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The Right to Migrate, According to Catholic Social Thought

3/21/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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Andrew Yuengert on the Common Good of Immigration

MALIBU, California, MARCH 20, 2004 (Zenit) - The issue of immigration has made headlines in the United States since President George Bush proposed a new policy for temporary workers.

But how does immigration play out in Catholic social thought? Andrew Yuengert -- an associate professor and the John and Francis Duggan Professor of economics at Seaver College at Pepperdine University -- shared that the right to immigrate is not absolute.

It is, however, an important reminder of the dignity of those affected by national policies and is a component of the universal common good, he said.

Q: Why does the use of "rights" language transform the nature of the immigration debate?

Yuengert: The word "rights" is often the last thing that those who are angry about immigration want to hear. Americans often misunderstand what the popes mean when they claim that there is a right to migrate.

In our culture, rights claims are made in an absolute way -- rights are often invoked as a way of ending debate, unless someone else claims a competing right, in which case nothing is resolved and everyone feels aggrieved.

In contrast, a rights claim in Catholic thought is a reminder of the dignity of those affected by our policies. Rights claims are meant to begin debates, not to end them, and to orient those debates toward the real human goods at stake in policy deliberations.

Thus, claims about the rights of migrants are an encouragement to take into account the very real benefits of immigration to immigrants themselves -- not to construct policy solely on the basis of its effects on citizens.

Q: What does it mean that there is a right to migrate, and why does the right exist? How is it connected to the dignity of the human person?

Yuengert: As I said above, rights language is meant to remind us to take into account the effect of our policies on immigrants, as well as on our own people.

We can discover this right by reflecting on what is involved in the migration decision. Emigration is rarely undertaken lightly. There are real losses associated with it: loss of local culture, loss of family connections, and vulnerability to exploitation in a new labor market and culture.

An immigrant is a human being taking a difficult, often risky step in pursuit of his own development. His very act of migrating proclaims that these goods are important to him and his family, and are at risk if he does not migrate.

A person who is moving across national boundaries in pursuit of his family's well-being, his own education, or perhaps fleeing direct physical danger, has a claim on our solicitude for the dignity he expresses in his decision.

Q: In what ways is the right to migrate connected to the basic principles of Catholic social thought known as subsidiarity and solidarity?

Yuengert: The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity safeguard the common good of immigration.

The ability to move across national boundaries in pursuit of a better life is a component of the universal common good. Even if most people never become immigrants, the existence of the option is a real human good that benefits families and countries, through greater economic opportunity and the enriching of cultures through their interaction.

This international common good does not fall within the boundaries of any one country, however, and as a result no country is responsible for guaranteeing the right to migrate.

Since there is no international body that has authority to safeguard the free movement of people across national boundaries, nations are on their honor, so to speak, to safeguard this right.

Solidarity in immigration is a firm commitment to this right -- it encourages us to see in the immigrant as another person, whose dignity is at stake in our policy deliberations and who has no one to speak for him as a person if we do not.

The principle of subsidiarity demands that the immigration policies of local communities -- in this case, nation states -- be respected by international organizations.

These two principles provide the necessary balance needed to make immigration policy. Solidarity discovers in the humanity of immigrants the right to migrate; subsidiarity respects the just prerogatives of the nation, which must balance the good of its own citizens against the real benefits to immigrants.

Q: Does Catholic social teaching favor unrestricted migration? Shouldn't states have the right to reasonably control their own borders, especially in light of national security concerns?

Yuengert: The right to migrate is not absolute. It is like the right to property, which may be abridged in certain ...

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1 - 1 of 1 Comments

  1. W Lindsay Wheeler
    5 years ago

    This is nothing but lies and doublespeak. America is a farrago. A farrago is "a confused mixture". A nation is one that has the "SAME" heritage, language, and ideals. You can't have a nation with influx of millions of different people. That is why Americans in the past have restricted immigration to America from ONLY North European countries. Immigrating Mayan/Aztec indigenous people by the millions here to America is going to destroy the Anglo-Saxon Protestant character of America.

    Is this your purpose?

    I see that the Catholic Church is betraying and undermining this country by its stance and pro-immigration policies. It is even engaging in Masonic Englightenment speech of deracination when it uses the term "human being". As De Maistre said, we are either Germans, French, Jews or Italians but there is no such thing as "man".

    Race does make a difference. Culture which is defined by race, defines politics. Change the culture and you change the politics.

    I see that the Catholic Church is really Marxist in that it really does seek the dissolution of the nation-state. I find this evil and abhorent.

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