Is Immigration Prolife?

June 2007By Kenneth G. Davis

The Rev. Kenneth G. Davis, O.F.M., Conv., a Conventual Franciscan and former missionary to Central America, teaches in the Department of Pastoral Studies at St. Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana.

Este artículo: en español

The position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on immigration is about as popular as the Church's teaching on abortion. Although immigration is not as important as abortion, it is equally integral to the life of the Church. Catholics of the U.S. would do well to recall our own immigrant past, because that memory echoes Scripture: "You shall treat the stranger 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 strangers in the land…" (Lev. 19:33-34).

Three Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

Human Life as Sacred Must Be Protected From the Moment of Conception Until Natural Death

The sacredness of human life is not something earned by man nor endowed by the state. All human life is sacred because it is created by the Sacred. Man is both the privileged steward of creation as well as the unique recipient of revelation, although he remains always the servant of both and never the master of either.

While the roles of Church and civil governments are and should remain distinct, the Church has a duty to proclaim the Truth to all, including governments. And the actions of any government, like any individual's, must be judged by revealed Truth.

The Common Good Must Be the Goal of Any Commonwealth

Recalling the meaning of "Common Wealth" (i.e., the wealth or goods of the earth should benefit all people) explains the proper role of the state in Natural Law. It is not unlike the assertion that humans are "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights."

One of the erroneous arguments of pro-abortionists is that the Church is only concerned with the child's birth and not with the needs of that child after birth. This is untrue and, in fact, why prolife principles lead logically to the principle of the common good. Every individual has both the right to life as well as the right to those goods of God's earth necessary to sustain that life. One denied access to those goods necessary to sustain life has been denied the right to life. So too every individual has the secondary right to migrate when that is necessary to secure those primary rights. Blessed Pope John XXIII referred to this as the universal good or membership in the universal society.

Bishop Carlos Sevilla (Origins, April 16, 1998) referred to both rights, and Pacem in Terris (#25) and Populorum Progessio (#22), when he concluded: "The right to emigrate for economic reasons is rooted in this fundamental understanding that the earth belongs primarily to God. Secondarily it belongs to the whole human family and, only in the third place, to proprietors, who are, properly speaking, only temporary stewards of God's creation."

Note the parallels between Bishop Sevilla's assertion and the Church's answer to the pro-abortion allegation, "It's my body." Just as a woman has rights over her own body, so too the state has rights over its own borders. But both sets of rights are always oriented to and limited by the principles of the sacredness of human life, and its logical corollary, that human life requires access to the common goods of the earth.

Those rights are not endowed by either mothers or governments, and cannot be denied by them. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to work for a world in which all children are welcomed as well as sustained, and all people find the necessary means of life either within their own country or outside it.

The common good looks beyond individual bodies and national borders to universal brotherhood, what Pope John Paul II termed "solidarity."


If all human life is sacred and merits protection, then there is a fundamental solidarity among human beings, an interdependence prior to any distinction concerning gestation or migration. One cannot defend life at any level unless one defends life on all levels. John Paul II says in Evangelium Vitae: "The Gospel of Life is for the whole of human society. To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good" (#101).

As John Paul says, such a defense must be active. Our action can help the preborn child and the undocumented immigrant. Hence, our Episcopal conference insists on concrete action to protect all the most vulnerable human life, those considered disposable either due to institutionalized abortion or policies of xenophobia.

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Back to June 2007 Issue

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Now for my bla bla...only let Saints in... we need them...the rest are like ourselves..!

Posted by: Henry Patrick
July 16, 2007 09:02 PM EDT
Hey, can't you all get concise. No wonder Vree doesn't take emails.

Stop hogging the pew...making us late comers feel there's no room for us at the inn.
Posted by: Henry Patrick
July 16, 2007 08:56 PM EDT
Additional comment:
Bishop Carlos Sevilla (Origins, April 16, 1998) referred to both rights, and Pacem in Terris (#25) and Populorum Progessio (#22), when he concluded: "The right to emigrate for economic reasons is rooted in this fundamental understanding that the earth belongs primarily to God. Secondarily it belongs to the whole human family and, only in the third place, to proprietors, who are, properly speaking, only temporary stewards of God's creation."

