Acton Institute Powerblog

Catholics on Immigration

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Jordan’s post below observes the divisions among evangelicals on the hot-button issue of immigration. Its divisiveness—cutting across the usual lines of conservative/liberal and Democrat/Republican—has made the immigration debate an unusual and therefore extraordinarily interesting one.

The issue also divides Catholics. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has been among the most uncompromising national voices in favor of immigrant rights. But his comments have not gone unchallenged among Catholics. Activist Jim Gilchrist denounced Mahony’s views. Kathryn-Jean Lopez at NRO questioned them more delicately. But then Larry Kudlow, another Catholic and another conservative NRO writer, without explicitly supporting Mahony, wrote a very pro-immigrant piece (cited also by Jordan).

I don’t pretend to have the answers to this huge and complicated problem, but I do think that any contribution to the debate ought to balance two principles: compassion toward immigrants (legal and illegal) and respect for the rule of law. I share the strong pro-immigrant views evident in the public interventions made by Catholic officials such as Mahony and Bishop Gerald Barnes of the USCCB.

But these officials’ minimizing of the issue of law is disturbing. As everyone knows, in the vast majority of cases immigrants enter the United States in pursuit of economic betterment. And as Kudlow says, who can blame them? Is it not also obvious that one indispensable pillar of this country’s relative prosperity is its relatively vigorous rule of law? Any immigration reform that ignores that fact will be counterproductive in the long run. Bishops Barnes, to his credit, notes the importance of normalizing immigrants’ legal status. But he and Cardinal Mahony not only fail to recognize the importance of enforcing immigration law as the flip-side of that coin—they explicitly oppose it. This is incoherent. What is the value of being a “legal” immigrant if there is no penalty for being an “illegal” one?

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • AST

    I’m with you. How can a church preach respect for the law, if it condones lawbreaking. I’m coming down on the side of High Wall and Big Gate. We have to be able to control our own borders as every nation in Europe does. But we should make it easier for Mexicans to come here and work provided they register and we can keep tabs on them.

    I’ve heard that a lot of illegals have come here and become criminals and are imprisoned in our prisons. That needs to be stopped somehow.

    One thing I find strange is how many people who oppose a national ID want us to round up all illegbals and dump them at the border. Do they want them branded? The mayor of San Francisco has announced that the city will not cooperate with the Feds on any immigration bill they don’t like. They must have a lot of illegals voting there.

  • Hi Kevin,

    Here is a nifty article from Frederic Bastiat on human laws

    Directly quoting (the translation)

    “the surest way to have the laws respected is to make them respectable”.

    It is really difficult to have respect for laws which condemn hard working neighbors to 8 years of petitioning to find a legal way to get to work.

    I think our current laws are similar to asking the tides to reverse themselves. We need some severe reduction in laws here rather than more regualtion.


  • John, thanks for a great observation.

    The negative correlate to Bastiat’s note would be to say something like the following: the creation of bad and superfluous laws is the surest way to undermine respect for the law itself.

  • William E. Garland

    I find Cardinal Mahoney’s posture an affront. He berates the House passed legislation as “mean spirited” but I find nary a word from him about the ongoing, systematic offensive conduct of the Mexican government. It aids and abets the violation of our national sovereignity, has distributed a publication showing how to evade US law, interfers in our domestic politics, systematically drives Mexico’s poor from its homeland, practices state spsored racism against the native population and thrusts Mexico’s social problems on the United States rather than using Mexico’s wealth to address its internal problems, uses its military to assist drug smugglers, kidnaps and harasses US citizens living in border states, shields murders from extradition to face justice in the US. Mexico is the home of half multi billion dollar wealthy of South America but taxes them at effective rates less than paid by middle class US taxpayers. Mexico has a duty to use its assets to address its internatl problems before demanding that
    the US pay for them.

  • William,

    I agree with you, Mexico is not a good player on this issue (you don’t see 11 Million Canadians slipping in to the USA), but is the US paying for this?

    I am tending to believe that the USA gets a windfall from its immigrants, as (in my observation) work very hard, generally pay taxes, and receive no Social Security benefit. This has got to be good for the economy. You wouldn’t want the US to pay Mexico to send more people here would you?


  • I am tending to believe that the USA gets a windfall from its immigrants, as (in my observation) work very hard, generally pay taxes, and receive no Social Security benefit. This has got to be good for the economy. You wouldn’t want the US to pay Mexico to send more people here would you?