Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Strangers No Longer
Together on the Journey of Hope
As immigration policies take a front seat in our national political scene, Catholic
Update offers this condensation of a groundbreaking joint letter of U.S. and Mexican
In discerning the signs of the times, we note the greatly increased migration
among the peoples of the Americas, and we see in this but one manifestation of a worldwide
phenomenon—often called globalization—which brings with it great promises along
with multiple challenges.
We speak as two episcopal conferences but as one Church, united in the view
that migration between our two nations is necessary and beneficial. At the same time, some
aspects of the migrant experience are far from the vision of the Kingdom of God that Jesus
proclaimed: Many persons who seek to migrate are suffering, and, in some cases, tragically
dying; human rights are abused; families are kept apart; and racist and xenophobic attitudes
We the bishops of Mexico and the United States seek to awaken our peoples
to the mysterious presence of the crucified and risen Lord in the person of the migrant
and to renew in them the values of the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed.
As pastors to more than ninety million Mexican Catholics and 65 million U.S.
Catholics, we witness the human consequences of migration in the life of society every
day. We witness the vulnerability of our people involved in all sides of the migration
phenomenon, including families devastated by the loss of loved ones who have undertaken
the migration journey and children left alone when parents are removed from them.
We observe the struggles of landowners and enforcement personnel who seek
to preserve the common good without violating the dignity of the migrant. And we share
in the concern of religious and social service providers who, without violating civil law,
attempt to respond to the migrant knocking at the door.
A common history
America is a continent born of immigrant peoples who came to inhabit these
lands and who from north to south gave birth to new civilizations. It was precisely within
the historical processes of forced and voluntary movements that faith in Christ entered
into these lands and extended all over the continent. Faith in Christ has thus “shaped
[our] religious profile, marked by moral values which, though they are not always consistently
practiced and at times are cast into doubt, are in a sense the heritage of all Americans,
even of those who do not explicitly recognize this fact” (Ecclesia in America #14).
At the present time, the interdependence and integration of our two peoples
is clear. According to U.S. government statistics, about 800,000 Mexicans enter the United
States each day. Cross-border U.S. and Mexican investment has reached unprecedented levels
in recent years.
Moreover, each year the United States admits between 150,000 to 200,000 Mexicans
into the country as legal permanent residents, amounting to nearly 20 percent of the total
number of legal permanent residents admitted each year. A significant number of U.S. citizens
live, work, and retire in Mexico. In addition to this present interdependence, Mexico and
the United States have been bound historically by spiritual connections.
Our common faith in Jesus Christ moves us to search for ways that favor a
spirit of solidarity.
Migration and the Word of God
The Word of God and the Catholic social teaching it inspires illuminate an
one that is ultimately full of hope—that recognizes the lights and shadows that are
a part of the ethical, social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of migrations
between our two countries.
Recalling the migration of the Chosen People from Egypt, Jesus, Mary, and
Joseph themselves were refugees in Egypt:
“Out of Egypt I called my son” (Mt 2:15). From this account the Holy Family
has become a figure with whom Christian migrants and refugees throughout the ages can identify,
giving them hope and courage in hard times.
St. Matthew also describes the mysterious presence of Jesus in the migrants
who frequently lack food and drink and are detained in prison (Mt 25:35-36). The
“Son of Man” who “comes in his glory”
(Mt 25:31) will judge his followers by the way they respond to those in such need: “Amen,
I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt
The triumph of grace in the Resurrection of Christ plants hope in the hearts
of all believers, and the Spirit works in the Church to unite all peoples of all races
and cultures into the one family of God (Eph 2:17-20).
The Holy Spirit has been present throughout the history of the Church to
work against injustice, division, and oppression and to bring about respect for individual
human rights, unity of races and cultures, and the incorporation of the marginalized into
full life in the Church. In modern times, one of the ways this work of the Spirit has been
manifested is through Catholic social teaching, in particular the teachings on human dignity
and the principle of solidarity.
Migration and Catholic Social Teaching
Catholic teaching has a long and rich tradition in defending the right to
migrate. Based on the life and teachings of Jesus, the Church’s teaching has provided
the basis for the development of basic principles regarding the right to migrate for those
attempting to exercise their God-given human rights. Catholic teaching also states that
the root causes of migration—poverty, injustice, religious intolerance, armed conflicts—must
be addressed so that migrants can remain in their homeland and support their families.
In his landmark encyclical Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope John XXIII
expands the right to migrate as well as the right to not have to migrate: “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” (#25).
Pope John XXIII placed limits on immigration, however, when there are
“just reasons for it.” Nevertheless, he stressed the obligation of sovereign
states to promote the universal good where possible, including an obligation to accommodate
migration flows. For more powerful nations, a stronger obligation exists.
Both of our episcopal conferences have echoed the rich tradition of church
teachings with regard to migration.
Five principles emerge from such teachings: 1) Persons have the right to
find opportunities in their homeland; 2) Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves
and their families; 3) Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders; 4) Refugees
and asylum seekers should be afforded protection; 5) The human dignity and human rights
of undocumented migrants should be respected.
