Who Should Be Here?

This essay is part of today’s symposium of lay Catholic opinion on immigration. For other contributions see this one by Christopher Manion, this one by John Zmirak, and this news report from Zenit. For Deal Hudson’s view, see this article in The American Spectator.


A national tragedy is taking place. While we argue about whether people should be here or not, families are being torn apart without any recourse. Children are being separated from their parents and may never see them again.

A new study from the Applied Research Center, entitled “Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System,” affirms that there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. The parents often do not know where their children are or who they are with, and have lost all contact with the child welfare system. Many of the cases documented in the study were related to calls seeking help from police by victims of domestic violence who were themselves placed in detention and deported.

While many children do leave with their parents, increasing numbers are separated for long periods of time. Some are placed with relatives in the United States, but child welfare agencies refuse to place the children with undocumented relatives, sending them instead to foster care with strangers who may be competent and just and may not be so. Even with the best of foster homes, separation from parents harms children psychologically; years of therapy may not overcome the long-term effects.

The number of deportations has increased markedly in recent years, destroying families in the process. Researchers predict that some 15,000 more children may end up in foster care in the next five years. The problem has been made much worse because of the involvement of local law enforcement in immigrant detention in the programs 287g and the so-called “Secure Communities” program in which immigrants are picked up by local police or sheriffs and placed in detention without regard for their families. Officials of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) state that parents get to choose what happens to their children if they are deported, but the research shows that this is not happening.

Adults and/or children who are deported have little or nothing when they return. In some countries houses of hospitality, the majority under Catholic auspices, assist deportees who have only the clothing on their backs for a few days until they can contact their families if they have any, ameliorating a little of the suffering.


Deportation is a Sin

These realities help us to understand why the Second Vatican Council and three papal encyclicals have included deportation among the most serious sins. Dominum et vivificantem, Evangelium Vitae, and Veritatis Splendor all include the following paragraph from Gaudium et Spes:

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their kind are infamies indeed.


International Trade Agreements Force Migration

When immigration reform is discussed objectors quickly ask, why don’t other countries like Mexico take care of their own people? It is their responsibility, they say, not ours. These discussions usually focus on Mexico. While many argue that racism, xenofobia, and fear of darker skin are not factors in their opposition to immigration, it is noticeable that there are few complaints about the large numbers of fair-skinned Irish undocumented immigrants currently residing in the Northeast of the U.S.

Some who pose this question may be unaware of the effects of international financial policies on the countries from which the migrants come. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have for decades required developing nations to increase exports, thus diverting resources away from small-scale, domestic food production into giant commercial farms, most of which are owned by U.S.-based multinational corporations. “Structural adjustment” rules for loans have required drastic cuts in social services, fees for education, and privatization of public utilities. This has led to corporations even controlling the water supply, bottling the water, and selling it back in plastic bottles to poor people. An example of the encroachment of energy companies on the water of developing nations was the purchase of a major part of the water supply of Argentina by Enron, known for corrupt policies.

Since “free trade agreements” and world financial systems have flung markets wide open, but not borders, people who are desperate sometimes see no option but to migrate without documents if they are unable to obtain one of the few visas available. Employers in countries in need of laborers are glad to receive them.

Not only does the Church affirm the right of peoples to migrate, however, she insists on their first right not to have to migrate. In his Message for the 90th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope John Paul II stated:

The right not to emigrate, is the right to live in peace and dignity in one’s own country. By means of a farsighted local and national administration, more equitable trade and supportive international cooperation, it is possible for every country to guarantee its own population, in addition to freedom of expression and movement, the possibility to satisfy basic needs such as food, health care, work, housing and education; the frustration of these needs forces many into a position where their only option is to emigrate.

Those who worry that a path to legalization will be a magnet for people to leave their homelands do not realize that free trade agreements like NAFTA are the real culprits in forcing immigration.

Dawn McCarty, who has done research among the families left behind in Mexico when men come to the United States to work, wrote in the Houston Catholic Worker (May-June 2008) about the causes of this migration from the perspective of the families affected by it. Her article is entitled “NAFTA Key to Immigration Problems in the United States”:

Although there has been a long history of migration from Mexico to the U.S., the current situation represents a fundamental change in both the pattern and the scale of this movement between the two countries. The causes of the changes in immigration patterns are varied and complicated, but the key factor is the policies associated with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Nowhere is this clearer than in the rural, agricultural areas of Mexico, where working-age men and, increasingly, single women are scarce, unable now to make the living that their ancestors had made for centuries on land they used to own. Protected by the 1917 Constitution of Mexico, ejido lands belonged to the people in common and could not be sold. Against years of precedent, then-President Salinas managed to change the Mexican Constitution in 1992 so that ejido lands could be made the ‘private’ property of individual members of the collective, who then could sell their plot of land. This privatization of ejido land was a critical component of NAFTA, since these communal lands comprised 29,000 communities and three million producers, encompassing 75% of all agricultural production at the time.

