The Immigration Policy: Should Immigration Laws Be Reformed

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The history of immigration in America shows how the country is made up of immigrants. Immigration to the U.S. started in 1620 when the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts (Gordon). Many of these immigrants fled for reasons such as religious freedom, looking for a safe haven in the New World. The first wave of immigration occurred between 1820 and 1860, the Irish accounted for an estimated one-third of all immigrants to the United States. Some 5 million German immigrants also came to the U.S (US Immigration). In opposition to this new wave of immigration, America’s first anti-immigrant political party, the Know-Nothing Party forms. As America begins a rapid period of industrialization and urbanization, a second immigration boom begins. In 1875, following the Civil War, some states passed their own immigration laws. In 1875 the Supreme Court declares that it’s the responsibility of the federal government to make and enforce immigration laws (U.S Citizenship). Between 1880 and 1920, more than 20 million immigrants arrive, which is known as the second wave of immigration. The majority are from Southern, Eastern and Central Europe. 

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During this time, a steady flow of Chinese workers had also immigrated to America to work in factories and do agricultural work. In response to this, The Chinese Exclusion Act passes, which barred Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S. This Act is the first in American history to place broad restrictions on certain immigrant groups. The Immigration Act of 1891 further excludes who can enter the United States, barring the immigration of polygamists, people convicted of certain crimes, and the sick or diseased. After the opening of the Ellis Island immigration station in New York during 1892, immigration peaked, with 1.3 million people entering the country through Ellis Island alone (US Immigration). Xenophobia, an intense dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries, reached new highs in 1917 at the start of World War I. This led to the Immigration Act of 1917 which established a literacy requirement for immigrants entering the country and halts immigration from most Asian countries. This xenophobia progressed even further with the passage of The Immigration Act of 1924. This limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States yearly through nationality quotas. Years later, the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 formally ends the exclusion of Asian immigrants to the United States. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 overhauls the American immigration system. The Act ended the national origin quotas enacted in the 1920s which favored some racial and ethnic groups over others (Chapter). The quota system is replaced with a seven-category preference system emphasizing family reunification and skilled immigrants. Upon signing the new bill, President Lyndon B. Johnson, called the old immigration system “un-American,” and said the new bill would correct a “cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American Nation.” In 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which granted amnesty to more than 3 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. This specific law sets precedent for others laws to pardon immigrants and them gain citizenship. 

During 2001 the first Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was in an attempt to provide a pathway to legal status for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents as children but no versions of this bill was able to pass through Congress. Looking at more recent immigration laws set in place, people can see during the Obama administration the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was set in place to temporarily shield some Dreamers from deportation, but doesn’t provide a path to citizenship. After the most recent election, Trump has instituted policies harshly against illegal immigrants. He signed executive orders on border security and interior enforcement (President). This quick summary of all the major immigrations points in American history shows how the political attitude toward immigration is always changing regarding to who is in power in the country. Culturally, many were skeptical of immigrants during the early years of the nation, as they believed immigrants were responsible for some major problems in the US economy, but now citizens have began to grow and appreciate what immigrants offer to the country.

The Church has taken a stance on the issue of immigration and uses three main points to support their stance. Firstly the Church believes that People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. This is based on biblical and ancient Christian teaching that the goods of the earth belong to all people. While the right to private property is defended in Catholic social teaching, individuals do not have the right to use private property without regard for the common good. Every person has an equal right to receive from the earth what is necessary for life—food, clothing, shelter. Moreover, every person has the right to education, medical care, religion, and the expression of one's culture. In many places people live in fear, danger, or dehumanizing poverty. It is not God's will that some of his children live in luxury while others have nothing. 

The natives of one land does not have superior rights over the immigrant this is because before God all are equal. When a person cannot achieve a meaningful life in his or her own land, that person has the right to move. Contradicting the Church also believes that a country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration. The overriding principle of all Catholic social teaching is that individuals must make economic, political, and social decisions not out of self-interest, but with regard for the common good. That means that a moral person cannot consider only what is good for his or her own self and family, but must act with the good of all people as his or her guiding principle. While individuals have the right to move in search of a safe and humane life, no country is bound to accept all those who wish to resettle there. Because there seems to be no end to misery in the world, developed nations will continue to experience pressure from thousands of people who desire to resettle in their lands. 

Catholic social teaching teaches that while people have the right to move, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized. For this reason, Catholics should not view the work of the federal government and its immigration control as negative or evil. Those who work to enforce our nation's immigration laws often do so out of a sense of loyalty to the common good and compassion for poor people seeking a better life (Catholic). Lastly it teaches that a country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy. A country's regulation of borders and control of immigration must be governed by concern for all people and by mercy and justice. A nation may not simply decide that it wants to provide for its own people and no others. A sincere commitment to the needs of all must prevail. Undocumented immigrants present a special concern. Under the harshest view, undocumented people may be regarded as undeserving of rights or services. This is not the view of Catholic social teaching. The Catholic Church teaches that every person has basic human rights and is entitled to have basic human needs met—food, shelter, clothing, education, and health care (Catholic).

Sources of moral theology of moral theology show how we must look at immigrants in our country and how we must act towards them. Proverbs 31:8-9 states, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Bible). This bible verse explicitly explains how people show be treating immigrants in the country. The quote shows that all people should be cared and loved for, and their rights must be defended and honored. Many times people forget that immigrants should be treated with the same respect as a citizen and abuse and harm them. This verse is a reminder that one must treat them with mercy and justice at all times. Religious tradition shows how everyone must love and care for each other regardless of their social standing. From a young age, Christians are taught to spread the love of God by treating everyone with love and respect. One’s first instinct when seeing a suffering immigrant, coming to the country with hopes and dreams, is to support and strengthen them. This instinct shows how true love, compassion, and understanding is within all people, and most are able to use this to sympathize with the suffering immigrants. Maximillian Trejo, a Mexican immigrant in Texas, illegally immigrated into America and may end being deported back to Mexico for being undocumented. This is a moral issue because it concerns the internal, personal values, beliefs, feelings, and leanings, it is often more subjective and concerns oneself to discover one’s own morality.


  • Compassion- If the government decides to deport him, it displays a lack of compassion for him and his family. He has also prospered at a job in Texas helping boost the economy in Northern Texas. Deporting him would discredit all his hard work.
  • Empathy- The government lacks a sense of empathy for him and his situation. If he were to be deported he would be ripped from his family and job being left alone to suffer.
  • Respect - If he was to be deported and stripped from all that he loves, it would be a clear display of disrespect toward another human being. His human dignity must be valued and respected.

In order to make a well informed moral decision, one must further study and understand the laws in America for immigration and laws that specifically apply to this specific scenario. Knowing more about Maximillian and his could also aid in a more moral decision, as this topic is quite complex. Referring back to the Catholic teaching and the three points the Church has on Immigration one could deduct that theChurch would oppose deporting Maximillian. The first point emphasizes that one should be able to sustain a life in a country if they must. The second point discusses how a country is allowed to restrict immigration if it is in the best interest of the majority. In this scenario it is clear that Maximillian’s life does not hurt the majority, but rather helps it as his hard work is what is helping boom the economy in Northern Texas. Lastly, the Church teaches that immigrants must be treated with mercy and justice. Deporting him and stripping from his family is a clear violation of this point and shows the true evil of this process.                      

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