Be Free From Worry, Fear and Anxiety

Should the U.S. Immigration Policy for Mexico Be More Liberal?

Should the U.S. Immigration Policy for Mexico Be More Liberal?

The Issue: Should the U.S. Immigration Policy for Mexico Be More Liberal?

The News: National Migration Week January 8-14

This is National Migration Week proclaimed by the US Bishops to educate the public of the benefits of immigration.

Diplomats from Mexico and Central America on Monday demanded guest worker programs and the legalization of undocumented migrants in the United States, while criticizing a U.S. proposal for tougher border enforcement.

Meeting in Mexico’s capital, the regional officials pledged to do more to fight migrant trafficking, but indirectly condemned a U.S. bill that would make illegal entry a felony and extend border walls.

“Migrants, regardless of their migratory status, should not be treated like criminals,” they said.

“There has to be an integrated reform that includes a temporary worker program, but also the regularization of those people who are already living in receptor countries,” Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said.


The border between the United States and Mexico has a total length of 1,951 miles. It is the most frequently crossed international border in the world, with some 350 million people crossing legally from one country to the other every year. It is estimated that over a million people cross the border illegally each year. About 45% of all agricultural laborers in the United States are illegal aliens. Border Patrol activity is concentrated around big border cities so the flow of illegal immigrants is diverted into rural mountainous and desert areas.

Approximately 10.5 million Mexican-born persons currently live in the United States, about 5.5 million of whom reside legally, and the remainder of whom have undocumented status. Each year, an estimated 150,000 Mexican migrants enter the United States without authorization, working in such industries as agriculture, service, entertainment, and construction. Despite the rhetoric from anti-immigrant groups and some government officials, they labor with the quiet acquiescence of both government and industry.

There are many organized criminal organizations that run illegal immigrants through the porous border. The illegal immigrants pay “coyotes” who are criminals who lead them across the border and into the states. Many immigrants die on the way from thirst, many are abandoned by the coyotes and many women are raped by them and others.

U.S. immigration policies allow prospective immigrants (as opposed to temporary visitors) to legally enter the United States if visa petitions are filed on their behalf by an employer or a family member who is either a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. However, there are extremely few employment visas available to accommodate the millions of immigrant workers whom the U.S. labor market demands such as farm workers, construction workers, factory workers, groundskeepers and housekeepers. As a result, many workers enter or remain illegally.

Mexicans working in the United States are a huge source of revenue for Mexico. They sent home more than $16 billion in remittances in 2004. This is Mexico’s second largest source of foreign currency after oil exports.

Besides the closeness of the two countries, differences in living standards on the two sides of border is the primary driving force behind Mexican immigration to the states. Much of the border is left virtually unguarded. In December, 2005, the U.S. House of Representitives voted to build a separation barrier along parts of the border. A companion vote is scheduled for February, 2006, in the Senate. Proponents hope that the barrier will stem the flood of illegal immigration.

Before 9/11, Mexican President Vicente Fox and other Mexican officials had requested that the United States increase the annual legal quota for legal Mexican immigrants from 75,000 to 250,000. They also proposed establishing an amnesty program for the millions of illegal workers currently residing in the United States.

President Bush, taking into account these findings, has presented an initiative to reinstate a Guest Worker Program to fill the needs of labor of the burgeoning American economy and, at the same time, has pushed to strengthen the security measures at the border to stop suspected terrorists and narcotics dealers from entering the U.S.

The Arguments

Cons: Those against a more liberal immigration policy say:

It will create a problem for US security and that the focus of U.S. immigration policy should be to assure that the Mexican government improves its control of the border and stop its use for illegal entry to the US.

Illegal Mexican immigrants ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year though their use of social programs. Because many immigrants are poor, they raise our poverty and crime rates. This puts a real strain on our generous social safety net, particularly in the states and localities where immigrants concentrate.

Immigrants don’t pay taxes and just take welfare benefits or take jobs and opportunity away from Americans.

Pros: Those in favor of a more liberal immigration policy say:

The efforts to curtail illegal immigration by means of security has done nothing but redirect the migration flows and that they prevent the migrants re-entering Mexico, as they had done in the past. Instead, they remain in the U.S. for longer periods of time and eventually bring their families with them.

The immigrants are very important to the economy because they take agricultural and service industry jobs that America needs but American workers don’t want. Immigrants (including illegals) pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes. Immigrants come to work and reunite with family members, not to collect welfare benefits. Immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay about $90 billion a year in taxes, much more than the $5 billion that they receive in public benefits.