As ejidos were broken up and title given to the individual campesinos, these poorly educated farm laborers tried to make a living on their small plots of land. But now that they owned the land individually, they found that the rules of the game had been changed. The government subsidies that had allowed ejidos to survive were now disallowed by NAFTA. The tariffs that protected them from the much more ‘efficient’ agribusiness of the U.S. were gone. But somehow U.S. agribusiness still got their government subsidies, and that fact, together with the economies of scale available to giant corporations, meant that it was cheaper for a campesino to buy American corn shipped across the border than to grow it himself on his own plot of land. The individual farmer in Mexico, left by himself to the mercies of the “free market,” could not compete with the Colossus of the North. Unable to make a living on the land, the campesinos had to sell their patrimony, and, with no bargaining power, they sold it for a pittance. The predictable result was that much of the land that supported the rural Mexican economy now belongs to the same major corporations and their affiliates that own the land in the U.S. Some of the former campesinos still get to work on the land, but it is no longer their land, and they get paid what the corporations are willing to pay. And the work is sporadic.

Rural agriculture was not the only sector of the Mexican economy hurt by NAFTA, but it was the hardest hit. In the overall industry, as early as 2002, NAFTA had already forced two million farmers off their lands.


Catholic Church Teaching on Immigration

In January 2003, the U.S. Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter on migration entitled, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” The Bishops stressed that, “when persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.” The Bishops insisted that the “more powerful economic nations…have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.” When speaking of immigration reform, the Bishops emphasize the importance of family unity and family reunification through legislation.

Statements from the Vatican and from the Bishops emphasize that foreign workers are persons with human dignity who are not to be considered merchandise, not to be treated just like any other factor of production.

A document from the Pontifical Council for Migrants, Erga Migrantes caritas Christi, provides a profound perspective for Catholics when approaching questions about immigration. It asks us to begin with Christ:

“The love of Christ towards migrants urges us to look afresh at their problems, which are to be met with today all over the world. Nearly all countries are now faced with the eruption of the migration phenomenon in one aspect or another; it affects their social, economic, political and religious life and is becoming more and more a permanent structural phenomenon.”

The document points out that migration as a world-wide phenomenon is an indication of “social, economic, and demographic imbalance” which drives people to emigrate. It speaks of the suffering of migrants, including women and family units: “Often migrants are deprived of their most elementary human rights, including that of forming labor unions, when they do not become outright victims of the sad phenomenon of human trafficking, which no longer spares even children. This is a new chapter in the history of slavery.”

Erga migrantes tells us that “Migration raises a truly ethical question: the search for a new international economic order for a more equitable distribution of the goods of the earth.” The document refers to one of the fundamental teachings of the Church from the earliest times—the universal destination of goods and the importance of the common good.


Migration and the Scriptures

Migration is a theme throughout the Bible.

Abraham, in obedience to God’s call left his home and went to a foreign land, taking with him the divine Promise that he would become the father ‘of a great nation’ (Gn 12:1-2). He did not have legal immigration papers.

The Scriptures teach us how to respond to migrants and foreigners: “Thou shalt not molest a stranger, for you know the hearts of strangers: for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

Jesus was born in a manger and fled into Egypt, where he was a foreigner. Born away from home and coming from another land, he came to live among us and spent his public life on the move..

On Judgment Day, the Bible tells us, the Lord will judge us on how we have treated him in the least of the brethren. “I was a stranger and you made me welcome” (Mt 25:35).

Our challenge is put forth in Erga migrantes: “If, on the one hand, the suffering that goes with migration is neither more nor less than the birth-pangs of a new humanity, on the other the inequalities and disparities behind this suffering reveal the deep wounds that sin causes in the human family. They are thus an urgent appeal for true fraternity.”


  • Sarto

    Wonderful. Take it to John Z and feed it to him in small portions.

  • Fred

    1. Deportation is a sin? The documents you quoted do not say that at all.

    2. Catholic Church Teaching on Immigration – you very conveniently left out the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, that immigrants are OBLIGED to obey immigration laws. Why ignore this key teaching?

    Please do not equate migration with illegal immigration. If anything, per Church teaching, migration equates to LEGAL immigration. Although there are muslim countries in the mid-east that bar any kind of migration, this is not the case in the US.

    Thank you for your opinion, but it is not consistent with Church teachings.


    Families are being torn apart because some Bishops refuse to promote the reading of and teachings of the Magisterium in the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” which requires that immigrants must obey they law and that governments have the right to make these laws for the good of its citizens for which they are responsible. (CCC 2241). Immigration laws are not exempt.

