“Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country; and, where there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there” (Pacem in Terris, 25).
Persons emigrate from one country to another for a variety of reasons. It may be for reasons of stark persecution, the desire to escape poverty, or to seek greater opportunity. The Church views emigration as a right that should be recognized by every nation. That right is rooted in the belief that each person should have access to the basic goods that constitute the universal common good.
The willingness of one country to accept persons across the borders and offer them a home is emblematic of the unity of the human family and an act of human solidarity. Some political leaders have spared no effort to restrict—and, in some cases, end—legal immigration to the United States. They argue that new immigrants do not assimilate to the American way of life and pose a threat to the jobs of U.S. citizens.
Some immigrants may just need time to adjust to America mores and culture. In fact, a period of living in ethnic communities may be what immigrants need to be prepared for mainstream society. Given the core of Catholic social teaching, any political candidate who impedes this process or betrays a hostile attitude toward immigrants should be found wanting.
The prosperity of the United States, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, places a special obligation on its citizens and elected representatives: “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” (CCC 2241).
The Church also recognizes that a country has the right to control its borders while monitoring and setting reasonable limits on immigration. The United States may also protect its cultural patrimony, which some immigrants to America may initially not share. But Catholics should avoid the kind of nationalist and “nativist” rhetoric that was once used to discourage Catholics from arriving on the shores of our nation. Finally, the threat of possible terrorist infiltration is legitimate but should not overshadow the basic Catholic obligation of “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.”
- The Church affirms the basic human right of human persons to emigrate from one nation to another for “just reasons,” such as economic well being.
- At the same time, every state has the duty to protect its borders, regulate the flow of immigrants, and document their presence.
- The prudential challenge for our nation is simultaneously recognizing the right to emigrate for “just reasons” while protecting the common good by the reasonable control of our borders.
- Catholics should remember when the economic conditions of European countries, like Ireland and Italy, sent thousands of emigrants to the United States to seek a better life.