Immigrant entrepreneurs create more jobs than they take from Americans. They fill gaps left by native-born workers in both the high-skill and low-skill ends of the spectrum. Immigrants fill jobs in key sectors, start their own businesses, and contribute to a thriving economy. The U.S. hasn’t spent a penny on their education, yet they are transplanted into our workforce and will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system over the next 20 years.

Immigration is not a great threat to our security. The Immigration and Naturalization Service must do a better job of screening legal immigrants for terrorists when they enter the United States and keep track of them afterward. If we restrict the number of legal immigrants, there will be more illegal immigrants, whom we do not track at all.. The 9/11 terrorists were not illegals, they were legal immigrants.

Fears of rising poverty and crime are unfounded. A hundred years ago, the same baseless fears were expressed about all of the European immigrants and they made the U.S. a better country. Immigrants do not raise our crime rate. Almost all of them are here to work, not to go on welfare or to steal. The children of poor immigrants are at somewhat greater risk of crime, but this is no different than the risk of anyone who grows up poor.

The welfare costs would not be so large if they were spread evenly across the country. A good case can be made for federal help for those states and localities most burdened by providing social services for immigrants.

The restrictions of immigration law are too great a burden for potential immigrants. Immigrants seeking a better life immigrate in defiance of this law, putting respect for all law at risk, so the restrictions should be eased.

Our nation’s economy demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face interminable separations, sometimes of twenty years or longer, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be updated to reflect these realities.

The $2.5 billion per year invested in border patrol policy and increased efforts to crack down on illegal aliens have had little effect. The population of illegal immigrants has ballooned, and nearly half of these illegals are Mexican born. What is needed is an honest recognition of policy failures and of the need for a shift in focus.

We can also enforce the current law more vigorously. This may require more stringent measures than we are currently willing to impose such as enforcing heavy penalties for employers who employ illegal immigrants

From the viewpoint of the U.S. bishops, it has been apparent for several years that our immigration system is broken and badly in need of repair. The U.S. Bishops are united in the view that migration is beneficial to our nation—economically, socially, and culturally. The strength of our nation comes from its diversity and from the hard work and contributions of immigrants who have come to our shores over the past two hundred years.

President Bush says that the U.S. immigration system is outdated and unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border. He says that it is time for an immigration policy that legalizes some illegal residents, that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.

The Church Teaches

Summary of Church Teaching

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). Welcoming the stranger is thus intrinsic to the nature of the Church itself and bears witness to its fidelity to the gospel.

It is the Church’s task not only to present constantly the Lord’s teaching of faith, but also to indicate its appropriate application to the various situations which the changing times continue to create. Today the illegal immigrant comes before us like that “stranger” in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.

There is a need for “inculturation” with the ever new importance of specific pastoral care for immigrants and the consequent duty of forming a culture of welcome and solidarity.

The causes of today’s migration phenomenon are globalization, demographic changes especially in the countries that were industrialized first, increase in inequality between North and South, the proliferation of conflicts and civil wars. Emigration generally entails grave difficulties for individuals, particularly women and children, as well as for families. Such a phenomenon raises the ethical problem of establishing a new international economic order with a more equitable distribution of the goods of the earth, in which the international community is considered a family of peoples whose relations are governed by International Law. In the history of salvation, the migration phenomenon is a sign of the times and of the presence of God in history and in the community of peoples, directed to universal communion ultimately in the Kingdom of God.

In summary:

1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.

2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

The Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good. It also recognizes the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realize their God-given rights. These teachings complement each other. While the sovereign state may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated. In the current condition of the world, in which global poverty and persecution are rampant, the presumption is that persons must migrate in order to support and protect themselves and that nations who are able to receive them should do so whenever possible. It is through this lens that we assess the current migration reality between the United States and Mexico.

The Church believes that current immigration laws and policies have often led to the undermining of immigrants’ human dignity and have kept families apart. The existing immigration system has resulted in a growing number of persons in this country in an unauthorized capacity, living in the shadows as they toil in jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents must wait years for a visa to be reunited. Our nation’s border enforcement strategies have been ineffective.

The U.S. Catholic bishops are proposing an earned legalization for those in this country in an unauthorized status and who have built up equities and are otherwise admissible. “Amnesty,” as commonly understood, implies a pardon and a reward for those who did not obey immigration laws, creating inequities for those who wait for legal entry. The Bishops’ proposal is not an “amnesty.”

The Bishops’ earned legalization proposal provides a window of opportunity for undocumented immigrants who are already living in our communities and contributing to our nation to come forward, pay a fine and application fee, go through rigorous criminal background checks and security screenings, demonstrate that they have paid taxes and are learning English, and obtain a visa that could lead to permanent residency, over time.

The Church has a responsibility to shine the message of God on this issue and help to build bridges between all parties so that an immigration system can be created that is just for all and serves the common good, including the legitimate security concerns of our nation.