    I am tired of this anti-American discrimination shown by several Bishops. They are heads of Dioceses in the USA and they should write to everyone in their Diocese in English with only a copy possibly in other languages if they deem necessary. Their discrimination destroys Unity in the Body of Christ, breeds mistrust, and causes division amongst Americans.
    St. James was very clear that there should be no partiality shown (Jas 2:1).

    These same Bishops never tell immigrants that they must obey immigration laws, so that their families will not be split up, or state that the American and Mexican governments should protect their borders to slow illegal immigration with families being split up, sexual slavery, drugs, and all the other bad things that are encouraged due to the breaking of the laws.

    The authors of this article are misinterpreting Church teachings. On Migrants Day, Oct 26, 2010 Pope Benedict stated in CNA article titled ” Pope stresses unity of global human family as theme of upcoming migrant’s day” he stated the following in a stand alone paragraph – – – – – “However, the Pope added, QUOTE “States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host country, respecting its laws and its national identity.” UNQUOTE

    When are all Bishops going to teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth ???


    In addition to what the last two posters wrote, the authors of the article need to acknowledge that the USA is no longer a prosperous nation.

    Under the Obama Administration, we no longer even have enough jobs for American citizens, and the Country’s current debt load is over $15 TRILLION dollars, over $15,122,476,377,204 to be closer to accurate.
    This debt is over $134,000 per American including babies.

    There is a JUSTICE – without which no other form of JUSTICE is possible. It’s called COMMUTATIVE justice, which means – paying our debts. (CCC 2411)

    When are the Bishops going to teach this teaching from the Magisterium?
    I will quote from the CCC in entirety unlike the authors of the article not to mislead anyone. –

    CCC – ” 2411 Contracts are subject to commutative justice which regulates exchanges between persons and between institutions in accordance with a strict respect for their rights.
    Commutative justice obliges strictly;
    it requires safeguarding property rights, PAYING DEBTS, and fulfilling obligations freely contracted.
    One distinguishes commutative justice from legal justice which concerns what the citizen owes in fairness to the community, and from distributive justice which regulates what the community owes its citizens in proportion to their contributions and needs.”

    Excessive spending by individuals, and/or by governments BEYOND THEIR INCOME violates the Church teaching of “commutative justice”.
    Therefore paying our debts must be high on the priority list.

    I agree, let the Bishops teach the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the TRUTH.

    Why they rewrite other lessor catechisms which are not complete, in the literate USA, is beyond me. They have no good excuse.

  • Beth

    Authors should use the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition”;
    CODE of CANON Law (on the Vatican web site);
    GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal on the USCCB web site for the Mass);
    and of course a Catholic Bible.
    These are all from the Magisterium of the Church, and Catholics are all required to adhere to them.
    This way there would be no misinterpretation accidental or otherwise by human beings in articles.

    The following quotes are in the beginning of your CCCs from Pope John Paul II.

    “ The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved … and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.“

    ” …. the Catechism has raised throughout the world, even among non-Christians, and confirms its purpose of being presented as a full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life.”

    ” Through the harmonious and complementary efforts of all the ranks of the People of God, may this Catechism be known and shared by everyone, so that the unity in faith whose supreme model and origin is found in the Unity of the Trinity may be strengthened and extended to the ends of the earth. ”

    If anything is not from the Magisterium, Catholics are not required to adhere to it.

    Bishops’ conferences both USCCB and State, and individual Bishops are not the Magisterium of the Church. And if their writings or statements do not conform to the CCC we are not obliged to follow them.
    “No episcopal conference, as such, has a teaching mission; its documents have no weight of their own save that of the consent given to them by the individual bishops” – Cardinal Ratziner in the “Ratzinger Report”.

    Very important.
    Poster FRED is correct. There is a huge difference between LEGAL Immigration, and ILLEGAL Immigration. And some Bishops refuse to teach this.
    Church documents refer to LEGAL immigration.

    Here’s another error in the article.
    The Holy Family did migrate to Egypt. About 30 BC (before Christ) Egypt was taken over by the Romans under Augustus Caesar.
    The Holy Family never left the Roman Empire, and they did not break any laws.
    Don’t feel bad about this one, since Abp Gomez made the same historical mistake.


    How can the authors lie like this? Does our Catholic Church or USCCB contributions go to this group???
    If they get Catholics of Mexican decent to believe their garbage there could be civil unrest.

    NAFTA allowed many US businesses/jobs to leave the USA (so I also do not approve of NAFTA). My GE refrigerator parts are now manufactured in Mexico.
    There is no Church document which states deportation is a sin! In fact we are required to obey the law in all that is not sinful including immigration laws.
    The Holy Family never left the Roman Empire. They never broke any laws, and it is wrong to compare Jesus to ILLEGAL Aliens. (The Holy Family migration into Egypt would be like Canadians going from Quebec to Montreal or Americans moving from NY to CA, only fewer miles.)

