The archbishop of Denver and the bishop of Colorado Springs have issued a pastoral letter entitled, “Immigration and Our Nation’s Future.” Stating their letter is not an endorsement of any specific legislation, the bishops nevertheless assert that America needs to reform its immigration laws.
Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs write that while the specifics of immigration laws are the domain of lawmakers, they believe it is their job “to teach about the moral values that should shape those laws…”
“Our challenge as Christians,” they write, “is to remember Jesus’ teaching that at the Final Judgment he will separate those who served him from those who did not.”
Acknowledging “the gravity of the question of the impact of immigration, both legal and illegal, on the welfare of our nation, or any nation, is of unprecedented importance,” Aquila and Sheridan offer seven principles to help form Catholic consciences on the matter of immigration:
1. The principle of the common good
The bishops remind Catholics that church social teaching stresses, “every able member of the community, especially those in positions of public authority, has a grave responsibility to work to preserve and promote the common good.”
2. The universal destination of the world’s resources and the right to private property
Aquila and Sheridan state Catholic teaching provides that “when God created the universe he intended the earth with all its resources for the use of everyone.”
“No one ‘owns’ the earth in an absolute sense,” the bishops write. “Everyone is a steward.”
They add, “The fact that God gave creation to everyone means that when people cannot meet their basic subsistent needs or those of their families, the right to private property yields to the universal destination of goods.”
3. The dignity and rights of all migrants, including undocumented people, should be respected and protected
“Because of every person’s God-given dignity, the Christian response to immigrants should be one of hospitality that rejects all sentiments and manifestations of xenophobia and racism,” the bishops state.
4. The creation of nations and the right to control borders are legitimate
The bishops say that the creation of nations and the establishment of states with sovereign boundaries do not contradict the principle of the universal destination of the world’s resources. An “internally just political order” must be respected, and the Church acknowledges “each government has the duty to protect and control its borders for the sake of the common good.”
However, the bishops write that the difference between an “immigrant” and a “refugee” is sometimes difficult to discern, leaving governments with “the difficult and important task of developing border control policies that both respect the dignity of the immigrants and their families, and safeguard the spiritual, material and cultural wellbeing of the nation.”
5. The right to emigrate and respect for local laws
The bishops observe that Pope John XXIII taught that those who leave their own country for another are obliged to “recognize the duty to honor the countries…and to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the people who have welcomed them:”
However, people who are not in grave need and enter the U.S. or any other country in defiance of its laws harm the rights and interests of those who wish to enter it lawfully, including the many thousands of close relatives of those who are legally living there.
6. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection
Aquila and Sheridan highlight the plight of those who are fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries, and state that international governments have a more serious obligation to these individuals:
Refugees’ urgent need for political asylum requires that public authorities must make realistic distinctions between the interests of those seeking greater economic opportunities and the rights of evacuees to be free from starvation or real persecution.
7. Authentic integration of immigrants and the enforcement of laws
“Experience shows that when a society is too ethnically and culturally diverse it can give rise to political instability,” the bishops write. “Therefore, when politicians make decisions about immigration policies, the question of integration cannot be overlooked.”
Aquila and Sheridan discuss the importance of evaluating a community’s need for ethnic and cultural coherence.
“It is within the context of pursuing the common good of the local community and broader humanity that reasonable limitations on immigration can be legitimate and even required,” they state.
The bishops assert, however, that “passing just laws is not enough. The laws also need enforcement.”
With regard to enforcement, Aquila and Sheridan place the bulk of the blame for violation on those “who knowingly employ people who are in the country illegally because they are the ones who provide the chief incentive for illegality.”
“Businessmen who employ undocumented immigrants also frequently exploit their vulnerability by paying them less than any citizen would accept to do the same job,” they write. “And they make it hard for employers who are unwilling to hire illegally – or willing to hire but pay fairly – to compete in certain industries where their competitors hire and pay poorly.”
The bishops conclude that they believe these seven principles should guide the country’s debate on immigration reform.