On the Occasion of Pope Francis’ Visit to the US: Food for Thought on Open Borders

With immigration and border crossings in the United States and Europe in the news, many are asking themselves what the appropriate response is from a moral point of view. Some surprisingly specific guidance is available from a weighty source: the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In October 1992, Pope Saint John Paul II issued the Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, on the publication of the Catechism. In Fidei Depositum, the Pope stated clearly that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church…is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.”

What the Catechism says about immigration might come as a shock to many who are not familiar with authentic Catholic doctrine. You can check for yourself online; a key passage is in text item 2241 (boldface mine):

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. 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 civic burdens.

Text item 1911 in the Catechism refers to migrants and an obligation of the “community of nations” to assist them:

Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to "provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families."

The key question before us appears to be, what is the best method for “alleviating the miseries of refugees” that is consistent with “the sake of the common good”? Determining the right response to the immigration crisis is becoming more important with every passing day. That response needs to incorporate the wisdom and realism reflected in the Catechism.