Toward conversion and communion
The Church in our two countries is constantly challenged to see the face
of Christ, crucified and risen, in the stranger. The whole Church is challenged to live
the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-25), as they are converted
to be witnesses of the Risen Lord after they welcome him as a stranger. Faith in the presence
of Christ in the migrant leads to a conversion of mind and heart, which leads to a renewed
spirit of communion and to the building of structures of solidarity.
Part of the process of conversion of mind and heart deals with confronting
attitudes of cultural superiority, indifference, and racism; accepting migrants not as
foreboding aliens, terrorists, or economic threats, but rather as persons with dignity
and rights, revealing the presence of Christ; and recognizing migrants as bearers of deep
cultural values and rich faith traditions.
Conversion of mind and heart leads to communion expressed through hospitality
on the part of receiving communities and a sense of belonging and welcome on the part of
those in the communities where migrants are arriving. The New Testament often counsels
that hospitality is a virtue necessary for all followers of Jesus. Many migrants, sensing
rejection or indifference from Catholic communities, have sought solace outside the Church.
They experience the sad fate of Jesus, recorded in St. John’s Gospel: “He came
to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11).
Public policy challenge and responses
The United States and Mexico share a special relationship that requires focused
attention upon joint concerns. The realities of migration between both nations require
comprehensive policy responses implemented in unison by both countries.
Now is the time for both the United States and Mexico to confront the reality
of globalization and to work toward a globalization of solidarity. We call upon both governments
to cooperate and to jointly enact policies that will create a generous, legal flow of migrants
between both nations.
Persons should have the opportunity to remain in their homeland to support
and to find full lives for themselves and their families. This is the ideal situation for
which the world and both countries must strive: one in which migration flows are driven
by choice, not necessity. Paramount to achieving this goal is the need to develop the economies
of sending nations, including Mexico.
Only a long-term effort that adjusts economic inequalities between the United
States and Mexico will provide Mexican workers with employment opportunities that will
allow them to remain at home and to support themselves and their families.
The creation of employment opportunities in Mexico would help to reduce poverty
and would mitigate the incentive for many migrants to look for employment in the United
As pastors, we are troubled by how the current amalgamation of immigration
laws, policies, and actions pursued by both governments often impedes family unity. While
the majority of Mexican migrants enter the United States to find work, many cross the border
to join family members.
The U.S. legal immigration system places per-country limits on visas for
family members of U.S. legal permanent residents from Mexico. This cap, along with processing
delays, has resulted in unacceptable waiting times for the legal reunification of a husband
and wife, or of a parent and child.
For example, the spouse or child of a Mexican-born legal permanent resident
can wait approximately eight years to obtain a visa to join loved ones in the United States.
Spouses and parents thus face a difficult decision: either honor their moral commitment
to family and migrate to the United States without proper documentation, or wait in the
system and face indefinite separation from loved ones.
This is an unacceptable choice, and a policy that encourages undocumented
migration. In order to ensure that families remain together, reform of the U.S. family-based
legal immigration categories vis-à-vis Mexico is necessary. A new framework must
be established that will give Mexican families more opportunities to legally reunite with
their loved ones in the United States. This would help alleviate the long waiting times
and, in time, would reduce undocumented migration between the United States and Mexico.
Approximately 10.5 million Mexican-born persons currently live in the United
States, about 5.5 million of whom reside legally, and the remainder of whom have undocumented
A broad legalization program of the undocumented would benefit not only the
migrants but also both nations. Making legal the large number of undocumented workers from
many nations who are in the United States would help to stabilize the labor market in the
United States, to preserve family unity, and to improve the standard of living in immigrant
Border enforcement policies
Of particular concern are the border enforcement policies pursued by both
governments that have contributed to the abuse and even deaths of migrants in both Mexico
and the United States. Along the United States-Mexico border, the U.S. government has launched
several border-blockade initiatives in the past decade designed to discourage undocumented
migrants from entering the country.
Rather than significantly reducing illegal crossings, the initiatives have
instead driven migrants into remote and dangerous areas of the southwest region of the
United States, leading to an alarming number of migrant deaths.
We urge both the U.S. and Mexican enforcement authorities to abandon the
type of strategies that give rise to migrant smuggling operations and migrant deaths.
The U.S. Border Patrol has recently launched a border safety initiative to
prevent migrant deaths. We ask the Border Patrol to redouble their efforts in this area
and to work more closely with community groups to identify and rescue migrants in distress.
Similarly, we call upon both nations to undertake joint efforts to halt the
scourge of trafficking in human persons, both within our hemisphere and internationally.
As bishops we have decided, in the words of Pope John Paul II, to “put
out into the deep” in search of common initiatives that will promote solidarity between
our countries, particularly among the Catholics of both countries.
We recognize the phenomenon of migration as an authentic sign of the times.
We see it in both our countries through the suffering of those who have been forced to
become migrants for many reasons. To such a sign we must respond in common and creative
ways so that we may strengthen the faith, hope, and charity of migrants and all the People
The Church must, therefore, welcome all persons regardless of race, culture,
language, and nation with joy, charity, and hope. It must do so with special care for those
who find themselves—regardless of motive—in situations of poverty, marginalization,
NEXT: Eucharist: A Short History (by Rev. Alfred McBride, O.Praem)