Father Michael F.X. Hinkley
News outlets recently have been buzzing with the political play-by-play of new legislation regarding the status of illegal aliens. One woman’s anger over the issue was flashed across the evening news. She had driven across the state to attend a rally, where she met up with reporters eager to cover her reaction to the legal status of migrants. “They are taking from hard-working, tax-paying Americans!” she said. “They should all be sent home!”
This seems to be an opportune time to reflect on the Church’s teaching regarding the migration of people from one nation to another. A joint statement by the Catholic bishops of Mexico and the United States clearly articulates the Church’s stand for migrants’ dignity and moral rights. The document is entitled “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”
The first important point in understanding the ethics of migration is the universal nature of human dignity and inalienable rights. The dignity that a native-born American enjoys is the same as that of a child born in the farthest reaches of India, Africa or South America. Geography does not alter the principle that every human life is endowed with God-given dignity. In other words, one’s citizenship does not dictate one’s dignity.
It follows that if there are inalienable rights enjoyed by every human being, they should be promoted and protected for everyone, including migrants. All societies should allow every human person to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The bishops wrote: “All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts.
In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.” (Paragraph 34)
For countries endowed with wealth, there is a moral call to care for people fleeing inhuman conditions. “More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.” (Paragraph 36)
Here the migration of people unable to make ends meet is seen as natural and moral.
Another important right is the ability to have a job and care for one’s family. If a particular country is not able to support its citizenry with proper jobs and living wages, care should be given to assist those migrants seeking a better way of life. “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.” (Paragraph 35)
In the case of war, whether civil or international, care should be taken to provide for those who become refugees as a result. The bishops explain: “Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.” (Paragraph 37)
The bishops continue in their teaching to require that governments legislate to protect the dignity of migrating people, even when they are undocumented: “Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity which should be respected. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.” (Paragraph 38)
The bishops have made a clear case that the government has an obligation to ensure the care of migrants.
The Lord had stated that we would be known as Jesus’ disciples by the way we love one another. He also asked us to love as he has already loved us in his self-sacrifice upon the Cross. This real love of migrant as neighbor is the core of discipleship. Thus, our care for the migrant community is a litmus test for the integrity of our Christian discipleship. It isn’t just a political stand or a rallying cry; it is the living Gospel’s reaching out to the most vulnerable in our communities. Through our care of migrants, may all see how we love.
Father Hinkley is the pastor of the Church and School of the Blessed Sacrament and the Shrine of Saint Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.