In July 2021, Cardinal Gregory Wilton issued a statement at an immigrant rally calling on Congress to provide more aid to illegal immigrants.
“He highlighted Catholic social teaching, which ‘upholds the teaching that every person has the right to live in his or her own homeland in security and dignity, with opportunities for work.’ ‘However,’ he said, ‘when the loss of these rights forces individuals to migrate to other lands, we must welcome them, protect them, and generously share our abundance with them.’”
The Cardinal’s statement reflects a growing political activism among the religious left, not just among Catholic leaders. Religious leaders’ engagement in partisan political rhetoric expressed in similar views — Christian and otherwise — has unfortunately become a common occurrence.
But these statements, especially the Cardinal’s, are misleading. First, there is no formal Christian doctrine or teaching that requires countries to have open borders. Clergy statements – even from high-ranking members like Cardinal Wilton — saying or implying the existence of such teaching does not make it so.
To be fair, Cardinal Wilton did not quite claim the existence of such teaching – but he came close when suggesting that rich countries must accept mass immigration. Yet Catholic teaching has said otherwise.
The foremost Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, never said or implied that a country must open its borders to non-citizens. To the contrary, Aquinas stated that it is the government’s duty to control a country’s borders, restrict immigration if necessary, and protect citizens from threats.
Regarding citizenship, Aquinas wrote that government has the responsibility to properly assimilate immigrants before making them citizens. Aquinas did not specify a particular length of time required for assimilation, but he did quote the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed that immigrants required two or three generations to properly assimilate into a host society and become eligible for citizenship.
So let us be clear: Cardinal Wilton above is not expressing a religious teaching; he is expressing his own personal political opinions. Now, he is entitled to his opinions, as are all Americans. But it is dishonest to present this leftist view as a formal teaching of his religion when it is not.
His statement is doubly misleading because it ignores the political and economic causes massive illegal immigration. These immigrants did not simply “lose their work.” In many instances, they voted for it. Losing their work was an inevitable consequence of their preference for leftist governments.
The left has boasted of a “pink tide,” a reference to a leftward shift in Latin American governments. The most notorious cases are Cuba and Venezuela. Hugo Chavez was first elected president of Venezuela in 1998. He was reelected three times. The results of his policies, which his successor Nicolas Maduro has continued, have been catastrophic. Venezuela descended from one of the most affluent countries in the world to one of the poorest today.
Others like Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, Chile, and Columbia, have in recent years sharply shifted leftward.
We know what that means. Leftist economic policies create greater income disparity and greater poverty. They always do. A wave of immigration almost always follows as citizens of those countries vote with their feet once they suffer the consequences of the very policies they voted for earlier and head to America.
And that is really what this is about. Leftists hope and expect a pathway to citizenship and growth in Democrat voter rolls. That is why American leftists want to import these new voters. Once naturalized, they will vote as they did in their parent countries, causing many Americans to also “lose their work.” In some places, that won’t even be necessary as non-citizens increasingly gain voting rights and political power.
This may seem counterintuitive — one would think that these immigrants would learn from their experiences that socialist experiments always end badly. But data on voting patterns in the United States shows that that is not so.
Latin America’s Christian churches — particularly the Catholic Church — are very influential there. If they truly wished to serve Latin America’s mostly-Christian poor before they “lost their work,” they might have educated them about the blessings of free-market capitalism and denouncing the horrors of socialism.
If they had truly wanted to serve the poor, that would have been the way to do it. Yet they chose not to. They preferred to remain silent. They failed badly and Americans of all faiths will now suffer the consequences of their silence.
James F. Booth is the author of “Gun Rights: Good Law and Good Policy.” His website is The Global Macro Digest.