A Closer Look at Immigration
Angelus Press: Has there been much magisterial writing on the issue of immigration?
Fr. Celier: Since the Council, this theme has frequently been broached with the “Annual Migrants’ Day.” Yet, prior to Pope Pius XII, there is almost nothing written, although the 19th and 20th centuries saw massive emigration. Aid societies were founded, but few speeches are to be found. As for theologians, the majority of them have ignored the migrations of modern times.
Angelus Press: Where should we start this issue?
Fr. Celier: We need to start by defining the word immigrant. According to the dictionary, to immigrate means to enter a foreign country for the purpose of settling there. It involves both the notion of changing countries and the notion of settlement. Among other scenarios, a tourist visiting a foreign country does not fit this definition. That being established, it is appropriate to make a few distinctions.
Angelus Press: What distinctions?
Fr. Celier: Some enter a country called by their employer in his professional capacity. These are what we call “expatriates,” and few of them stay long in the host country. Hence, they are closer to tourists than to immigrants. Then, some may arrive in a country as a result of being violently expelled from their home country. This is the case of “displaced persons,” a rather massive reality since World War II. Finally, there are those who, of their own choice, enter a country to find a better life and work. Of this group, some are legal, and some illegal, immigrants. You see right away the importance of these distinctions. Having established these, we can seek the principles that regulate the question of immigration. It seems to me that they are to be found in the Church’s doctrine on property rights.
Angelus Press: I do not quite see the relation between property and immigration.
Fr. Celier: You will readily understand. The theologians unanimously teach that the earth and what it encompasses was given by the Creator to mankind in general for him to dwell in and to use for his subsistence. This universal and primitive destination of the earth remains despite all subsequent appropriations. Nevertheless, solid reasons (hard work, upkeep, order, peace, etc.) have pushed mankind to adopt private property. This appropriation can be the act of an individual, a family, a society (e.g., a business), but also of a city or nation that attributes to itself a definite portion of the earth (a country).
Angelus Press: Applying this to the question of immigration, does this means that the nation can accept or refuse the entrance of foreigners on its territory?
Fr. Celier: Exactly! As the proprietor of the land it occupies, a nation can agree to share it or not with others. This is the principle of private property: I allow into my home whomever I wish. Of course, an immigration is preceded by an emigration: an emigrant is someone who has left his own country, his own nation, his family, his culture, and often his own language. Some emigrate out of a taste for adventure, but most are forced by poverty. It is in this context that on July 23, 1957, Pope Pius XII spoke of “the abnormal situation” of emigrants. Their misery is principally caused by a lack of natural resources, climactic catastrophes or the like, war and corrupt governments. It placed the immigrant in a “state of necessity.”
Angelus Press: What were Pius XII’s arguments in favor of immigration?
Fr. Celier: Pope Pius XII was writing on the aftermath of the WWII, which produced 60 millions casualties in Europe. If there can be requisitions in the case of a natural disaster, it is normal also that moral authorities set some rules about it. It was in these terms that Pius XII called for international legislation concerning immigration, in the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana of August 1, 1952. He reiterated what he called “the general principles of the natural law.”
“Our planet...is not, at the same time, without habitable regions and living spaces now abandoned to wild natural vegetation and well suited to be cultivated by man to satisfy his needs….Then, according to the teaching of Rerum Novarum, the right of the family to a living space is recognized. When this happens, migration attains its natural scope as experience often shows. We mean, the more favorable distribution of men on the earth’s surface suitable to colonies of agricultural workers; that surface which God created and prepared for the use of all.”
Angelus Press: The Pope then quoted his letter to the American Bishops of December 24, 1948, on the general principles of natural law:
Fr. Celier: “The natural law itself, no less than devotion to humanity, urges that ways of migration be opened to these people. For the Creator of the universe made all good things primarily for the good of all. 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.”
Angelus Press: Can you recall the case of normal immigration?
Fr. Celier: It is that of someone who enters legally a country to find a better work and better life. As guest to the host country, if he enjoys some rights, he has also some obvious duties. Like any citizen, he is bound to respect the law, the moral law firstly, and then the civil law. More so this is necessary for the immigrant, since he is enjoying another country’s hospitality. He needs to show this gratitude by his attitude. As Pius XII put it on July 23, 1957, the immigrant “must be conscious of what he owes the people that welcomes him and tries to facilitate his progressive adaptation to his new way of life.” The immigrant must also do his job conscientiously, and more so than any citizen, since the work contract was the key to his entering the country.
Angelus Press: Does the immigrant have a duty to become integrated into the host country, to learn the language, and to accept local customs?
Fr. Celier: The notion of hospitality will enlighten us here. When I am someone’s guest, I bend myself somewhat to his way of doing things. But this depends upon how long I’ll be staying with my host. If it is just for dinner, this accommodation will be rather superficial. If I am spending a long holiday or vacation at his home, I’ll make greater efforts. But a young lady hired to be a nanny in a foreign country, for example, obviously must model herself much more on the customs of the family receiving her.
Angelus Press: Must the country foster assimilation?
