Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared as part of a larger blog post on First Things. Permission was given by the moderator to repost.
Moral theologian Johannes Messner wrote in 1958 that “the family is prior to the state. It holds natural rights which the state is bound to recognize.” In fact, Messner says that the “prominent task of the state” is “to make it possible for families to fulfill their natural function.”
Immigration policy that respects the sovereignty of the family makes it possible for husbands and wives, and their children, to obtain visas together easily, even when only one parent will work. Respecting the family means finding alternatives to deportation when families will be torn apart by it. And government always has the responsibility to ensure that all workers can earn a just wage, one which allows them to be open to life, and to support the children God gives them.
In Colorado, I’ve endorsed plans to give undocumented children easier access to education, and to allow undocumented adults to obtain drivers’ licenses. These plans are not intended to reward criminal activity. They’re intended to respect the realities of complicated family situations, and to promote family welfare and safety whenever possible.
Today, immigrants are too often viewed solely through a financial lens. They are viewed as workers, and reduced merely to their economic potential. But immigrants are members of families, and those families are essential to our social order. They have something to contribute to our national order, because they are human beings, endowed with real dignity. Immigrant families have always contributed to the richness of our culture—particularly the richness of American Christian culture. As we face the breakdown of the family in this country, we should recognize that supporting families through immigration law is one route to the restoration of Christian culture in the United States.
As of this writing, I do not know whether the Gang of 8 immigration reform legislation is rooted in Christian principles. But I do know this: Mary and Joseph were driven from Bethlehem to Egypt by the unjust governance of Herod. Joseph and Mary fled by night with the child Jesus across a vast desert. It was in Egypt that Christ was raised. I do not know if Mary and Joseph were welcomed in Egypt. I do not know if they were treated justly. But I do know this: Jesus Christ was an immigrant.
If we find ways to welcome the immigrants around us, to respect their dignity and freedom, to treat them with justice—we will have welcomed Jesus Christ, and the Holy Family. We see in the face of every immigrant, and in the face of every human being, the face of Christ. Whatever we do for the immigrants among us, we will have done for Christ, Our Lord.
Samuel J. Aquila is the Archbishop of Denver, Colorado.
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