Why Is American Catholic Leadership Ignoring the Catechism on Immigration?

Cardinal Sean O'Malley leads mass, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, along the international border wall in Nogales, Ariz. O'Malley visited the border town to bring awareness to immigration reform and to remember those who have died trying to cross the border in years past. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A few Sundays ago I was encouraged to take a flyer after mass detailing the Catholic position on DACA and immigration. I’ll spare you the details, but it is basically amnesty. But is that really the Catholic position on immigration? Is it true that in order to be a good Catholic one must delete the borders of a nation and welcome in any person at any time for any reason without reserve? Nonsense.

I know I’m not the only one in the laity who rolls her eyes at the messaging coming from the American bishops on this issue. Sarah Hoyt eloquently wrote about the foolishness of the DACA push by Catholic leadership:

Much was said about charity and welcoming the poor and oppressed, but dear Lord, borders exist for a reason and charity is not a principle of geopolitics. The American people are generous to a fault. Many of us support children in other countries. Many send money to disaster relief around the world. But unless you believe there is some magic to the very soil that makes the U.S. prosperous, we cannot and should not allow in everyone in the world who has a need, because if we do, we will end up with our country becoming like the place they came from. (How many states see that with Californians, without even dealing with foreigners?)

Also, the church is a geopolitical identity. I am sure at some level they see a flood of Catholic immigrants, making them a power in the land. I hate to say this, but this has been obvious from the first.

The state is not the church and it cannot act like it and survive. Even Jesus acknowledged that Caesar is to be given deference in matters of state. The government has certain responsibilities which may not jive with Christian charity, and frankly, should not. This republic was not formed to do good but to resist tyranny and protect its inhabitants. That’s it. This country was supposed to be a place where people could freely practice their religion and live their lives unmolested by overreaching governments, safe from foreign invaders. Our government’s main and most important job is to see to the security of this nation. There is no other way to do that except to have secure borders. The security of the border trumps the humanitarian desires of the church.

This is not to say that humanitarian efforts should be squelched or impeded. One of the things that makes the American people great is their deep commitment to good works of charity. These are done often through the many churches in this nation and should and must continue! In fact, the second most important freedom we have is the freedom of religion. This allows religious organizations to act when they see injustice without the permission of the government. It enables people to give freely and often of their own accord to whatever cause they choose. The American bishops have every right to minister to anyone they choose and should encourage the laity to do the same. But they should not be actively lobbying the government to destroy our borders and flout our immigration laws.

Doing so expressly goes against the catechism:

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. (#2241)

There are several things to understand here that are not being reflected in the bishops’ arguments. “To the extent they are able” is a broad concept. The argument could easily be made that America is not able to take in the number of immigrants who are seeking a new home based on simple math. The biggest sanctuary states are on the brink of bankruptcy as it is. The Hill reports:

The total cost of illegal immigration to federal, state and local taxpayers for the nation’s 12.5 million illegal aliens has increased to $116 billion annually, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)… FAIR found that while illegal immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes every year, they ultimately cost taxpayers more than seven times what they contribute.

If our nation is bankrupted, there will be no way to care for anyone. The other point in the catechism that is rarely mentioned is 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.” This is not consistent with border hopping, waving Mexican flags in defiance, and availing themselves of benefits they aren’t entitled to (use of public schools, and in many cases a free college education).

This is not to say that gifting people with a free education is a bad thing. In fact, the church has been doing that for centuries and it’s one of their greatest achievements solidly within the purview of the church. What gets tricky is when the church demands the government behave like them. It’s unrealistic. The church has a vital role in society but it is distinctly different than that of the government. Support your parish outreach programs, volunteer and send your money to those charities they fund. But do not leave mass feeling guilty because you want a secure border and the rule of law. Those things are solidly supported by true Catholic teaching.