

In 2003, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops produced a pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, in which they outline the elements that any immigration reform should incorporate. These points include:

  • Enforcement: The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.
  • Earned Legalization: An earned legalization program would allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence. Such a program would create an eventual path to citizenship, requiring applicants to complete and pass background checks, pay a fine, and establish eligibility for resident status to participate in the program. Such a program would help stabilize the workforce, promote family unity, and bring a large population “out of the shadows,” as members of their communities.
  • Future Worker Program: A worker program to permit foreign‐born workers to enter the country safely and legally would help reduce illegal immigration and the loss of life in the American desert. Any program should include workplace protections, living wage levels, safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers, and family unity.
  • Family‐based Immigration Reform: It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the family‐based legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration. Changes in family‐based immigration should be made to increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times.
  • Restoration of Due Process Rights: Due process rights taken away by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) should be restored. For example, the three and ten year bars to reentry should be eliminated.
  • Addressing Root Causes: Congress should examine the root causes of migration, such as under‐development and poverty in sending countries, and seek long‐term solutions. The antidote to the problem of illegal immigration is sustainable economic development in sending countries. In an ideal world, migration should be driven by choice, not necessity.

Video: Archbishop Arturo Cepeda “Immigration and the Church: Left, Right, or Catholic?”

Catholics in good conscience can disagree on the appropriate level of immigration to allow and how to best reform our broken system. There is no dogma on immigration policy. Careful reasoning, respect for human dignity, persuasion, and prudence are all necessary tools.

Immigration, like health care, is a complex issue. Resolving big questions like this through the democratic process isn’t easy and requires patience.