    I think some of the US Bishops besides discriminating against their AMERICAN flock, are twisting Church teachings for those who need to immigrate due to religious persecution – where it is impossible to practice their faith, and impossible to get a job due to their religion.
    (This is similar to the South American Bishops who supported the wrongful “Liberation Theology” against private ownership.)

    When are these Bishops going to tell ILLEGAL immigrants they can not break the law? And also write to the Federal Government to close our border except for LEGAL immigration and LEGAL trade, to slow illegal evils? ? ?

  • Elizabeth

    I’ll take the words of the pro-illegal immigration Bishops more seriously as soon as they start letting illegals camp out in their living rooms.

  • Anthony

    How many illegal Irish immigrants do the authors think are in the northeast? Are they thinking of the 19th century? Ireland is a very small country, about 6million people, could there really be that many illegal Irishman still building our railroads and skyscrapers and patrolling in NYC? In fact, all through the 90s and early 00s, Irish immigrants were heading back to a very prosperous republic{I know things have gone south recently}. Irish immigrants built and fought for this country and I’d happily turn that country into the 51st state, but the truth is, there aren’t that many here anymore.

  • Anna

    Might I point out that the Zwicks aren’t speaking on a subject they don’t know much about; they have, in fact, had numerous people “camping out in their living room” as they have been running the Catholic Worker house in Houston for more than 30 years. They aren’t talking impersonal policy divorced from reality. They have been walking the walk their entire lives. I’m not in close contact with them anymore, but met them when I was about 2 when my parents used to spend a lot of time volunteering at Casa Juan Diego. We’ve moved from the area, but have been back here and there over the years.
    Anyway, they are the people on the ground, dealing with real situations – both the drug runners and the desperate people. They aren’t blind to the fact that not everyone here illegally should just be handed keys. They encounter quite a bit of trouble from those types and want them kept out as much as anyone does. But they also encounter plenty of human beings who are: desperate to get their families out of drug-cartel controlled areas (sorry, if that were me, paperwork wouldn’t keep me from getting my kids the heck out of there); victims of domestic violence who can’t get out of the situation due to either being here illegally or their papers no longer being in their possession (abusers aren’t morons) and so they can’t get help without risking being deported while their kids are left with the abuser; adults who were brought here illegally as children and can’t find a remedy for their situation which was not of their creation; white, often elderly, illegal immigrants from Europe who, when in need, are always someone else’s problem; people who had legal permission to come here, but whose papers have been stolen (certainly a hot commodity) and who won’t be believed if they report the theft because now they can’t prove who they are; and so on.
    The Zwicks have also been in the business of helping people in need (of whatever status or color) for long enough that they can see the change that happens with each new policy. They aren’t talking theory, they have watched the effects of both Latin American and USA laws and turmoil of various kinds. So rather than throwing out random quotations in capital letters, read what they are actually saying from their real and extremely extensive experience. Those CCC quotes from combative commenters still do keep mentioning the need to take the human dignity of individuals into account and that’s what the Zwicks are trying here to show how to do.

  • Alecto Papadakoleitis

    This article and the hateful bigotry underlying it are why so many good and decent Americans, themselves from lawful immigrant families, are leaving the widely corrupt, and intellectually dishonest Catholic church. The backlash will increase in ferocity against such arrogance until only illegals will join it out of complete ignorance for what this bunch stands for…subversion of the rule of law, which is by the way a moral good. One has to wonder in reading these apologists…do they truly believe people who so openly ignore our laws on immigration have any more respect for the laws of the Church? Experience demonstrates otherwise. We arrive at the heart of the matter: money, money, money and power, power, power. Who cares if good Americans suffer? Who cares if these thieves rob us blind? They’re Catholic, and therefore the preference!

    Thankfully, most reasoned people ignore the blatant, self-serving bishops et al. who sanctimoniously preach about breaking just laws while they ignore abortion and gay marriage entirely. WWJD? Probably tell these people to go home and sin no more.

    • John Zmirak

      Calm down… point out to me one major Christian denomination that hasn’t taken this position on immigration, or something close to it. Traditional Christian ethics have been undermined and replaced (in people’s hearts and minds, but not–thanks to the Holy Spirit–in the Church’s official teachings) by watery post-Kantian humanism. This is the soft cheese through which the chain saw of Islam is slicing, all around the world… except perhaps in Africa, where the Christians arm themselves and fight back. So unless you want to become a Muslim or an Odinist, settle down and think things through. Don’t blame the Church as a whole… in doing so you’re blaming not just Abp. Mahony but St. Augustine, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Joan of Arc, and finally Christ Himself. No border dispute, however righteous, is worth that. Time to PRAY for peace of mind.