The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has declared January 5-11, 2014 as National Migration Week, with the theme of “Out of Darkness.” The USCCB states that this “vulnerable” population needs support, protection and prayerful ministry in order to thrive.
The USCCB outlines four major groups of immigrants: migrant children, undocumented immigrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking. Each group has very different needs; the most vulnerable, the bishops say, are migrant children.
Dependent on others for food, shelter, and guidance, children often suffer the most in times of trial and difficulty. In the midst of persecution, war, and other calamities, when families are forced to flee their homelands in search of safer places, parents and children can easily become separated, leaving the children alone. At other times, unaccompanied and undocumented children and teenagers try to make their way to the United States, either with the hope of reuniting with family already here or in search of work to help support their families back home. In both cases, alone and without a parent or guardian to watch over them, migrant and refugee minors are left vulnerable to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse and exploitation.
In addition, the USCCB wants to use National Migration Week to educate people about human trafficking, and their “Become a Shepherd” campaign, which strives to “Stop Human Trafficking and Exploitation, Protect, Help, Empower, and Restore Dignity.”
National Migration Week is also meant to be a tool to dispel myths about immigrants, such as immigrants not wanting to learn English or immigrants being a drain on the U.S. economy. The bishops cite a CATO Institute report on the latter topic:
The immigrant community is not a drain on the U.S. economy but, in fact, proves to be a net benefit. Research reported by both the CATO Institute and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors reveals that the average immigrant pays a net 80,000 dollars more in taxes than they collect in government services. For immigrants with college degrees the net fiscal return is $198,000. Furthermore, the American Farm Bureau asserts that without guest workers the U.S. economy would lose as much as $9 billion a year in agricultural production and 20 percent of current production would go overseas.
In 2013, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles addressed the issue of immigration in his book, Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2013.) One issue Gomez addressed was rule of law: that illegal immigration goes against the sense of fair play and recognition of legality that most Americans want recognized when it comes to immigration.
He notes we are a “nation of laws” and that there is a sense of “chaos” in our nation due to the disrespect of our legal values. Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Gomez reminds us that, “Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying out civic burdens.”
In Inhabiting the Land, Andrew Yuengert, a Professor of Economics at Seaver College, Pepperdine University, states that “[t]he right to migrate is not inviolable in Catholic social teaching. It is analogous to the right to property but not to the right to life.” Yuengert also points out that in the tradition of Catholic social teaching, immigration has always been viewed from the viewpoint of the immigrant, not the host country.
Certain bishops have called the current state of immigration laws in the U.S. an “offense against God,” and the USCCB has cited “great moral urgency” in passing immigration reforms. The USCCB desires reform in the legalization process for undocumented immigrants so these people can “contribute to society and live out their lives in dignity.” The “Out of Darkness” campaign hopes to
bring the light of Christ to these populations, banish the darkness, and help to bring them from the margins of society to its center. Doing so will provide vulnerable migrants with a protected space in which they can flourish as human beings. This requires prayer for those who are marginalized, alongside an active presence in the public square to demand that protections are provided to those who need them most.
Immigration is always a controversial subject. Catholic social teaching maintains that there is a right to migrate. But what does this mean, especially in societies saturated in “rights-talk”? This monograph explains the nature, origins and limits of the right to migrate, and illustrates some of its policy-implications.