Talk about having you head in a very dark place. Wars have been waged over these very ideas
put into practice. You have something I want and I am going to take it away from you. For example, Israel and the Palestinians. I'm for the Palestinians , as in: get out of here, get off my land, and give me back my property, and my dignity and my right to govern myself!

Maybe I'm an ex-Catholic and don’t know it? But hey who cares what Sevilla says. Christ said, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.'
Posted by: andiamo
August 08, 2007 06:37 PM EDT
Uncontrolled/illegal immigration is a burden on the poorest of the poor. It depresses wages among their population because there are more people willing to work for less than there are jobs at that level. Most of the reasons proffered by our government are lies. It is the rich who are profiteering.

I know people who are poor Americans who cannot get jobs because they are not bi-lingual. Think they ask the illegal alians if they can speak English? You know they do not.

Posted by: andiamo
August 08, 2007 12:12 PM EDT
June 07, 2007 04:54 PM EDT
VManning: all caps means shouting. Shouting that you are not a racist implies the opposite. Mixed case will make you seem less shrill.

It seems odd that the bishops should try to bind our consciences on this issue, where good people can differ on particular solutions as a matter of prudential judgment.

Especially in this attempt to use a pro-life argument! The hypocrisy and the irony is astounding.


That gaping hole in Catholic moral history: Humana Vitae. Paul VI was a prophet! His prophecies have come true.

And, our national economic need for bodies, for labor, for population, is directly caused by the widespread rejection of Humana Vitae by Catholics, and our silence in challenging other Christian churches to throw down the gauntlet: Why DOESN'T your church teach this any more?

So, Catholics should be pro-life about immigration but we'll wink when it comes to the fact that Catholics contracept and abort at the same rates as the general population. Be pro-life on the things that don't require any personal sacrifice on your part.

And for a Church headquartered in Europe, the most anti-immigration, xenophobic closed system ever!

Yes, I am a citizen first of the kingdom of heaven, but in time, on earth, I am an immigrant and naturalized citizen of a particular country, the daughter of twice-immigrants. We did it legally.

What is ignored in this article is how widespread, massive illegal immigration harms legal immigration. Where's the floodgates for people who aren't from Mexico and the rest of Latin America?

Catholics read Scripture in context. The quote from Leviticus comes from the law given after herem warfare in which the People of God killed ALL the Canaanites and took their land. Hmmm, that doesn't sound like holy behavior and seeing the God-given dignity of the Canaanites.

Dare I say, it sounds vaguely like...Reconquista?
Posted by: kentuckyliz
June 11, 2007 06:56 AM EDT
My question for the pro-immigration crowd. Can we bring everyone in the world to our country? If the answer is no, then the only issue is: how many is the right number?

The bishops should rephrase themselves, to remind Catholics that every illegal immigrant is a human being, and that you can't use the same approach for humans as with pesky animals that are invading your garden.

No country should be obliged to let anyone who wants in, in.

It is not racism to want to preserve your own culture.
Posted by: Droddy
June 11, 2007 10:52 AM EDT
As can be seen by the comments above, there are people who love their country and are not anti- immigrant. Nevertheless, we need to fix our immigration policy and process.
The Rev Davis speaks of five attributes that the Bishops are supporting. To pick a few, I do not know what broadbased means but "legalization" is not a term that is clear in it's meaning. Just as Amnesty is not an agreed upon term in the ongoing debate on radio/TV etc. I believe that we have two issues to deal with; the rule of law and the need to provide a guest worker program. We must enforce the immigration laws and get rid of sanctuary cities. We need a guest worker program that is based on employer needs and that ensures a safe, legal basis for the worker to go back and forth from his job to his family. He/she should not have to sneak across the border. However, the guest worker program is just that, a program to allow aliens to come and fill jobs that are open here in the U.S. It is not a path to citizenship. That is a separate matter.
Citizenship should be based on our country's needs, not that of other countries.
As far as families are concerned, the children are the responsibilty of their parents. The guest worker program may address the needs of the spouse and children for the time in the states but it is also possible that the breadwinner can go back and forth on weekends etc. or wire money back to the family.
The Rev Davis makes a point of the need for additional people to fill our aging population and that the illegals come from catholic countries. Problem is that many are called but few are practicing Catholics. Many illegals are not good catholics and many Americans are also not good catholics. The church should do more about our own Catholics. Fewer abortions would mean more children entering the workforce but aren't because of cafeteria catholics. Senators Kennedy, Leahy, Durbin, Kerry and Pelosi in the house come to mind. They are busy supporting the immingration bill, but I doubt that the Bishop's list is driving them. We need good leadership both in the church and in congress. The credibility of the church is weak at this point in time and the people's confidence that the government will actually enforce the law is very low. That does not make for a good situation. This country, if it is to regain it's traditional values and Judeo-Christian philosophy will need God's help and a good leader.
Posted by: wunsch
June 11, 2007 10:44 PM EDT
I want to congratulate my fellow Kentuckian, Kentucky Liz, above. She is the only other person whom I know to blame abortion for illegal immigration. Imagine our Nation with the 40 + Million aborted fetuses living among us.