Comprehensive Treatment of Church Teaching

Jesus and Mary as Migrants. In migrants, the Church has always contemplated the image of Christ who said, “I was a stranger and you made me welcome” (Mt 25:35). Their condition is, therefore, a challenge to the faith and love of believers, who are called on to heal the evils caused by migration and discover the plan God pursues through it even when caused by obvious injustices.

In the foreigner, a Christian sees not simply a neighbor, but the face of Christ Himself, who was born in a manger and fled into Egypt, where he was a foreigner, summing up and repeating in His own life the basic experience of His people (cf. Mt 2:13ff). Born away from home and coming from another land (cf. Lk 2:4-7), “he came to dwell among us” (cf. Jn 1:11,14).

In the same way, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, can be seen as a living symbol of the woman migrant. She gave birth to her Son away from home (cf. Lk 2:1-7) and was compelled to flee to Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-14).

Immigrants in America. In its history, America has experienced many immigrations, as waves of men and women came to its various regions in the hope of a better future. Seventy five percent of the saints of the states were immigrants. The phenomenon continues even today. They often bring with them a cultural and religious heritage which is rich in Christian elements. The Church is well aware of the problems created by this situation and is committed to spare no effort in developing her own pastoral strategy among these immigrant people, in order to help them settle in their new land and to foster a welcoming attitude among the local population, in the belief that a mutual openness will bring enrichment to all.

The Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration.

Immigrants should be met with a hospitable and welcoming attitude which can encourage them to become part of the Church’s life, always with due regard for their freedom and their specific cultural identity.

The right to migrate. The right to migrate is not absolute. It is like the right to property, which may be abridged in certain situations, but not like the right to life, which may never be abridged.

When immigration threatens other rights — the right of a people to basic security, for example — it may be restricted in light of those other rights. Like the right to property, though, the right to migrate should not be abridged lightly, since it restricts a fundamental human good — the initiative of the immigrant in promoting his own or his family’s well-being.

A nation is obligated to balance the interests of immigrants with its national common good. Although the Church encourages developed nations to be generous, it does not offer specific advice beyond its exhortations. The actual balancing of interests requires the virtue of prudence — it is a difficult decision, requiring respect for the dignity of immigrant and native alike. The Church is concerned that nations do not even try to balance their own interests and those of immigrants, but treat the inconveniences of immigration as intolerable costs and ignore completely the substantial benefits of immigration to the host country of economic, social and cultural development.

The Church hopes for the integration of the immigrant. Integration is not presented as an assimilation that leads immigrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity. Rather, we should be open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better. This is a lengthy process that aims to shape societies and cultures, making them more and more a reflection of the multifaceted gifts of God to human beings. In this process the immigrant is intent on taking the necessary steps towards social inclusion, such as learning the national language and complying with the laws and requirements at work, so as to avoid the occurrence of exasperated differentiation.

Illegal Immigrants. Illegal (undocumented) status cannot allow the immigrants to lose his dignity, since he is endowed with inalienable rights, which can neither be violated nor ignored. Illegal immigration may be prevented, but it is also essential to combat vigorously the criminal activities which exploit illegal immigrants. The most appropriate choice, which will yield consistent and long-lasting results is that of international cooperation which aims to foster political stability and to eliminate underdevelopment. The present economic and social imbalance, which to a large extent encourages the migratory flow, should not be seen as something inevitable, but as a challenge to the human race’s sense of responsibility.

In the search for a solution to the problem of migration in general and illegal immigrants in particular, the attitude of the host society has an important role to play. In this perspective, it is very important that public opinion be properly informed about the true situation in the immigrants’ country of origin, about the tragedies involving them and the possible risks of returning. The poverty and misfortune with which immigrants are stricken are yet another reason for coming generously to their aid.

It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or xenophobic behavior, which attempt to make these brothers and sisters of ours scapegoats for what may be difficult local situations. The Church emphasizes a vast range of values and behavior such as hospitality, solidarity, sharing and the need to reject all sentiments and manifestations of xenophobia and racism on the part of host communities.

Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble. For Christians, the migrant is not merely an individual to be respected in accordance with the norms established by law, but a person whose presence challenges them and whose needs become an obligation for their responsibility. “What have you done to your brother?” (Cf. Gen 4:9). The answer should not be limited to what is imposed by law, but should be made in the manner of solidarity.

