Essentially, he notes that our nature as human persons, created in God's image and likeness, is foundational to all our ethical and (therefore) political decisions. A migrant or a refugee is, first and foremost, a brother or sister in Christ.
Here's the heart of it:
Venerable John Paul II, on the occasion of this same Day celebrated in 2001, emphasized that "[the universal common good] includes the whole family of peoples, beyond every nationalistic egoism. The right to emigrate must be considered in this context. The Church recognizes this right in every human person, in its dual aspect of the possibility to leave one's country and the possibility to enter another country to look for better conditions of life" (Message for World Day of Migration 2001, 3; cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra, 30; Paul VI, Encyclical Octogesima adveniens, 17). At the same time, States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host Country, respecting its laws and its national identity. "The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life" (World Day of Peace 2001, 13).
Yes, he said that migration is a human right. It is not a privilege or a civil right bestowed by human government.
At the same time, that right (like all rights) comes with responsibilities. A migrant is responsible to respect the laws and customs of their host country. That includes the immigration laws. At minimum, this is simple courtesy. Taken to an extreme, it's recognizing the difference between a guest and an invader.
Refugees are a challenge, but in most cases I'm aware of they are covered by national and international law. If someone is fleeing a threat in their home country, then the human community as a whole has a responsibility to provide a safe haven for them.
Now, all this said, it doesn't directly address the issue prominent in our own country: that of large numbers of illegal economic migrants.
I'm in no place to suggest a particular policy, but I would note that there are some basic principles that we must insist upon:
- Migrants are human persons, and must be treated with dignity and with respect for their basic human rights
- A just solution includes, not only enforcement of our border security, but also enforcement of workers' rights, penalties for employers who put profit above their legal obligations
- A just solution must also include some kind of provision for the millions of migrant families here illegally - especially the children
This last is probably the stickiest sticking point for some, but it follows directly from the first.
We already make provision for law-breakers; in many cases, it's called prison.
I'm not suggesting that we imprison illegal immigrants; but I am suggesting that their humanity precedes their criminality, and that it may not be possible to punish the crime without committing a greater crime against their families.
In other words, immigration reform really must be comprehensive: it must shift the whole legal and economic structure toward greater justice, and it must provide a practical way to do so without committing further injustice.
It's a tall order. If I find a solution, I'll let you know. In the meantime, let's pray, and let's keep our arguments clean and focused on finding a solution.