It may be helpful, when thinking about Arizona’s new law, to reread the joint letter written by the U.S. and Mexican bishops about the issue of migration, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. In it, they do a review of the consistent Catholic teaching about migration. Here’s a quick review. Read the whole letter for a more complete explanation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2241) defines migration as a natural right when done to gain security and/or a means of livelihood unavailable is their own country. (Given the current violence in Mexico caused by the drug war, if I were Mexican, I would want to get my family out of there and would risk crossing a desert to do so.)
Pope Pius XII, in his apostolic constitution Exsul Familia, affirmed that all peoples have the right to conditions worthy of human life and, if these conditions are not present, the right to migrate. He wrote, “Since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public wealth, considered very carefully, does not forbid this.”
Blessed John XXIII, in Pacem in Terris, wrote, “Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country; and, when there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.”
John Paul II, who’s taking a hit right now over his response to the sexual scandals but still must be respected for his theology, in Ecclesia in America, reiterated the rights of migrants and their families and the respect for human dignity “even in cases of non-legal immigration.”
(Emphasis on the word “right” added by me.)