Yesterday, Dan Yorke played a clip of Bishop Thomas Tobin on one of the Sunday news shows (which does not appear to be online, yet) discussing immigration. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be more Catholic than the bishop, to modify a phrase, let alone the College of Bishops, but it seems to me that his human inclinations, and perhaps a touch of the subconscious workings of self interest, might be misdirecting his application of the faith to this prudential matter.
The Church differentiates between the behavior of the governing authority (i.e., the state) and the individual when it comes to moral action. The state can tax; it can imprison; it can even kill and conduct war. The lessons of the Bible, in the government context — such as Jesus’ explanation that “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” which Bishop Tobin quoted — apply less directly. To some extent the U.S. government must be welcoming, of course, and it must always act with at least the minimum compassion due a person simply as a human being, but it must set an immigration policy based on a complex array of considerations, and then, for the sake of fairness and security, it must enforce that policy. To simplify and exaggerate for the sake of discussion: You might decide not to take visitors after 5:00 p.m. because you must run to give your ailing mother her life-saving medicine; you are not morally obligated to open up the door and start a pot of coffee for a stranger who catches you at the end of the driveway at 5:10. A stranger who has broken into your house need not be given a special path to membership in the family on the grounds that he is a stranger who has broken into your house.
The question of how to deal compassionately with strangers who are in our country illegally has become tangled in our modern notion that compassion requires the meeting of expectations. Out of compassion, we meet the immediate needs of illegals — food, say, or desperately needed medicine. Out of compassion, we ensure that their passage to wherever is safe. But compassion does not require a declaration that the laws do not apply to a particular group of people based on their act of breaking the very law that ostensibly does not apply (else we’ll find the breaking of that law to become more of a goal than complying with it).
To the extent that the Catholic Church needs to have a stance on the matter of illegal immigration that goes beyond simply a demand that all people be treated humanely and fairly, there is nothing in doctrine or, at least that I can see, in the binds of conscience, that is in conflict with a policy of increased pressure on employers and a willingness to return as many illegals as we can to their home countries.