Statement issued in the name of the Conference President, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland, with the Unanimous Support of the full Body of Bishops (Portland, June 1996)
"THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT: LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I LOVE YOU" (Jn 15:12)
"When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien 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 aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God." (Lv. 19: 33-34)
The Catholic Bishops of the United States take seriously the responsibility entrusted to them as Pastors and Teachers to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. We have spoken frequently in recent times of our concerns about the treatment of immigrants and refugees in the United States. Regrettably, since our last statement just a year ago, the public debate has become even more acrimonious, and Congress is now considering the final form of restrictive legislation that runs counter both to Christian teaching and the proud tradition of this nation of immigrants.
The Church has long acknowledged the right and the responsibility of nations to regulate their borders for the promotion of the common good. For that reason it is appropriate for the United States to engage in a debate about its immigration and refugee policies. Unfortunately, though, that debate has taken on a punitive tone which seems to seek to diminish the basic human dignity of the foreign born.
In particular, I express grave concern and dismay at provisions of the legislation which would target the most vulnerable among us -- children, the sick, and the needy -- in an impractical effort to cure our nation's social and economic ills. Health care and education are among the most basic of human rights to which all have a moral claim, yet this legislation seeks to restrict severely or flatly deny these rights to those who were not born in this country. Indeed, there is a disregard for human life in this legislation which is inconsistent with the Gospel and which I find morally objectionable.
Refugees and asylum seekers, those fleeing persecution and possible death in search of safehaven in the United States, risk the real possibility of being returned immediately to their oppressors as a consequence of this legislation. As emphasized by the Bishops in a statement last year, these people "have a special moral standing and thus require special consideration."
The health and well-being of immigrants who gain entry into the United States are similarly threatened by this legislation. All of us at some point may be affected by hunger, poor health, housing needs, family crises, and aging. This legislation is so overreaching and restrictive that it would make it almost impossible for legal taxpaying immigrants to seek assistance when confronted with these vicissitudes of life. The undocumented are put even more at risk. They may be faced with deportation simply for seeking food and medical care for themselves and their children. By denying these most basic needs merely on the basis of where a person was born is to place the health and well-being of the entire community at risk.
Furthermore, undocumented children could be denied access to education in a misguided effort to hold them accountable for the actions of their parents. Consequently, immigrant youths face the possibility of being left illiterate and idle, turned out on the streets to be tempted by crime and delinquency -- or to become their victims. Teachers will be forced to become de facto agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Surely, the common good cannot be served by such measures.
Finally, at a time when great emphasis is being placed on the renewal of the American family, this legislation would effectively prevent the reunification of immigrant families by mandating financial tests which would be impossible for most sponsors to meet. I believe this to be contradictory and counterproductive. Immigrants, like the native born, draw strength from their families in times of need, and as we said in our statement last year: "Family reunification remains the appropriate basis for just immigration policy."
The principles of human dignity and human solidarity, which the Church has long taught, should be factors in shaping the goals of public policy, including immigration. Pope John Paul II has forcefully spoken on the need for solidarity: "Solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue. ...One's neighbor is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One's neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person's sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one's life for the brethren (cf. 1 Jn. 3:16)"
Pope Paul VI's lament nearly 30 years ago that "[h]uman society is sorely ill," sadly is still true today. Now as then, we agree that the cause of society's illness may be attributed to "the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations." Therefore, all people, and particularly those who have been entrusted with leadership, are given the moral charge to build up the ties between individuals and nations. I call on Congress and the President to address and correct the punitive provisions of the pending immigration legislation which will provide for a more thoughtful bill respecting the human dignity of our foreign born sisters and brothers who aspire to come to our country. In welcoming them, we welcome Jesus Himself.