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Undocumented Immigrants Should Be Given Legal Status

By Matt Abbott

Speaking about how nations can put "forgiveness and reconciliation" of the Jubilee Year of 2000(1) into practice, Pope John Paul II said that a "significant gesture would certainly be one in which reconciliation, a genuine dimension of the Jubilee, is expressed in a form of amnesty for a broad group of...immigrants who suffer the tragedy of precariousness and uncertainty more than others, namely, illegal immigrants." (2)

Thus, undocumented (illegal) immigrants should be given legal status here in the U.S. First and foremost, legalizing such immigrants would be the morally responsible thing to do. Secondly, there is evidence to illustrate that undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to the common good.(3) Finally, the threat of terrorism, while obviously a significant concern, would not necessarily be reduced by denying legal status to undocumented immigrants.

Legalization is a matter of justice.(4) According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor... Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good...."(no. 1807). Living conditions in developing countries, which, in many cases, is tantamount to destitution, make it very difficult for families to survive and live productive lives. Hence, they desire to come to a country in which they have the opportunity to prosper.

Undocumented immigrants contribute to our country economically. Indeed, though it is difficult to separate and document the economic contributions of both legal and undocumented immigrants, it is nonetheless a virtual certainty that all immigrants help our country's economy.

Consider: An August 2001 North American Integration and Development (NAID) Center study estimated that undocumented immigrants from Mexico contributed $154 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2000, including $77 billion to the Gross State Product of California, assuming the presence of 3 million undocumented Mexican immigrants nationwide.(5) Using a higher estimate of 4.5 million undocumented Mexican immigrants, their contribution to the GDP rose to $220 billion. If undocumented Mexican immigrants were to have suddenly disappeared, U.S. economic output would have declined by $155 billion. (6)

A January 2001 report by the Social Security Administration concluded that undocumented immigrants "account for a major portion" of the more than $20 billion paid to Social Security between 1990 and 1998 that payees can never draw upon because the payments took place under names or Social Security numbers that don't match the agency's records.(7) Such payments totaled almost $4 billion in 1998.(8) The Urban Institute calculated that in 1995 undocumented immigrants in New York alone contributed over $1.1 billion in taxes.(9)

On a related note, legalizing undocumented immigrants would likely improve wages and the work environment. A 2001 report by the aforementioned NAID Center estimated that the wages of immigrant workers would rise 15 percent following legalization of undocumented immigrants, as occurred following the last legalization program in 1986.(10) The report concluded that a "legalization of both the stock and future flow of migrants would enhance the ability of immigrant workers to assert their rights, join unions, and move across jobs," which would "reduce the demand for total immigration via increases in wages in the traditionally high exploitation labor market segments."(11)

Legalizing undocumented immigrants could even increase our country's security, primarily because it would facilitate the monitoring of these immigrants by the federal government. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many, if not most, of American citizens are concerned about the prospect of future attacks. There is some thought that the migration of immigrants might increase the threat of terrorism.

But this fear is seemingly unfounded. For instance, a panel convened by the Migration Policy Institute on September 28, 2001, concluded that national security depends on timely and effective intelligence gathering and information sharing, not immigration policy.(12) Also, it is highly, highly unlikely - and foolish to believe - that the vast majority of immigrants are Islamic militants bent on killing Americans.

In conclusion, the legalization of, and reaching out to, undocumented immigrants would be a positive move for our country. It is a matter of justice; the immigrants contribute to our nation economically; legalization would likely improve wages and the work environment; and legalization could even improve our country's overall security.

In addition, granting legal status to undocumented immigrants could very well give those immigrants a major incentive to become U.S. citizens, after which they would read: "May you find in this Nation the fulfillment of your dreams of peace and security, and may America, in turn, never find you wanting in your new and proud role of Citizen of the United States." (13)



1. A Jubilee Year is a special celebration for Catholics declared by the Pope.

2. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). (2003). "Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants." Retrieved September 24, 2004 from

3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the common good as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (no. 1906).

4. USCCB website. (2003). "Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants." Retrieved September 24, 2004 from

5. Ewing, Walter. "Immigration Policy for the 21st Century: The Case for Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants," USCCB website. Retrieved September 24, 2004 from

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. United States Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service, 'A Welcome to U.S.A. Citizenship,' p. 3. (1974).


Matt Abbott
Matt Abbott - Author,



Catholic, Abbott, Immigration

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