Christian faith communities generally accept two major principles regarding migration. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops instructs Catholics to, “treat the stranger as we would treat Christ himself.” The Bishops and other faith leaders, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), also recognize “the right and responsibility of the U.S. to maintain our country’s borders.”
Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” is the foundation of the Christian obligation towards the migrant. Other Bible passages are often cited in this regard, to include: "You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you, have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt" (Lv 19:33-34).
The Catholic Catechism provides the clearest statement on the second principle: "Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens."
Religious leaders often issue policy and pastoral guidance that can be very detailed regarding these issues such as the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Outline of General Assembly Policy related to Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, and the Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Catholic Church's Position On Immigration Reform.
The pastoral guidance of these types of documents can go beyond religious counsel. They often contain policy recommendations and can advocate very specific and controversial actions. Though draped in the overall principles of Christian faith, these policy statements express much that is political policy advocacy.
The religious leaders who write these policy statements are not immune to the influences of culture and politics. As a result, when they venture beyond the religious to political and government policy their personal and political biases and institutional pressures bleed through.
Beyond clear exhortations of Christian responsibility to treat the migrant (of all kinds) within our borders with love and compassion, and to be generous in opening ourselves “to those fleeing war and persecution, famine and economic distress,” the policy recommendations of faith leaders are not sacrosanct. Faithful Christians can fully embrace their Christian responsibility toward the migrant while developing and supporting valid policy solutions regulating migration different from those advocated by church leaders.
The immigration debate in the country has grown unnecessarily contentious because many have adopted and defend one or the other of these two principles, but not both. No solution will result from this contentiousness. A merciful heart and a strong sense of responsibility to protect the common good are all that is needed to resolve this issue in the interest of all.
For the common good our immigration laws must be clear and consistently enforced in the interests of citizens: secure the border, implement real visa tracking, emphasize assimilation, aggressively deport those who have broken the law, and modify birthright citizenship to stop its enticement.
For those who have entered the country illegally and have broken no laws except their entry there should be mercy, but a penalty to pay for that violation in the interest of asserting the rule of law. Children who were brought illegally into the country should be allowed to remain and become citizens. Adults who entered illegally should be allowed to remain, but in a special category status that never allows citizenship, voting rights, or non-contributory government financial benefits.