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Migration and Catholic Social Teaching 

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) on migration is extensive and always keeps a focus on migrants and refugees as human beings, children of God, deserving of respect and dignity. Too often migrants’ unique faces are lost in generalized ethnic groupings. Their search for food and employment disappears in politicized “immigration” debates, and their physical and emotional suffering is subsumed into “human rights violations.” 

The 10 principles of CST, however, definitively reshape the migration debate:

  1. Dignity of the human person
  2. Social nature of the person
  3. The common good
  4. Solidarity of the human family
  5. Participation as a basic human right
  6. Subsidiarity as the rule of social organization
  7. Dignity of work
  8. Universal purpose of material good
  9. Option for the poor and vulnerable
  10. Ecological responsibility

(Go here to read NETWORK’s listing of the 10 principles and their explanations.)

In their joint document from 2003, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” the Catholic bishops of Mexico and the United States identified five areas of Catholic Social Teaching that specifically guide the church’s response on migration issues:

  1. Persons have the right to find opportunity in their home land.

Work that provides a just living wage is a basic human need. Therefore, each individual has the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts.

  1. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.

“The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people.” When a person cannot find work in their country of origin, the have the right to travel to another country to support themselves and their families. Sovereign nations ought to provide avenues to accommodate this right.

  1. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.

While the Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories, the Church rejects such control when it is purely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. Powerful economic nations, with the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a greater obligation to accommodate migration flow.

  1. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.

“Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.”

  1. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

All persons possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Migrants are often subjected to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers in receiving and transit countries. It is necessary that governments respect the basic human rights of migrants regardless of their documented status.

Other CST documents on migration include:

“Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, January 2003 and June 2005

"Catholic Social Teaching and Immigration" Migration Day 2001 statement (PDF format)

"On Human Work/Laborem Exercens", encyclical of Pope John Paul II, September 14, 1981

"Exsul Familia Nazarethana", Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, dated August 1, 1952

Vatican statements on human trafficking

"Erga migrantes caritas Christi/The love of Christ towards migrants", Pontifical Council, Vatican City 2004

"Welcome the Stranger Among Us", U.S. Catholic Bishops, November 2005


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