This article is originally published in Faith: West Tennessee, the diocesan magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.
Immigration is one of the most common and most sensitive topics in American news cycles recently. News outlets feature a wide range of passionate opinions about immigration law and reform, about building a wall, and about welcoming migrants from foreign countries. Still, faithful Catholics ask how they should think about these realities. They want to understand rightly, but popular news outlets don’t provide a Catholic perspective.
To get the full picture of “the Church’s teaching about immigration,” we have to draw from many different areas of teaching, but especially the Church’s moral teaching. For the sake of brevity, I want to relate this topic to the Catechism section on the common good (paragraphs 1906-1910) in order to gain the best perspective on how we should think and act on these matters.
The common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (CCC 1906). Patterns of immigration, as well as policies of local and national governments, certainly fit within that definition. Those who are migrating legitimately are looking to reach their fullest potential. Those who advocate stricter immigration policy are looking for the stability and fulfillment of their lives and communities. Those who advocate for amnesty seek the common good of struggling populations.
In order to bring about the common good, three things are essential. First is “respect [for the] fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person” (CCC 1907). A person’s right to seek safety and better life conditions for themselves or their families is part and parcel of establishing the common good. Second is the development of social structures and interests that “make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life…” (CCC 1908). Social groups such as families and church communities (not necessarily governments) are called to reach out to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, etc., to individuals and groups that cannot attain them otherwise. Finally, the common good requires “stability and security” (CCC 1909). There is a very convincing argument to be made that a border wall would be a morally acceptable means to establish such stability and security.
While building a wall may be morally permissible, it is only so if people of good will seek to reach out beyond that wall in solidarity (see CCC 1942). Individuals and groups must meet migrants on either side of the wall (whether they come legally or illegally), ready to provide the things that make it possible for migrants to “lead a truly human life,” to find their own “stability and security.”
There is one reality that we must recognize above all. God’s revelation and the teaching of the Church will not fall neatly into modern American political categories of left and right, liberal and conservative. Truly understanding the Church’s approach to immigration and assimilating the teachings into to our lives will challenge everyone’s pre-existing biases (including mine!). We may walk away dissatisfied initially, but that dissatisfaction will allow us to see the face of Jesus more clearly and love our migrant neighbors more fully.