Open Letter to the USCCB on Immigration

February 14, 2017

An Open Letter to the USCCB on Immigration

By James Todd

To the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Founded in 2007, Pewsitter is one of the oldest and largest Catholic news sites on the Internet. We gather and republish thousands of stories weekly from national and international Catholic sources, to keep our readership informed. One of the issues we have been closely following in recent weeks is that of the immigration executive order put in place by President Trump, and the subsequent response of Catholic bishops worldwide.

The official USCCB statement on the refugee order reads, in part, as follows:

We strongly disagree with the Executive Order's halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.

"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do."

"Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops will redouble their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in this area of concern."

A second, joint statement issued by Cardinal DiNardo, USCCB President, and Archbishop Gomez, USCCB Vice President, reads, in part, as follows:

The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice. The Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate urged us to sincerely work toward a mutual understanding that would "promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom." The Church will not waver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors.

We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.

The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself.  Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity. Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.

The understanding of the world, both Catholic and non-Catholic, has been that these statements condemn limitations put on immigration, and further, they are considered to be in support of the statements of many other bishops worldwide, who have spoken much more strongly against the measure. Simultaneously, we have seen a number of pieces citing various Church sources in support of an apparently contrary position on the question of a country’s right to limit immigration. These include, for instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, and even recent remarks of the Pope. These examples are attached for review. The authority of these sources seems equally indisputable, and worthy of the laity’s obedience.

Recently, we polled our readership to discover whether they support the temporary restriction of immigration that Trump has imposed. Surprisingly, we discovered that around 94% of our respondents were in favor of the measure.

Since many of the laity clearly disagree with the bishops on this matter, it would seem necessary, for the purposes of instruction, that the bishops explain in clear, precise language why they condemn the President’s executive order, keeping in mind the sources that we have attached.

Here are several questions we would pose to help clarify the situation:

  1. Does the leader of a country have the right to prudentially limit immigration to that country?

  2. If so, is it not Mr. Trump’s duty as President of the United States to make a prudential judgment as to what is an appropriate restriction? If, as Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Gomez have specifically noted, we must “screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm”, what about his order is problematic, and upon what moral reasoning?
  1. It has just been publicized that the Archdiocese of San Francisco is organizing parish teams to “stop and fight deportations” and observe during ICE raids. The U.S. Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is responsible for enforcing immigration law against individuals who have broken that law and entered the country illegally. Is the Archdiocese of San Francisco encouraging disrespect or even violation of a country’s legal code? If so, is the immigration law which is to be broken unjust, and are there no other ways to address its injustice? 

  2. Another frequently condemned item is the building of a wall on the southern border. An explanation of why such a wall is immoral would be helpful. The doors of our churches have locks, some of them have fences around them, and even part of the Vatican has walls. Jesus spoke of thieves coming in the night, and of the owner who would have taken precautions against housebreaking. Is the building of any wall on the border of any country morally wrong, or merely prudentially ill-advised?

  3. During the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, millions of immigrants came to the United States via Ellis Island. At this time, American immigration restrictions were very tight: immigrants were subjected to health inspections, questions about their beliefs, and their job prospects; some went before a board to answer more detailed questions, while others were held in detention, or quarantine. Would the bishops disagree with imposing such requirements on today’s immigrants?

The episcopacy represents the leadership of the Church, and any statement made by a bishop on such an important question ought to be received with respect. The laity, in this particular case, has not understood the moral reasoning behind the position taken by the episcopacy, as evidenced by the disagreement which we have documented in our survey.

A response to this disagreement, as expressed in our questions above, would be invaluable in aiding the faithful to gain a better understanding of the Bishops’ position on this issue.

We welcome your response to this letter and our queries and would be pleased to publish your response on our site, in hopes that it would further the education of our readers - and their understanding of this issue.




James Todd

Sources referenced in the above letter

Catechism of the Catholic Church, article 2241: 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.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Book I-II, Question 105, Article 3:

Thirdly, when any foreigners wished to be admitted entirely to their fellowship and mode of worship. With regard to these a certain order was observed. For they were not at once admitted to citizenship: just as it was law with some nations that no one was deemed a citizen except after two or three generations, as the Philosopher says (Polit. iii, 1).

The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.

Pope Francis, November 1st, 2016

“So what do I think of those who close their borders? …I think that in theory no one should close their heart to a refugee, but those who govern must also exercise prudence. They should be very open to receiving them, but they should also calculate how they will be able to settle them, because a refugee must not only be welcomed, but also integrated…And if a country is only able to integrate 20, let’s say, then it should only accept that many. If another is able to do more, let it do more… I don’t believe that Sweden is, if it diminishes its capacity to welcome, may it do it for egoism because it has lost that capacity. If there is something of the sort, it’s for the latter that I said: that so many today look to Sweden because they know how to welcome, but there isn’t the necessary time to sort out everyone...

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By James Todd

James Todd is the founder of, one of the oldest and largest Catholic News Portals on the internet.

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