Why Does This Topic Matter? Issues of Continuing Relevance

This page describes some of the broader issues that the "U.S. Bishops and Immigraion" website can help illuminate in the classroom.

How does a democratic nation engage newcomers?

Democracies rest on the idea of individual citizens exercising individual freedoms toward engaging and, indeed, improving the social and political life of the broader society. Who is permitted to enter a democratic nation and how those individuals are introduced to the nation once they arrive is a determinant of that nation's

character. Documents and resources on this site feature revealing discussion around who should enter the nation and who should be barred. Specifically, documents from the early to mid-twentieth century show that European nationality affected lawmakers' views of citizenship. Religious affiliation did as well, but this tended, as the documents also show, to be a more obvious factor when immigrants arrived and began their adjustment to the U.S.

When should a nation limit immigration?

Nations often feel compelled to limit those entering their borders due to concrete factors such as limited resources or national security. At other times, however, nations limit immigration for less concrete reasons, such as a perceived threat to national character by individuals who, for example, possess ethnic or religious attributes that the citizenry finds objectionable. In a democratic nation like the U.S., understanding why laws are passed to limit immigration can be difficult, as democratic ideals emphasize individual freedoms and egalitarianism, while in reality, Americans have historically limited migration due to a range of ethnic, religious, and national prejudices. The documents here offer insights into the ways the U.S. has historically limited newcomers, as well as the ways such limits, perceived as acceptable in one era, became unacceptable in another.

Is there a Catholic position on immigration?

Catholic social teaching provides the foundation for the Church's position on immigration. The Church recognizes that there must be a careful balance between the rights of migrants who move due to economic necessity, and the rights of sovereign states to protect and govern their borders. Reflecting on both Scripture and Church Tradition, the bishops have developed a set of moral principles that should inform the decision-making process of policy makers as they formulate immigration legislation. The following five basic principles, laid out in the 2003 pastoral document Strangers No Longer, provide guidance for all Catholics as they think about the issues surrounding illegal immigration, migrants, refugees, and other people on the move.

1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homelands. All people have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in freedom and dignity and to achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts.

2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More economically powerful nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection. Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

5. The human dignity and human rights of all migrants should be respected. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often migrants are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented and of refugees are necessary.

(See the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website on this issue at http://www.usccb.org/mrs/cst.shtml).

The documents and resources on this site offer a window into how U.S. laws and practices may have matched or contradicted Catholic teachings on migration, as well as the ways the U.S. church via the U.S. Bishops sought to assert a Catholic position on migration over the past century.

How does a democratic nation balance its desire for human resources such as labor with a professed respect for the individual?

Most immigrants that came to the U.S. across the twentieth century came in search of work. The industrializing U.S., with its expanding economy and factories, welcomed migrant labor early in the century to run its factories, and later to work on its farms and in its service sector. The documents here reflect that important fact, as well as the Catholic position on the role of labor in migration. Toward the later twentieth century illegal immigration has become an issue as migrants enter the country, lured largely by employers offering much needed work. The church has addressed this issue repeatedly, as the documents here show.

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