What does the Catholic Church Teach About Immigration?

It is being reported that 7,000 immigrants are walking to the United States’ southern border just in time for a contentious midterm election. Some carry flags from their home countries. Some sing national anthems from their home countries. Their chants include “Si se pudo!” (“Yes, we could [can]!”)

What does the Catholic Church teach about immigration?

“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33-34).

God has a special love for immigrants because his people fled slavery in Egypt and wandered the desert homeless for 40 years. Likewise, Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus to avoid the mass murder of children carried out by King Herod.

God obligates us to treat immigrants equally and to love them. This is supported by what Jesus and St. Paul taught (Matt 25:35; Gal 3:28).

The USCCB teaches:

  1. “People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families: The native does not have superior rights over the immigrant. Before God all are equal; the earth was given by God to all. When a person cannot achieve a meaningful life in his or her own land, that person has the right to move.
  2. A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration: The overriding principle of all Catholic social teaching is that individuals must make economic, political, and social decisions not out of shortsighted self-interest, but with regard for the common good. That means that a moral person cannot consider only what is good for his or her own self and family, but must act with the good of all people as his or her guiding principle. While individuals have the right to move in search of a safe and humane life, no country is bound to accept all those who wish to resettle there.
  3. “Catholic social teaching is realistic: While people have the right to move, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized. … Catholics should not view the work of the federal government and its immigration control as negative or evil.
  4. “A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy: A country’s regulation of borders and control of immigration must be governed by concern for all people and by mercy and justice. A nation may not simply decide that it wants to provide for its own people and no others. A sincere commitment to the needs of all must prevail.”

Equal but different

Here are some points to remember:

  1. Neither the Father, nor Jesus, nor St. Paul ever advocated for chaos and lawlessness. Jesus told the Apostles to give to caesar what belongs to caesar (Mark 12:17). St. Paul said that those who resist authority bring judgment upon themselves (Rom 13:1-2). We are expected to follow laws and obey the government, except in the most extreme circumstances.
  2. Jesus told us we will know a tree by its fruits (Luke 6:43-45). I’d like to see people coming to the United States humbly with the intention to assimilate, carrying American flags, singing the Star Spangled Banner, and chanting things like “With liberty and justice for all!” rather than political slogans like “Yes, we could [can]!”
  3. While everyone is equal in God’s eyes, we are not all the same and prudence, justice (what is right in God’s eyes) and the common good require people to be treated differently in certain circumstances.
    • We do not allow twelve-year-olds to drive cars. Nor do we allow them to drink alcohol.
    • The Church has determined that only men may be ordained, and that women have a different but equal role in the life of the Catholic Church.
    • Architects cannot draw plans for skyscrapers without a license, and my barber can’t cut my hair without a license.

These are not instances of inequality, these are distinctions between people based on tradition and what is considered “good” for the community. In these cases, no one’s basic human dignity is sacrificed, even though people are treated differently. If a law was to restrict legal immigrants from working the same jobs as natives or from owning real estate or from opening a business just because they are immigrants, then those would be good examples of inequality. Laws like that exist in Latin American countries, but they don’t exist in the United States.

Undoubtedly, many of the people in the caravan seeking to cross into the United States are suffering and simply want a better life. However, many others seem to be displaying open hostility toward the laws of the land where they are seeking refuge while singing songs that honor the places they are fleeing from and chanting political slogans that are likely to agitate about half of the population where they intend to reside. I don’t believe that is the best way to seek refuge, by agitating half of the people who live in the place where you are seeking to live.

Does the end justify the means?

What we are seeing unfold is a political maneuver with serious human implications. Like the SCOTUS confirmation hearings, it seems that every issue these days is being manipulated into an all or nothing, life or death crisis, with no regard for the human dignity of the people affected. The reputations and even the very lives of those pulled into each crisis as political pawns are completely expendable to those who organize these crises.

Someone is funding and organizing this crisis. I think anyone paying attention has a pretty good idea about who it is. Those people have again managed to:

  1. Sow hatred between two groups (this time it is between Latin American immigrants and Americans, in the past the hate has been sown between gay/straight, black/white, men/women).
  2. Sow hatred between political parties (right, left, etc.).
  3. Cause chaos and lawlessness.
  4. Take advantage of people for political gain, using them as political pawns, by creating a crisis.
  5. Place those people in a position where suffering, serious injury and even loss of life are likely to occur, especially if a standoff takes place.

The end NEVER justifies the means

Perhaps updating our immigration policies is necessary, but caravans are not the way to do it. “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means (CCC 1753).” It is being reported that former Honduran politician Bartolo Fuentes, an open borders advocate, initially organized the caravan and that Honduran news reporters said he would fund anyone who joined the caravan. Fuentes denied he ever said he would fund the caravan members. Therefore it appears that many of the caravan members were enticed to leave their homes based on a lie.

To recap, Catholic teaching on immigration says:

  1. Immigrants and natives are equal in God’s eyes.
  2. Immigrants have a right to move to seek a better life.
  3. Immigration decisions must be made based on the common good of all people (inside and outside the nation’s borders).
  4. No country is bound to accept all those who wish to resettle there.
  5. No country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized.
  6. Enforcers of immigration laws (border patrol agents, the president, etc.), should not be demonized for enforcing the immigration laws.
  7. Immigration laws must be written and applied with a focus on mercy and justice.

As I recall, since 2000 BOTH political parties have had total control over both the executive and legislative branches of government for some period of time during which they could have worked on immigration reform with the other party or solely with the members of their own party. But they didn’t. Bush didn’t. Obama didn’t. And Trump didn’t. Let’s not allow ourselves to become pawns in these political games by succumbing to hatred.

I pray that the defenseless and those truly suffering, especially the children and the elderly, obtain relief quickly and gain entrance into the United States where they can make a good life and live in safety. Mercy and justice can be achieved, even if only partially, notwithstanding the negligence of our political leaders and the bad intentions of the organizers of this crisis. God is in control and he can and will make all things good.

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Notes and Bibliography:

Betz, Thomas. “Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples,” United States Council of Catholic Bishops. Accessed October 22, 2018. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/catholic-teaching-on-immigration-and-the-movement-of-peoples.cfm

St. John Paul II. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Accessed October 22, 2018. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1994/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19940522_ordinatio-sacerdotalis.html


  1. Hello Andrew. Sorry I have taken so long to read this article. Know that I save you articles until I have a quiet time to read and reflect on what you write. I look forward to them very much. This one as usual was very well thought out. Thank you for it.
    Happy Thanksgiving.
    Joe D


    1. Thanks Joe!


    2. Happy Thanksgiving!


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