Volume > Issue > Is Immigration Prolife?

Is Immigration Prolife?


By Kenneth G. Davis | June 2007
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.

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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