International Migration. The ever-increasing migration phenomenon today is an important component of that growing interdependence among nation states that goes to make up globalization, which has flung markets wide open but not frontiers, has demolished boundaries for the free circulation of information and capital, but not to the same extent those for the free circulation of people. No state is any longer exempt from the consequences of some form of migration, which is often strongly linked to negative factors. These include the demographic changes that are taking place in countries that were industrialized first, the increase in inequality between north and south, the existence of protectionist barriers in international trade, which do not allow emerging countries to sell their products on competitive terms in the markets of western countries and, finally, the proliferation of civil wars and conflicts. All these factors will increase migration flows in the years to come even though the appearance of terrorism on the international scene will provoke reactions for security reasons. These reactions will inevitably obstruct the movement of migrants who dream of finding a job and security in the so-called wealthy countries which, for their part, require more manpower.

Suffering of Immigrants. The Church denounces social and economic imbalances that are, for the most part, the cause of migration, the dangers of an uncontrolled globalization in which immigrants are more the victims than the protagonists of their migration, and the serious problem of irregular immigration, especially when the immigrants is an object of trafficking and exploitation by criminal organizations.

The emigration of family nuclei and women is particularly marked by suffering. Women immigrants are becoming more and more numerous. They are often contracted as unskilled laborers (or domestics) and employed illegally. Often immigrants are deprived of their most elementary human rights, including that of forming labor unions, when they do not become outright victims of the sad phenomenon of human trafficking, which no longer spares even children. This is a new chapter in the history of slavery.

However, even without such extremes, it is necessary to reiterate that foreign workers are not to be considered merchandise or merely manpower. Therefore they should not be treated just like any other factor of production. Every immigrant enjoys inalienable fundamental rights which must be respected in all cases.

Legal Guarantees. The Church encourages the ratification of international legal instruments that ensure the rights of immigrants, refugees and their families. In the context of both the legislation and administrative practices of various countries, it dedicates much attention to the unity of the family and the protection of minors. The Church also offers its advocacy through centers for immigrants needs; houses open to them, offices for necessary services, documentation and counseling, etc. Immigrants are often victims of illegal recruitment and of short-term contracts providing poor working and living conditions. This is because they often have to suffer physical, verbal and even sexual abuse, work long hours, often without the benefits of medical care and the usual forms of social security.

Policies on a purely national level would be of little value. No country today may think that it can solve migration problems on its own. Even more ineffective would be purely restrictive policies, which, in turn, would generate still more negative effects, with the risk of increasing illegal entries and even favoring the activities of criminal organizations.

Migration raises a truly ethical question: the search for a new international economic order for a more equitable distribution of the goods of the earth. This would make a real contribution to reducing and checking the flow of a large number of immigrants from populations in difficulty. From this there follows the need for a more effective commitment to educational and pastoral systems that form people in a “global dimension”, that is, a new vision of the world community, considered as a family of peoples, for whom the goods of the earth are ultimately destined when things are seen from the perspective of the universal common good.

A Culture of Solidarity. Migration imposes new commitments of evangelization and solidarity on Christians and calls them to examine more profoundly those values shared by other religious or lay groups and indispensable to ensure a harmonious life together. The passage from monocultural to multicultural societies can be a sign of the living presence of God in history and in the community of mankind, for it offers a providential opportunity for the fulfillment of God’s plan for a universal communion. This new historical context is characterized by the thousand different faces of humanity and, unlike the past, diversity is becoming commonplace in very many countries. Therefore Christians are called to give witness to and practice not only the spirit of tolerance – itself a great achievement, politically and culturally speaking, not to mention religiously – but also respect for the other’s identity. Thus, where it is possible and opportune, they can open a way towards sharing with people of different origins and cultures, also in view of a “respectful proclamation” of their own faith. We are all therefore called to a culture of solidarity so as to achieve together a real communion of persons. This is the laborious path that the Church invites everyone to follow.

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Second Vatican Council called on Christians to be aware of the phenomenon of migration (cf. GS 65 and 66) and to realize the influence that emigration has on life. The Council reaffirmed the right to emigrate (cf. GS 65), the dignity of migrants (cf. GS 66), the need to overcome inequalities in economic and social development (cf. GS 63) and to provide an answer to the authentic needs of the human person (cf. GS 84). On the other hand the Council recognized the right of the public authorities, in a particular context, to regulate the flow of migration (cf. GS 87).

The unity of the Church is not given by a common origin and language but by the Spirit of Pentecost which, bringing together men and women of different languages and nations in one people, confers on them all faith in the same Lord and the calling to the same hope to further the unity of the human family and peace ultimately realized in the Kingdom of God.


Instruction: Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi (The Love of Christ Towards Migrants), Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, May 3, 2004. http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PCMIERGA.HTM

The Church and Illegal Immigration, Pope John Paul II , Annual Message for World Migration Day 1996, July 25, 1995


Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States, January 22, 2003.


Justice for Immigrants: http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/