Security, Immigration Reform and Human Dignity

Americans have a right to secure borders, especially in an era of anti-American violence.  We have a right to reasonably regulate our immigration policies.  We have a right to exclude criminals from our country and to protect the financial health of our public institutions and services.  We have a right to verify foreign visitors and guest workers, and to expect their compliance with the law.

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But most undocumented immigrants in the United States – the vast majority — never commit a violent act, have no desire to undermine the common good and contribute productively to American prosperity.  Thousands of farmers and businessmen rely on their services.  The life many of us enjoy depends, in part, on the labor of “illegals.”  Taking advantage of their work, and then blaming them for being here, is a uniquely unworthy form of doublethink. 

For Catholics – who belong to a Church that supports the fundamental right of every person to migrate to seek a better life for his or her family, and who themselves were disdained as “outsiders” for much of American history – anti-immigrant resentment is especially wrong.

The United States has a right to press for the kind of legal and economic reforms in Latin America and elsewhere that would help stabilize the flow of workers back and forth across our borders.  Hypocrisy in the immigration debate is not a monopoly of the north side of the Rio Grande.

But we’re not licensed to mistreat anyone in our midst, whether they have papers or not.  People derive their human dignity and their rights from the God who created us all – whether others find their presence convenient or not.  We need to remember that in the months ahead. 

The U.S. Catholic bishops, along with millions of fellow American Catholics, seek reasonable legislation that will offer undocumented persons a path to citizenship and promote family unity.  Specifically, the bishops hope for the following elements in any immigration reform bill:

First, a path to citizenship for undocumented workers that’s fair, accessible and achievable in a reasonable timeframe.  Second, reform of the family-based immigration system to reunite husbands, wives and children in a more rapid manner.  Third, a program that would allow low-skilled migrant workers to enter the United States legally as needed labor.  Fourth, due process protections for immigrants.  And fifth, policies which at least begin to address the root causes of migration, such as economic inequities and persecution.

Congress adjourned for summer recess on August 2.  It won’t reconvene until September 9.  The Senate passed a major immigration reform bill (S. 744) on June 27, by a vote of 68-32.  The House of Representatives will likely take up the issue in September or October.  Unfortunately, some House members have committed themselves to blocking almost any serious new reform legislation.  That would be more than a political error.  It would be a bitter human tragedy. 

Immigration is an issue where committed Catholics can legitimately disagree.  But real reform of our immigration laws is long overdue.  We need to act now.  And the five key legislative elements sought by America’s bishops make good economic, political and human sense.

During these weeks of summer recess, I ask Catholics across our archdiocese to consider and pray about the immigration issue.  And I hope many of us will contact our federal representatives to press them to vote for the kind of deep immigration reform we so urgently need.

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On the NET:

Contact information for Pennsylvania congresspersons can be found through the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference at

The national “Justice for Immigrants” campaign seeks to inform the general public, and especially Catholics, about the ways immigrants benefit the nation; to advocate changes in immigration law and policies; and to organize networks to assist immigrants with legal problems.  The campaign’s website can be found at:

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Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop of Philadelphia

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