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 CatholicHistory.net.

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