Immigration: what is right, not reflex
The readings for Sundays of Ordinary Time were established many years ago in a three-year cycle.
The first words of today’s first reading (Exodus 22:20-26), however, seem ripped from today’s headlines.
You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
Last Tuesday, there was an announcement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops concerning immigration reform. They highlighted these 4 goals for immigration reform (ordering altered):
- “Border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, as well as pursuing the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy.”
- “An opportunity for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria and, over time, pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and eventually United States citizens;
- “Reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families who currently wait many years to be reunited;
- “The creation of legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to migrate to the U.S. to enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner with their rights fully protected.”
As I have said before, some on the left might be quick to applaud the bishops’ as “enlightened” and “progressive” without bothering to understand fully what the Church teaches in this area (e.g., CCC 2241, etc.).
Likewise, some on the right may be quick to dismiss the bishops’ as “misguided” and “liberal” without bothering to understand fully what the Church teaches in this area (e.g., CCC 2241, etc.).
Too often people react reflexively based on sound bites or specific proposals and stop there.
That is true not only on this issue or only for U.S. bishops – it is a challenge for the People of God throughout the world.
Devising practical solutions is inherently a matter of prudence and may also require various amounts and kinds of technical expertise. Human prudence, of course, is never infallible - neither for clergy nor for laity - and bishops rarely possess technical expertise in fields of purely human endeavor. Thus no one’s specific concrete proposals should be taken as absolutely definitive (as if any practical plan proposed by church leaders or by committees of scientific experts or by anyone on this earth can be embraced as guaranteed to work perfectly).
However, practical solutions do have intrinsic moral aspects: in their goals, in their means, and in their results. It is in addressing these moral aspects that the competence of bishops grows strongest.
Indeed, one does not need scientific expertise to know that some goals, means, and results are immoral. Nor does one need to be perfectly saintly in all things to say that some things are wrong.
When they are at their best, Church leaders begin by articulating fundamental moral principles directly tied to natural law (as well as revelation): principles that are perilous to ignore.
Church leaders may then endeavor to apply these principles concretely through specific proposals. These proposals are best understood as serious efforts to apply critical moral principles to specific problems: proposals to be analyzed thoughtfully.
Not everyone may agree that certain practical proposals are the most appropriate, effective or prudent, but everyone should endeavor – each in his or her own way - not to act by reflex but to do what is right: that is, to help society (inside and outside government) to devise effective solutions to problems in accordance with the fundamental moral principles of the Church.