Our Sunday Visitor asked Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, to answer some questions about the Church's position on immigration.
Question: What don't the bishops understand about “illegal”? Why disrespect the rule of law?
Answer: The U.S. bishops and the teachings of the Catholic Church have consistently respected the right of a nation to control its borders, as well as the rule of civil law. However, the Church, along with other members of our democratic society, has the right to work to change laws which are believed to violate the basic human dignity imbued by the Creator.
In the case of immigration, the U.S. bishops believe that the broken U.S. immigration system contributes to the exploitation of migrant workers in the workplace; their abuse by ruthless smugglers; and their deaths in the desert as they seek to find work to support their families. They come illegally because there are insufficient visas under the current system to come legally. Our system contains only 5,000 permanent visas for unskilled laborers to come to the United States, but the demand for their work is much higher, since as many as 300,000 undocumented people each year are absorbed into the U.S. workforce.
Comprehensive immigration reform, which the U.S. bishops support, would replace illegality with a system based on legal presence and legal entry, thus restoring the rule of law to a chaotic system while also protecting the basic dignity, and lives, of our fellow brothers and sisters. It would require those who have broken the law to get on the right side of it by paying a fine, taxes, learning English and waiting in the back of a long line to have a chance to become a U.S. citizen. This “path to citizenship” is in the best interests of migrants, who are able to become full members of their communities, and our nation, which will continue to benefit from their contributions without sacrificing our long-held values as a nation of immigrants: freedom, fairness and opportunity.