Catholic Classroom: Immigration
Question: What does the Church say about immigration?
Immigration is a topic that is being widely discussed in the United States and around the world today. In addition to welcoming migrants who seek better lives in new places, nations are also experiencing an unprecedented number of refugees who have been forced to leave their home countries. In the midst of all this movement that is, by nature, chaotic, it is important to understand what the Church teaches about immigration.
Immigrants and refugees have had an instrumental role in the history of our Catholic faith. The Israelites migrated to Egypt because of a famine in their native land. Later, Jesus and the Holy Family also became refugees to escape the violence of Herod. In light of this and of the dignity of all human life that we respect as Catholics, Jesus teaches that we must welcome the stranger. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Because immigrants and refugees are made vulnerable by being in a foreign land, we are serving Christ when we serve them.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes three principals of Catholic social teaching on immigration:
- People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. Since the goods of the earth are for all people to share, people should be able to move in order to live lives that respect their dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. No country or government should prevent an immigrant from seeking the basic necessities for life.
- A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration. In the political reality of our world, borders exist and create nations with particular identities. Governments have the duty to protect the common good, not only for their own country, but for the entire world. Countries can, however, protect themselves, within reason, from falling into economic hardship as a result of too much immigration.
- A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy. This third principal creates a balance between the first two. Countries must recognize the equality of all human beings and thus allow for a merciful immigration policy that enables people to sustain their lives. The Church believes that the right to life extends to all people, and that immigrants who are undocumented still have the right to have their basic human needs served.
The Church in the United States says that immigration reform is needed to serve the common good and the needs of all people. On a most basic level, we must understand and believe that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray in a special way for the intercession of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants, as we celebrate the anniversary of her canonization on July 7.
To learn more about how the Church is working for immigrants and to get involved, visit the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants website.