Fr. Celier: If, on the contrary, the country is welcoming immigrants to settle permanently, it must, to avoid the progressive dislocation of national unity, promote an adequate assimilation. However, while striving to guarantee a certain homogeneity of the population, the State must not transform itself into a totalitarian monster nor violate the most elevated rights of its citizens, especially the supernatural rights of baptism. As Pope Pius XII said on July 23, 1957, assimilation must not be effected “at the expense of natural rights and to the detriment of religious and moral values.” A Muslim State cannot force a Catholic to apostatize under the pretext that it is inhabited by Muslims.
Angelus Press: What distinctions can a country put in place for immigrants?
Fr. Celier: Let’s recall one of the principles guiding our reflection. The nation is the legitimate proprietor of the territory it occupies, with its resources both natural and human; it can share them with whomever it wishes, within certain limits to which we shall turn later. The public authority is firstly and principally in charge of the common good of this nation, and not that of the other countries of the world. The public authority must therefore be sure that the welcoming of immigrants favors the common good and does not harm it. As Pope Pius XII said on March 13, 1946, “a certain restriction on immigration” is admissible, for “in this matter, it is not only the interests of the immigrants, but also the prosperity of the nation that must be consulted.”
Angelus Press: In what way?
Fr. Celier: I think that the public authority must first determine the country’s capacity to accept immigrants, especially regarding employment, which is in general the immigrant’s main goal. It is entirely abnormal to allow in immigrants for work when thousands, and even millions, of citizens are unemployed and willing to take the work. That is obviously wrong and absurd. A nation’s natural resources must equally be taken into account: a country that is just self-sufficient in food production must not allow in a large number of immigrants because it will not be able to feed them and its own population.
Angelus Press: In case immigration fosters development, shouldn’t the public authority just open the borders?
Fr. Celier: This is not always opportune. The public authority is at the service of the common good of the nation as a whole. It cannot therefore stop at purely economic considerations. The influx of a massive number of immigrants creates problems of coexistence. This is because immigrants from the same nation quite naturally tend to settle in the same place, spontaneously creating de facto “ghettos,” potential sources of conflict with the natives. A government worthy of the name has a duty to regulate immigration and avoid these tensions. A policy of quotas as it is practiced in the US, a country inhabited almost exclusively by immigrants, is a wise and balanced policy. In that vein, it seems judicious for a country to be more open to immigrants from countries which share much of the same culture, language and religion.
Angelus Press: But, today, the real problem is illegal immigration.
Fr. Celier: To approach this difficult question, let’s try to understand better the reasons for emigration and immigration. The principal cause of emigration, as we have said, is poverty, misery. Now what are the causes of immigration, that is, the choice to enter one country rather than another? For starters, there are two obvious reasons. First, immigration is desired by the host country to obtain workers to fill the jobs that the citizens don’t do (hard work, paltry pay, difficulties, etc.). Second, immigration is chosen by the immigrant based on the peace and prosperity of the host country.
But then, there are two less obvious reasons. Politics is the art of what can be done based on what is. The first reality to take into account is the “biological” reality. A country whose population is stagnating, diminishing, or aging, creates a vacuum for younger, more active, poorer peoples. The second reason is a corollary of the first. A country that no longer has children is a country that has lost confidence in itself, its culture, its history and its values. It is plagued with “cosmopolitanism” meaning, not so much a generous welcome of others, but rather the stagnation which preludes death. The immigrants sense that, in this depressed country, they can keep their own customs while benefiting from the local wealth, for the natives no longer have a zest for life and camouflage this death wish beneath a false notion of welcome and sharing.
Angelus Press: Your vision, if realistic, is hardly optimistic.
Fr. Celier: For me, when a prosperous country suffers from a real and persistent problem of immigration, the causes are more internal than external. The earth is huge. So, why would immigrants choose a particular country if they were not sure of finding a niche for their family? A strong country, proud of its values, young mentally and demographically, whose citizens are ready to make themselves respected, will know how to regulate immigration. A country aging mentally and demographically, because of its refusal to give life and to believe in itself, is an easy prey for the uncontrolled migratory masses.
Angelus Press: Why are the current European governments so ineffectual against the phenomenon of immigration?
Fr. Celier: Each one is the guardian of its laws. A people that no longer wants to do hard work will be invaded by the immigrants who offer their hands. A nation which no longer wants to have children will be invaded by prolific immigrants. A nation that no longer wants to defend itself will have an army of immigrants. Such is the hard law of life: old nations have no seat at the banquet of humanity.
Angelus Press: Is there a solution?
Fr. Celier: Solutions resembling palliative care have seen the day, trying to limit immigration. But the solution is the rebirth of our nations. And this happens only by demographic growth, by a taste for work, by the love of one’s own values, by fidelity towards our history. And, this should come along with an effective political policy of co-development to enable the poor populations to stay at home in peace. The question of immigration is certainly a political question. But it is pre-eminently a philosophical question touching on the purpose of life. Do our people still have a zest for life? Are they ready to make efforts in proportion to the end? As I see it, it is only a renewed Christianity which can restore to our nation a taste for eternal life, and then, for life on earth.
From the archives of The Angelus. The original texts have been edited for clarity and consistency.