Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

Pope John Paul II and Immigration Law and Policy

Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

Pope John Paul II and Immigration Law and Policy

Article excerpt


The immigration debate in the United States and in other developed countries has proved vitriolic and divisive, one view espousing limited immigration based on a stringent selection process reflecting the interests of the inhabitants and the other advocating a more open border in which the needs and desires of intending immigrants are considered. (1) The debate is fueled by the unlawful presence of millions of foreigners in the United States, as well as by concerns for security from overseas terrorists. (2) Some also point to the risks of entry by terrorists due to porous borders. (3) Conversely, others favor making immigration easier, and giving those here without status the opportunity to obtain work authorization and eventual citizenship. (4) Both sides tend to view immigrants as objects--either as workers or as welfare recipients or criminals. While one side sees a benefit to their presence, the other views them as a burden. Neither side considers immigrants as subjects, with both rights and responsibilities. The Catholic Church has proposed an alternative solution to migration issues, which addresses the immigrant as a subject, through its social teaching, as expressed in encyclical letters, (5) addresses, and other public statements of church leaders. The late Pope John Paul II was a particularly active advocate for this position, calling for respect for the humanity, dignity, and needs of the immigrant, while recognizing the impact on both the community the migrant leaves and the one he enters.

The first secular viewpoint in the immigration debate can be characterized as Communitarian Particularism. (6) As articulated by Michael Walzer, citizens have an absolute right to select who can join them in their nation. (7) This view was first formally espoused in 1889 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the "Chinese Exclusion" cases. (8) The Court held that a nation's right to exclude noncitizens was unlimited, without regard to binding treaties or due process. (9) In fact, from 1924 until 1965, Congress effectively limited immigration to economically sound applicants from Northern Europe. (10)

Those holding the opposing view, Liberal Egalitarianism, as enunciated by John Rawls (11) and enhanced by Bruce Ackerman, (12) would open national borders for all to enter absent a specific reason for exclusion. As Ackerman wrote, "The liberal state is not a private club.... I cannot justify my power to exclude you without destroying my own claim to membership in an ideal liberal state." (13)

The political results of these contrasting views can be seen in the conflicting, recently drafted legislative initiatives in the U.S. Congress: one group seeking to build a fence (14) and criminalize unlawful presence, (15) and the other espousing a guest-worker program and even amnesty. (16)

The Catholic Church, through its presentation of social doctrine, has been resolute in examining the plight of migrants (17) and suggesting responses to the underlying causes of migration. While John Paul II generally based his views on prior Catholic social teaching, the strenuousness of his efforts and the pointed vehemence of his comments leave little doubt that he spoke with sincerity and particular conviction on these matters.

This Article begins with suggested reasons for John Paul II's deep commitment to migration issues, followed by a discussion of those key principles of Catholic social doctrine that provide a foundation for the Catholic approach to migration policy. The Pope's views on migration policy are then examined. I conclude with an analysis of the lasting impact of John Paul II's efforts on the current immigration debate, in the United States and internationally.


Before John Paul II was pope, (18) he was a bishop in a repressive communist country. (19) Before he was a bishop, he was a philosopher, and before he was a philosopher, he was a poet, (20) a playwright, (21) and a laborer in a stone quarry. …

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