Illegal Immigration: A Catholic Perspective on Law, Policy and Pastoral Practice

By: Father Stephen F. McGraw, J.D., and Father Donald J. Planty, J.C.D.

Frs. McGraw and Planty provide a thorough look at the debate over illegal immigration in our country and how we can begin to grapple with the ethical questions involved. The rest of their article may be found by following the link at the end.

In the context of the debate over illegal immigration, most of us are by now familiar with the query, “What is it about ‘illegal’ that you don’t understand?”  This saying may be said to betoken a fair point, inasmuch as it is an arresting way of exposing the tendency to disregard the rule of law, perhaps in favor of sentimentalism, in the context of illegal immigration.  But at the same time this saying, if the truth be told, betrays an oversimplification that begs the question:  Is there something about “illegal”—about law and the violation of law, about how and when and why law binds us—that needs to be better understood, and might such a better understanding be of help in resolving this issue?

From a Catholic perspective, grappling with the ethical questions raised by the current debate over illegal immigration requires an honest scrutiny of the Church’s social teaching on this issue, the main lines of which are traced out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:  on the one hand, “[t]he 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”; on the other hand, “[p]olitical 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” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2241).  There is then a summons to us, as individuals and as a nation, to human and Christian solidarity towards immigrants to our country, although the Catechism significantly notes that this obligation of solidarity is limited according to the extent that a nation is “able”—that is, what a nation is not reasonably able to do, consistent with the common good it is charged with promoting, it is not morally obliged to do.  Moreover, in furtherance of the common good, the right to immigrate may justly be made subject to various laws, and to these laws there corresponds a moral obligation of respect and obedience.  But the duty to uphold the rule of law, to be properly understood, requires an adequate context and the making of some critical distinctions, if we are ever to arrive at a proper resolution of this tension.

This essay doesnot pretend to cover the many aspects—social, political, economic—relating to the question of illegal immigration.  Nor even, although it is concerned with ethics, does it claim to exhaust all the ethical dimensions that bear on this question.  There is no intention to formulate specific policy proposals.  The aim is to provide, in the area of law and ethics, of pastoral practice, and of public policy, some clear principles and a foundation, upon which a reasoned discourse on this issue can be solidly based.

Read more here.

2 thoughts on “Illegal Immigration: A Catholic Perspective on Law, Policy and Pastoral Practice

  1. I needed to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every bit of it.
    I’ve got you book marked to look at new things you post…

  2. Very interesting, but the essay avoids discussion of a major aspect of justice: “You get what you pay for and you pay for what you get.” In practice, immigrants place severe demands on society in terms of requiring society to accommodate their needs for language translation, rather than the immigrants accommodating our society’s need for a common language. Also, many of the immigrants demand special social services ranging from welfare to “diversity” grants and “affirmative action.” It is NOT true that these immigrants just come here to “fit in” and make no demands beyond the privilege of of working and being secure. This may be in part due to “enablers” on the political left in this country, but it is a fact nonetheless. It is my opinion that immigrants who come here and “blend in,” work hard, and obey our laws, without making extra demands, are welcome. Those who make special demands beyond the right to PURSUE happiness, or who march in our streets, are not. Is this so hard for the Catholic Bishops to understand?

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