Roman Catholics and Illegal Immigration

Article: Commentary/Opinion*
The American Daily

By Robert Klein Engler (10/02/2006)

CHICAGO (2 October '06)–Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles leads the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States. His voice is heard both here, and in Mexico. Many follow his lead on issues of morality and politics. Cardinal Mahoney's views on immigration are important to consider in light of traditional Catholic moral teaching.

Interviewed in the Washington Post by John Pomfret, Cardinal Mahoney recalled a government raid on his father's business. He said, “I will never forget them bursting through the doors…I was terrified by it. And I thought, 'These poor people; they're here making a living supporting their families.'”

Earlier, the Cardinal wrote about support for illegal immigrants when he said, “It is our Gospel mandate, in which Christ instructs us to clothe the naked, feed the poor and welcome the stranger.” The Cardinal added that support in the Church for immigration is wide ranging. He said, “…our pro-life agenda encompasses a broad spectrum of issues, and (immigration) is one of them.”

Among that broad spectrum of issues, many Catholics recognize that the Church has a “pro-morality” agenda along with a pro-life one. There is a long tradition in the Roman Catholic Church from the Biblical writings of St. Paul to the theological writings of St. Thomas Aquinas that makes it a moral obligation to respect the laws of the state. In light of this tradition, Catholic Bishops in both Mexico and the U. S. should preach that not only must we welcome the stranger, but that it is also morally wrong to break the immigration laws of the United States or another country.

Both those who come to the U. S. illegally and those in the U. S. who employ persons who are here illegally have a moral responsibility to stop this behavior. The Church should encourage that the laws of the U. S. are followed in regard to both employment and immigration. The Church should help also by reporting employers who exploit illegal immigrants and likewise by reporting those who are here illegally.

Mexicans also have a moral responsibility to work for social change in Mexico. The Church must encourage this. Bishops both in the U. S. and Mexico ought to encourage Mexico's economic and social development. The problems many Mexicans face cannot be solved by stealing a livelihood in the United States.

If employers in the U. S. exploit through greed the cheap labor of illegal immigrants, these immigrants are equally guilty of abandoning their social and moral responsibility to Mexico. How can illegal immigrants become good citizens of the U. S, when they are not good citizens of Mexico to begin with? A sermon about the moral responsibility of citizenship is needed from many Church pulpits. Nationalism is not always immoral as St. Joan of Arc showed us.

Is having an anchor baby who will then be raised in a fatherless home as morally wrong as having an abortion? Some may think not, yet the growing number of anchor babies is a serious ethical issue the Church should address. Many believe that no child should be used as a tool so that the mother can stay illegally in the U. S.

Right now, in Chicago, there is a woman fugitive, guilty not only of breaking U. S. immigration laws but also of Social Security fraud. She is seeking sanctuary in a church with her anchor baby. This is a broken family, without a father. How is it immoral to seek the father of her child and unite this family even if it means sending mother and child back to Mexico? Stopping the abuse of anchor babies is a pro-life issue, too.

What about the morality of men and women working as “coyotes?” These “coyotes” smuggle people into the U. S. everyday. They take money like prostitutes for actions that are morally wrong, both to themselves and to others. Here is grounds for another sermon pointing out the immorality of such an occupation. Much illegal immigration would stop, if the “coyotes” along the U. S./Mexican border were put out of business. If Catholic Bishops were to go to the border and preach a “Sermon Against the Coyotes,” then it would be welcomed by many.

And while the bishops are on the border between the U. S. and Mexico, they could also preach against the immorality of those who smuggle illegal drugs into the U. S. Most of the illegal drugs on the streets of Chicago come from Mexico. The bad habits that drugs create ruin many lives through addiction and violence. When was the last time we heard a Bishop either in the U. S. or Mexico give a sermon condemning this evil and the drug lords who promote it?

Roman Catholic Bishops and clergy ought to be aware also that many who are working for the so-called rights of illegal immigrants do not respect nor share the values of the Roman Catholic Church. Many groups who want open borders care little for Christianity. Instead, they are communist or anarchist groups.

Why should the Church make common cause with Communists, anarchists and racists in the United States? The Church successfully opposed Communism in Eastern Europe, yet the Church seems to embrace Communism in the U. S. when it works with some illegal immigration supporters. Would the Church work with the Ku Klux Klan? If not, then why work with La Raza? La Raza is a group that promotes racism even by its very name.

Bishops do a disservice to Catholics when they overlook the many ethical issues associated with illegal immigration. These ethical issues extend beyond the simple ideal of mercy for those “poor people.” They embrace the full meaning of being “pro-life” and “pro-morality.”

A consistent pro-life position respects national borders and encourages people to work for social change in their own country. We are also pro-life when we encourage families to stay together and when we encourage employers to follow immigration and labor laws. While we should be encouraged to welcome the stranger, we should not be encouraged to welcome the stranger who is a thief.

Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago. He is an adjunct professor at Roosevelt University. His book, A Winter Of Words, about the ethnic cleansing at Daley College, is available from