Q – What is the Catholic Church’s stance on hiring of illegal immigrants?
A- Wow, you just opened up a big can o’ worms, didn’t you? Thanks for the question. Please bear with me as I set the background before I get to directly answering your question. Just to let you know, I talked to several people (all with at least a Master of Theology and one with a Ph.D. who is a moral theologian and head of a Theology dept. at a Catholic University) to make sure that this answer was kosher with them as well, because there is so much in play with my answer. They agree with my sentiments. With that, we will proceed.
There are several principles about immigration that the Catholic Church teaches, sometimes having a tension that we must balance when examining the issue.
As a nation we are obligated to welcome those who wish to enter the USA, in search of a better life (that is, within limits that are imposed by the state). Yet, those immigrating also have the duty of following the law. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
CCC 2241 “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.”
Notice, that this isn’t an “open border” policy that the Church is advocating. Also, there are duties that those who immigrate have as well – notably to obey the laws of the country they are entering (including how they enter, paying taxes, etc.).
Principle #1 – The state has the right to set the boundaries around what they consider to be the ordinary ways of entering the country and how they secure their borders. Thus, the policies of the USA are not inherently unjust because they define these parameters. But, this can’t be a closed-door policy either. In fact, the manner in which all immigrants (both legal and illegal) are processed in the USA is shameful and the system is clearly unjust in many of the policies. Still, the USA doesn’t have to accept everyone who wants to come either. Even further still, the right of the state to define the boundaries is not absolute, but should be measured against the needs of those seeking to enter.
Principle #2 – The homeland of every person should seek justice for it’s people. Notice that corruption continues the cycle of poverty in most poor countries. If we truly want to seek justice for the immigrant, then we need to seek it in the homelands of our immigrants. The USA is still just in the vast majority of it’s laws and public policies. Because of the influence and power of the USA, this is especially important that we lead in this area internationally.
Principle #3 – If need be, then persons have the right to migrate for the good of their families of for their own sake. Those who are seeking to better their lives (think of a poor laborer unable to find a job in Mexico) has the right to employment, but can’t fulfill this in his native land. The first principle is Mexico should be working to change the status of Mexico (see #2). But, the Church doesn’t make the right to find a job an absolute right which negates the other principles. Those who have the prime force of rights here are those who cannot survive otherwise. Thus, principle #4…
Principle #4 – Refugees and those seeking asylum should be protected. We should be the country where people can feel safe from totalitarianism and we should be a haven for refugees who cannot live in their homelands. Their rights are paramount here.
Principle #5 – Illegal immigrants are still human beings with inherent dignity and rights and should be treated as such. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the USA can’t enforce it’s laws, but rather, it’s laws should treat people justly. For instance, deporting parents and separating them from their children is unjust. They also have the right to be treated fairly by the justice system during legal proceedings and/or deportation.
Marcel’s Principle – Immigration is not an easy issue to solve, nor are any of the “easy solution” advocates balancing all of the above principles. This principle is my own. The best summation of a good solution to all of these issues, that I have seen, is from Mary Ann Glendon – the US Ambassador to the Vatican who wrote an article entitled, Principled Immigration, which I highly recommend.
What we should not do is pass off the issue as an easy one of either completely opening / closing the borders or of enforcement/non-enforcement of current laws. Rather, true immigration reform will have to take up the competing rights and interests of the many facets of the issue. The problem is that politics usually sides with extremes and those who want to really think deeply about the myriad of competing rights are thrown under the bus.
I know this was by no means an easy answer, but I don’t think there is one when we have so many competing principles and issues.
On a personal note, immigration policy is one of the more difficult issues for me as a political issue. I haven’t seen any proposed (or current) policies that reflect the conflicting interests, but rather they seem to me to all serve a political purpose, not the common good.