The Catholic bishops of the United States are urging the House to enact the Senate immigration bill in the name of “justice for immigrants.” Parishioners are being asked to send congressmen postcards that call for “a path to citizenship for undocumented persons,” “legal paths for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the United States,” and “due process protections [in] our immigration enforcement policies.” The postcards, notably, say nothing about increasing enforcement, even though that is one of the main advertisements that politicians make for the bill that the bishops advocate — and even though the bishops’ conference has elsewhere grudgingly acknowledged “the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants.”
The bishops are not thinking straight on this issue, and no Catholic — or well-meaning citizen — should have the slightest qualm about rejecting their policy prescriptions.
There is ample support in the Bible, in the history of Catholic social thought, and in the Catechism — and some support in common moral reasoning — for some of the bishops’ premises. We are indeed obligated to “welcome the stranger,” and to treat all people with justice and compassion. That does not mean we are obligated to offer legal status to people who came here illegally, or to double existing immigration levels.
The Catechism says that rich countries should welcome, “to the extent they are able, . . . the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.” It also says that immigrants “are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.” Among the virtues immigration policy seeks to safeguard and promote, then, are compassion, the rule of law, economic advancement for the poor, and assimilation.
It seems to us that the massive increase in low-skilled immigration — an increase that the Senate bill entails and that the bishops welcome — undermines several of these goals. It puts pressure on the wages of the smaller number of low-skilled immigrants we would accept without the increase, as well as on those of native-born low-skilled Americans. It retards assimilation among the newcomers as well. The bill undermines the rule of law, too, because it offers legal status to illegal immigrants without making sure that new illegal immigrants can’t come here.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York and president of the bishops’ conference, writes that “no one can be proud of the enormous underclass of undocumented workers that’s been allowed to form — millions of our neighbors who live on the margins, have their families fractured and are easily exploited.” The Senate bill would not solve this problem, and could make it worse. We could well have a new influx of illegal immigrants drawn here by our demonstrable lack of resolve to enforce our laws — a lack of resolve that the bishops themselves reinforce. People who overstay their terms as “guest workers” would become illegal immigrants, too.
On some issues, notably abortion, the policy implications of the moral norms the Catholic Church defends are fairly simple and straightforward: If unborn children are human beings made in the image of God, then it cannot be right to let them be killed with impunity. Illegal immigrants, too, are human beings made in the image of God, but the crucial questions of public policy the U.S. is weighing do not involve any dispute over that truth.
“We are one family under God,” reads the banner on the Church’s “Justice for Immigrants” website. So we are. The geography of God’s family is not, however, coterminous with the borders of the United States. Dolan, to his credit, notes that “there’s room for disagreement on such a complicated issue,” which is to say that, as is not the case on abortion, faithful Catholics contradict no tenet of the faith in rejecting the bishops’ immigration views. It is a freedom they should exercise.