In the last decade, the topic of immigration has become as divisive in the Catholic Church as the issue of abortion. Like abortion, immigration is now at the center of national politics—it was the centerpiece of the 2016 presidential election. The election of 2020 promises more of the same debate but more fierce in tone and, also, more significant for the future of our nation.
Some argue that the principle of solidarity should inform a public policy that allows immigrants to enter the United States with only a minimal challenge at the border. The USCCB has consistently taken this position as stated in “Welcoming the Stranger: Unity In Diversity” (November 2000). The Bishops’ “call to solidarity” calls for the utilization of all governmental and church services to provide total care for immigrants who cross the border whether or not they cross illegally. In “Welcoming the Stranger,” the Bishops explain it this way:
“Without condoning undocumented migration, the Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the respect of the human dignity of all—especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances. We recognize that nations have the right to control their borders. We also recognize and strongly assert that all human persons, created as they are in the image of God, possess a fundamental dignity that gives rise to a more compelling claim to the conditions worthy of human life.” (Emphasis added)
In other words, although the Bishops recognize the right of a nation to control its borders, they trump that right with a “more compelling claim.” That claim is nothing less than persons are created in the image of God. Possessing the imago Dei, persons can claim “the conditions worthy of human life,” meaning enter the United States freely and receive all the goods and services “worthy” of their human dignity.
If the need for secure borders and national security is overridden by the created nature of each person, one wonders how far the Bishops want to extend this as a principle. Does the imago Dei get people released from jail?
If the imago Dei is a “Golden” ticket enter the United States illegally and remain here illegally, then the imago Dei is being made the enemy of the rule of law. Without laws, human solidarity is impossible. Solidarity demands order and respect for lawful authority. Look at countries like Mexico where the rule of law is ignored and see the human misery that results. This is a very dangerous principle to put in place.
The Catechism teaches that persons should be subject to the governmental authority that “seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it” (#1903). Why, then, are those who support secure borders, even the building of a protective wall, so quickly accused of contradicting the principle of solidarity? In other words, it’s the prerogative of the government to create and enforce laws consonant with the common good of society.
The more specific question is whether the Bishops consider the present immigration laws as “morally licit” when immigrants are stopped, questioned, and housed before the U. S. government makes a decision about admitting, or not admitting, them to the country. From all that I have read and heard the answer is ‘no.’
What we see right now at our all-too-porous southern border is beginning to resemble Mexico: sex trafficking, drugs, crime, gangs, not to mention potential terrorists. The Catechism recognizes the necessity of laws to regulate immigration:
The common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense. (Emphasis added, #1909)
The Bishops’ statement also brings us back to passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the obligation of wealthy nations, “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” (Emphasis added, #2241). Who decides the “to the extent they are able”? Answer: Our Congress and President working cooperatively to weigh national resources against the needs of immigrants.
The Bishops, as they often do, are attempting to influence both lawmakers and voters to regard our nation as able to provide more resources than are doing. With all due respect, they are not in the position to know the requisite facts regarding the nation’s resources. They do, however, know better than anyone what the Church can do at the diocesan and parish level. I’m certain they would not want politicians judging their use of resources.
The Catechism makes it clear whose job it is to make these prudential judgments: “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. . . . ” (Emphasis added, #2441).
The Catechism, at least, states that a nation’s laws should me obeyed by persons, regardless of their imago Dei.