A humanitarian approach to immigration


We witness the suffering inflicted on the people of Ukraine, the result of an unprovoked war, through our newsfeeds and newspapers. Our immediate response is to help them, to offer refuge in the United States. By contrast, our response is less than welcoming and oftentimes hostile and suspicious toward people harmed by violence, poverty, corruption and disasters seeking refuge at our southern border with Mexico. Why the disparity? “We are all God’s children. That makes us brothers and sisters,” said Sister Mary Bea Snyder of the Davenport-based Congregation of the Humility of Mary. Immigration is “not about politics. It’s about human dignity.”

If we approach immigration as a humanitarian issue, we will see hope, not fear in the cessation of Title 42 of the U.S. Code that prohibits certain noncitizens from entering the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the order ending Title 42, effective May 23. That decision is feeding unwarranted fear about immigrants that enriches some social media sites and some news outlets. (On April 25, a federal judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked ending the policy.)

“Title 42 has resulted in the expulsion of more than 1 million migrants by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since 2020, including asylum-seeking children and families” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, April 5, 2022). The USCCB says Title 42 has overridden normal proceedings and skirted due process protections, forcibly returning vulnerable individuals to places where their lives are in danger.

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, welcomed an end to the harmful policy. He and his brother bishops along the U.S.-Mexico border have long urged policies that “respect migrants’ intrinsic dignity, preserve human life, and provide for safe, orderly, and humane immigration, all while acknowledging the right of nations to maintain their borders.” As he pointed out in the April 5 statement, “Persecution, violence, natural disasters and other root causes of migration will continue to force people to seek protection until more robust efforts are undertaken to address them.”


Good government has two duties, as the Catholic Catechism teaches. “The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations…”

“The more prosperous nations (that includes us) 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. The second duty is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right,” the Catechism states.

We have the means and the moral obligation to undertake both duties, and these tasks begin with the hard work of crafting and passing immigration law. This is not a political issue; it is a humanitarian issue and a moral issue that obligates us to respond to the pressing needs of the people with whom we share this planet.

The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC), the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops, notes that the desperation of migrants and their circumstances do not correspond to the inordinate length of time (sometimes over 15 years) required to wait in line for the present system to process a visa request. The ICC advocates for federal legislation that addresses the immigrants already here, for the sake of family unity and being humane. The immigrants in our midst should receive special consideration that would include eventual citizenship, the ICC believes. Secure borders are important, but must respect human rights and human life (iowacatholicconference.org).

However, Congress has failed to act, so we need to apply the pressure by flooding our congressional delegation with emails, letters and phone calls advocating for immigration law based on the blueprint from our U.S. bishops. The bishops recommend earned legalization, a future worker program, family-based immigration reform, addressing the root causes of migration, restoration of due process rights, and enforcement that is humane and proportional.

Prayer and education. Our journey toward a humanitarian response to immigration begins with prayer and continues with education about the issue (visit usccb.org, justiceforimmigrants.org, iowacatholicconference.org and
congress.gov). The websites listed here provide unbiased information to help us make informed decisions. The Catholic Messenger will also provide updates on immigration, among other issues that matter to people of faith.

Advocate. Contact U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (grassley.senate.gov), U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (ernst.senate.gov) and the U.S. Representative from your district (congress.gov). The
congress.gov website also provides information about legislation.

Last week, Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley traveled to Davenport to accept the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award for her decades of serving people on both sides the U.S.-Mexico border.

“[W]e are facing unprecedented global movements due to political instability, violence, poverty, persecution,” Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, said in her acceptance speech. “We must let God be the force that drives us forward, a force that comes from our constant connectedness and groundedness to God’s presence in us.”

“Responding to the needs of our brothers and sisters in distress is the responsibility of everyone, of every one of us,” Sister Norma said.



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