Justice Perspective: What justice looks like for migrants and refugees

Fri, Jul 27th 2018 10:30 am
Catholic Charities of Buffalo
Deacon Don Weigel
Deacon Don Weigel

Note: This is the second of three columns that will deal with the issue of migrants and refugees, its causes, what the Church teaches, and what action should be taken.

At the end of the last column, I suggested that we need to imagine ourselves as refugees and then imagine what justice looks like. The good news is that our imagining of justice for immigrants and refugees can be guided by a strong and clear teaching of the Church on this issue.

Fifteen years ago the bishops of the United States and Mexico jointly issued a landmark document entitled "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope." This pastoral letter was written after two years of study, interviews, meetings, and dialogue with migrants, government officials, families and religious leaders.

The pastoral letter is written in a language that is both practical and compassionate, and contains a great many insights for how to apply Catholic Social Teaching to the issue of immigration and refugees. While the entire letter should be read in order to understand the whole teaching of the bishops on this issue, there is a section that summarizes this important teaching.

In particular, paragraphs 33-38 list five principles that should guide our position on immigration and refugee issues. The principles are from the bishops, but I have rephrased some of their language:

  1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland. Included in the basic rights of every person are the conditions worthy of human life in their own country. People have the right to live free from poverty, injustice, religious intolerance and armed conflicts. They also have the right to have work that provides a just, living wage. These are a matter of basic human dignity.
  2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. So when people are deprived of peace, a just wage, and other conditions that would allow for their integral development, they have the right to migrate to another country in order to provide for themselves and their families. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right. The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people - and more prosperous nations have a stronger obligation to accept migrants.
  3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.  While the a country may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated. In the current condition of the world, in which global poverty and persecution are rampant, the presumption is that persons must migrate in order to support and protect themselves, and that nations who are able to receive them should do so whenever possible. From nations that have more, more is expected.
  4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection. People who are fleeing horrible conditions like war, persecution or natural disasters deserve to be protected by the global community. Those who are refugees or asylum seekers should expect to have their claims assessed without being incarcerated.
  5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess God-given human dignity that must be respected including not being subjected to harsh treatment or anti-family policies.

In the last installment we will deal with actions toward migrants and refugees that conform to these teachings.

Deacon Weigel is the Diocesan Director for Catholic Relief Services and can be reached at deacondon@gmail.com.  

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