As the United States celebrates Columbus Day, we remember that our nation’s greatness is due to its unparalleled cultural diversity: the confluence of many backgrounds, traditions, and languages that have enriched our common life. Notwithstanding the undeniable tensions that have recently arisen—which threaten the fabric of society—we still aspire to the ideal according to which all people are equal in the sight of God. As such, they enjoy the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This view of human solidarity inspires a more perfect union among people: e pluribus unum.
It therefore bears mentioning that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published a statement on the subject of immigration entitled Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity. According to its summary, “Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples,” the bishops seek to familiarize the faithful with an important aspect of Catholic morality. Immigration has deep roots in Biblical religion. God tells the people of Israel through Moses that they must show mercy to the “aliens” living among them, for “you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:33-34). Moreover, the birth of Jesus involved fleeing to a foreign nation from a hostile power. And in his parable of the sheep and the goats, Christ blesses those who welcome the stranger (Mt. 25: 35). In practical terms, Catholics recognize three guiding principles on the issue of immigration:
First: the right of human beings to migrate. Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, seeks to protect the nuclear family against any incursion that undermines this most basic building block of human society. The pope specifically targets the dehumanizing policies of Marxism, which reduce individuals to faceless cogs. After World War II, Pope Pius XII published Exsul Familia, defending the right of refugees to seek asylum, recognizing again that all people, created in the image of God, have a legitimate claim to the necessities of life.
Second: the nation’s right to control immigration and regulate its borders. The bishops recognize that in most cases, immigration is the result of unjust forces at work, and so nations must prevent these conditions from arising in the first place. However wrong it may be for wealthy nations to deny basic necessities to the indigent, it is also wrong to threaten the welfare of their own citizens by admitting greater numbers than they can accommodate.
Third: the opportunity to achieve legal status. The bishops argue that once people have lived in a country for a significant period of time, the nation should recognize their legal status. But even before then, no one should be denied basic necessities.
Of course, there is a difference between rigid adherence to a policy, whether liberal or conservative, and the virtue of prudence, whereby people of goodwill—even when they disagree—work toward an earthly society that is just and merciful. For in God, the two are the same. Catholics keep that ideal ever before them.