'When Did We See You a Stranger?' Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on Immigration
Apr 27, 2006
A Catholic leader says that supporting immigrants' rights is what God wants him to do.
(believe.net, April 15 2006) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and one of a growing number of religious leaders who advocate immigration reform. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about the U.S. Catholic bishops' stance on immigration and the criticism the bishops have faced.
In your speech at the D.C. rally on April 10, you said, "We do not deny that every government has the right and the duty to control its borders. We accept and defend that right, but we are not doing it today in a way that is either efficient or humane." What's a moral, humane way to control borders? If you were in charge of the laws and the border control, what would you do?
I'm very glad I'm not in charge, because it's a very difficult question. But we have experts who have to do that.
Everyone should be open to having other people come into their country, for good reason. We're America, a nation that only exists today because people were allowed to come in to try for a better life, to escape persecution or great poverty. Every nation should have some opportunity for people to come in; otherwise they become lost in being nativist, protectionist, and isolationist.
Once that is said, a nation should be able to say "I only want a certain number to come in," so that there is a natural growth and a natural flow. But because [we] have not had an effective policy, millions of people are living in a shadow.
That's where morality comes in. If they're doing bad things, obviously you can get rid of them. But if they're trying to raise a family, making a contribution to our economy by paying taxes, working in areas that other people don't want to work at, and bringing values to our country--values we sometimes tend to lose in our secular society--then you have to take another look at the immigration policies of the United States.
What, to you, are the most essential changes to make?
First of all, we need to cooperate with other countries so people can stay where they are. The most important right people have is the right to make it where they have roots planted. If that doesn't happen, often because of economic policies of well-developed nations, that's something we have to look at. We [should] help other countries develop economically themselves, so people aren't forced to look around [for] a place to find a better life.
Some people say that even if more fair-trade policies were implemented, it wouldn't benefit people in the Third World.
That is certainly said. But if we were to revise our trade policies to make it possible for other nations to find markets, I think we would be able to help improve the quality of life in other countries.
I'm convinced that this not the way God made the world--that some nations should be starving and others eating. We really have to find a way to close the chasm between the rich and poor.
That's number one. When it comes to our policies here, the most moral thing would be not to divide families. People who are documented and citizens sometimes have to wait a long time before their relatives and parents can come to this country.
It's been proposed that, if the Catholic Church feels strongly about welcoming immigrants, illegal immigrant children should be sent to Catholic schools at no cost, instead of public schools. And illegal immigrants who are ill should go to Catholic hospitals for free, not public ones. How would you respond to such proposals?
We'd love to do it. I'd love to have these youngsters in our schools, because they'd be a great blessing and treasure to us. If they came to our hospitals, that would be great. Obviously, there is a question of finances. I guess then they wouldn't pay taxes anymore, because taxes are what keep the public schools and hospitals open. If they weren't paying taxes, they could pay to go to Catholic schools and hospitals. But if they're going to pay taxes, it's only fair. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
If they're not paying taxes, then we have to work out some [way]--they really ought to be paying taxes. If they want to be part of our country, they have to support the country.
How do you respond to parents who have many children and feel strapped by taxes--who say they have a moral obligation to their own children first?
I would say they certainly do have an obligation to their own children. All this is based on the premise that these other people aren't paying taxes, and I don't think that's true. Not only are they paying taxes, they're keeping some of our operations alive that otherwise couldn't be kept alive.
Some people would say many illegal aliens work in the underground economy and don't pay taxes-they just receive cash for their services.
That kind of economy is immoral. We've forced that on them, because they can't go to a normal business. They are being immorally treated and not getting the money they need to live their own lives.
Many times, these people are working in an economy that our own people don't want to work in anymore. Someone said as a joke to me, "If we have to have this big wall [between the U.S. and Mexico], it's going to be [immigrants] who are building it."
Are you disturbed by the fact that many advocates of unlimited immigration are businesses looking for cheap labor and refuse to grant immigrants labor rights?
Very much so. When we speak of a reform of our immigration system, what we're looking for is the human rights of these people to do a decent job and get a decent salary for it. Anything else is not part of the program--to bring people in who will be always on the dole because they can't get a decent job. That's not the answer.
Is there a division between what Catholic leaders like you think about immigration, and what Catholic laypeople in the pews think?
I think there is, though not generally so. Many Catholic people in the pews do see the value of these people; [their] ancestors came within the last couple generations. My mother's people wouldn't have been here if we had this kind of legislation a hundred years ago.
There are some folks in the pews who do not agree with this. I certainly respect them. I'd like to have a chance to talk to them. I'd like them to read what the bishops are saying. I think if they read it and weren't just getting the propaganda, they will see it differently.
Has there been a personal cost to you in taking this stance?
There's always a personal cost if you try to espouse a cause that's not as popular as you'd like it to be. You try to do what you believe the Lord wants you to do, and what you believe the Church is teaching. I can't see how anyone could persuade me that this is not what the Lord is teaching. What I think is right, I have to do.
I did my column in the Catholic Standard on this question, because I know there are a number of our folks who weren't happy with my stand [in favor of immigrants' rights]. I have to preach what I think the Lord wants me to preach. If I'm wrong, he'll tell me.
What words of Jesus or events in the life of Jesus influence your stance on immigration?
The Lord says to people, "I was a stranger and you took me in." They say, "When did we see you a stranger?" [He replies,] "When you did it to the least of my brethren, then you took me in."
I think that's the way we should always react to people. It's not always the easy way, but it's what God asks us to do.