The subject of immigration is heating up. With the presence of more than ten million people illegally in the United States--or three percent of the total population--many citizens are concerned enough that we seem to be building toward a breaking point on this subject.
As a result of all the news stories on this topic, I've had requests to explain the Church's teaching in this area.
Sometimes folks receive the impression that Church teaching requires essentially an open-border policy where people can come into a country with no restraints, but this is not true. If you read the actual Church documents on the subject, they contain important qualifiers that are often dropped out of the discussion when presented by some individuals.
Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:
2241 The 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. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political 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. 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.
I've highlighted three important qualifiers that are often dropped out in this discussion.
The first recognizes that there is a limit to the number of immigrants that a nation can absorb. Common sense tells you this: No nation can absorb an unlimited number of immigrants...
The second qualifier that I have highlighted recognizes the state's right to set legal requirements that must be met for immigration...
The third qualifier that I have highlighted reflects the duty of immigrants to respect the laws of the nation to which they are immigrating...
... Of course, what the Catechism has to say cannot in such a brief space represent all that moral theology would have to say about this topic.
For example, this passage of the Catechism does not mention another humanitarian endeavor that is incumbent on prosperous nations, which is teaching underdeveloped nations how to grow economically so that all of their citizens may benefit and not just the lucky few who can immigrate.
Since the latter humanitarian endeavor cures the problem at the source, it is the one that would be preferred by moral theology. Orderly, regulated immigration is a stopgap for cases in which this doesn't work, but the goal must be primarily to help other nations shake off the problems (such as corruption and legal barriers to starting and maintaining businesses) that keep their populations in poverty..."
Full details here.