I take issue with the author of this article. If we did as he and the Bishops propose, would we not have all of China, India, Vietnam, Easter Europe and Central and South America moving int with us? What about all of the problems that would create.

Clearly, the author is completely impractical. The practical solution is to do all we can to make our neighbors want to stay home and live with their families in the countries of their birth. We need to do all we can to get the corrupt governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico and Columbia to operate without corruption and rampant crime. Allowing their citizens to illegally join us in a life of dead end jobs does nothing for anyone. Stop illegal immigration!!
Posted by: tmcmurtry
June 11, 2007 10:50 PM EDT
How's this for shrill? There are millions of Muslim Arabs under the age of 25 with little or no prospect of work in the future in their homelands. The USCCB "no borders" policy means they are all welcome. Here. In the U.S. They are deeply religious and have strong family values.I doubt they'll be as accomodating to Catholics as the bishops wish us to be to them.
Posted by: VMANNING
June 12, 2007 05:14 PM EDT
the pope said that immigrants should respect the values of their host country. they are not respecting the values when they knowingly break the law to live here.

the problem is not that americans are not having enough babies, but that our greedy globalist capitalism feeds off cheap labor and consumption of goods to the determent of our planet and quality of life. globalism and greed are the problem, not the immigrants who only want to improve their life. americans have an unsustainable lifestyle.

that being said, we have every right as a sovereign nation to protect our nation and way of life by making immigrants follow a legal process granting citizenship. it's best for us and them.
Posted by: awacs
June 26, 2007 02:35 PM EDT
I would feel much better about and have considerably greater respect for the USCCB as well as individual Bishops if they were as publicly and vocally concerned and consistent across the board regarding all issues in Catholic Social Teaching. If there was an equivalent public expression by EVERY American Bishop on abortion, same sex marriage, and other personal moral issues as there is now on immigration, peace/justice, global warming, and other societal issues.

JPII, BenedictXVI, and Mother Teresa have all expressed very eloquently that there is no social justice or peace, unless there is peace and justice in the womb! It's gratifying to see some of our Bishops finally taking a courageous stand in this area but where are the rest?? Trying to find the middle road I guess.

Then, and this is critical, after the Bishops do stand up as a group and take a stand, instead of having 70-80 dioceses with each Episcopate...called parishes, insure that the priests within their diocese do not ignore or nuance Episcopal statements and direction for any reason!

The Bishops make the legitimate I think, comment that the lay faithful need to listen respectfully to their Bishops...implied in this is also submission to their spiritual authority. I would hope they expect and demand the same from their own priests!
Posted by: davidschnelly
June 27, 2007 09:07 AM EDT
We have laws that are very favorable to immigration. For 200 years we have heard nothing from the Bishops on this subject.

If our Bishops are really pro-life why don't they start enforcing the reception of Holy Communion to only those who oppose abortion. Let's obey the laws of the church first.
Posted by: andiamo
July 08, 2008 11:20 AM EDT
Just as an aside (election year) -- author states: "...Moreover, immigrant Catholics bring spiritual as well as numeric blessings. They demonstrate strong family values (including prolife principles) and an ethic of hard work. Most come from lands where Catholicism is the majority and, therefore, bring a robust, public Catholicism that winds through streets..."
If these people are Catholic, why is it that the polls show these latinos as voting democrat by a vast majority? Apparently the pro abortion democrat party is much more convincing than the church that seems to want to encourage them to come streaming in. We need to stop illegal immigration and obey the laws of the land and the Church.
Posted by: awunsch
July 09, 2008 09:07 AM EDT
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